Preprints have been getting a lot of attention recently. The COVID-19 pandemic—the first major health crisis since medical and biomedical preprints have become widely available online—has further underscored the importance of speedy dissemination of research outcomes. Preprints allow researchers to share results with speed, but raise questions about accuracy, misconduct, and our reliance on the “self-correcting” nature of the scientific enterprise. As scientists and health care professionals, as well as the general public, look for information about the pandemic, preprint services are growing in importance. So too are the policy decisions preprint platform leaders make.
The purpose of this issue brief is to provide an overview of the preprint landscape in the first half of 2020 as we witness rapid changes to how they are perceived and utilised. While we write within the context of a gathering and growing global pandemic, where preprints seem to be playing an essential role, the arc of how preprints are evolving is broader than our immediate public health needs. Preprints are no panacea, but as they have continued to develop in their own right they are putting useful pressure on some of the structures of traditional scientific publishing.