Preprints & Investor Relations

Another day, another commercial exploitation of porous preprint platforms that denigrate peer-review

Welcome to the shiny new world of preprints, where commercial interests leverage our lack of clarity, conviction, integrity, confidence, and courage to exploit the scientific literature.

Yesterday, I wrote about how Netflix, NatGeo, and some unscrupulous researchers were able to exploit eLife’s “Reviewed Preprint” model. Scientists have called for the loophole to be closed, investigators were examining how the money flowed, and 10 of 11 reviewers rejected the claims, yet thanks to eLife and preprints, the preprints persist in the literature as if they were accepted because the authors control what happens to them.

  • The same authors had tried to exploit eLife in 2015 to the same end, and could not do so with pre-publication review in place. It took eLife pivoting to a new, far more exploitable model for their scheme to work.

Of course, there’s no model more exploitable than that of a basic preprint server, with bioRxiv and medRxiv obvious and repeated targets for commercial interests seeking to make a splash with unreviewed claims, attract investors, and make money. Despite evidence they have been exploited and continue to be exploitable, nothing has changed.

  • They even keep trumpeting themselves. On the same day as I published about eLife being exploited, Richard Sever of bioRxiv published a stem-winder about the potential for preprints to become the new standard in which he denigrates the “expensive and time-consuming journal peer review process.”

Meanwhile, a commercial entity has gone right ahead and exploited bioRxiv again by posting two preprints (here and here) designed to attract investment dollars.

This is par for the course — a self-important academic pontificating about the pros and cons of preprints in an abstract manner, while a commercial entity with practical goals and street smarts shows no such hesitation, taking the ground given by the preprint platform’s lack of standards and controls.

The company exploiting bioRxiv this time is called Model Medicines, and they have learned that there is a new kind of commercial value in calling something a “preprint,” as is apparent in the number of ways they use the term in their press releases and marketing of their claims.