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Review of "Unreviewed science in the news: The evolution of preprint media coverage from 2014-2021"

Published onOct 01, 2023
Review of "Unreviewed science in the news: The evolution of preprint media coverage from 2014-2021"
key-enterThis Pub is a Review of
Unreviewed science in the news: The evolution of preprint media coverage from 2014-2021
Unreviewed science in the news: The evolution of preprint media coverage from 2014-2021
Description

Abstract It has been argued that preprint coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic constituted a paradigm shift in journalism norms and practices. This study examines whether, in what ways, and to what extent this is the case using a sample of 11,538 preprints posted on four preprint servers—bioRxiv, medRxiv, arXiv, and SSRN—that received coverage in 94 English-language media outlets between 2014–2021. We compared mentions of these preprints with mentions of a comparison sample of 397,446 peer reviewed research articles indexed in the Web of Science to identify changes in the share of media coverage that mentioned preprints before and during the pandemic. We found that preprint media coverage increased at a slow but steady rate pre-pandemic, then spiked dramatically. This increase applied only to COVID-19-related preprints, with minimal or no change in coverage of preprints on other topics. In addition, the rise in preprint coverage was most pronounced among health and medicine-focused media outlets, which barely covered preprints before the pandemic but mentioned more COVID-19 preprints than outlets focused on any other topic. These results suggest that the growth in coverage of preprints seen during the pandemic period may imply a shift in journalistic norms, including a changing outlook on reporting preliminary, unvetted research.

As a signatory of Publish Your Reviews, I have committed to publish my peer reviews alongside the preprint version of an article. For more information, see http://publishyourreviews.org.

This is an excellent piece of research with relevant findings for anyone interested in developments around preprinting. I have a few small suggestions for improvements.

Section 2 does not only present a literature review. It also presents the research questions. I therefore suggest to change the title of this section into ‘Literature review and research questions’.

“published version of preprints”: This is confusing. All versions of a preprint are published (i.e., publicly available) by definition. Unpublished versions of a preprint don’t exist. I think the authors mean ‘peer-reviewed version’ or ‘journal version’ instead of ‘published version’.

“their published versions were published”: Same comment.

“Because Altmetric does not disambiguate between preprints and published versions”: Same comment.

“it is relatively uncommon for news stories to mention research outputs more than a few weeks after initial publication (Maggio et al., 2017)”: The paper would benefit from a more detailed discussion of this, as the validity of the analysis presented in the paper depends on it. For instance, if it were common for research outputs to be mentioned in news stories several months after their publication, the results for outputs published in the most recent time period covered by the analysis would not be reliable.

In Section 3.5, some information about the statistical models is missing:

How is Y_it defined and how are i and t defined?

What assumptions were made about the error term?

How was the model fitted to the data?

Figures 3 and 4: The labels along the vertical axes are hard to read. The authors may consider increasing the font size.

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