a grid of scientific journals including Cell
Foggy road: Research journals have unclear rules for online publishing.
Photograph by Rebecca Horne

Many science journals have unclear policies on preprints, peer review

Most research journals have unclear policies for many aspects of their publishing process.

By Marcus A. Banks
11 March 2020 | 2 min read
Listen to this story:

Most research journals, including Cell, JAMA and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have unclear policies regarding preprints and peer review, a new analysis finds1.

Preprints are publicly available versions of research papers that have not yet been peer reviewed. Many preprints are later submitted for publication in scientific journals.

Peer review can take months or even years; preprints allow research results to become public quickly. Researchers can also get feedback to refine their work before publication.

Autism researchers might post preprints to bioRxiv or medRxiv. Although biologists have traditionally avoided preprints because of fears about getting scooped, preprints have been gaining broader acceptance.

According to the analysis — itself posted on bioRxiv — many journals do not specify whether researchers can post preprints of their manuscripts or cite preprints, or whether a link to the preprint version will be available in the published version of the paper.

Peer-review policies, especially those regarding transparency, are also ambiguous at many journals. Fewer than half of journals clarify whether a manuscript’s authors are privy to the names of their peer reviewers, and even fewer indicate whether they share reviewers’ names with readers.

  1. Klebel T. et al. bioRxiv 10.1101/2020.01.24.918995 (2020) Abstract