Has the pandemic done for medicine what Paul Ginsparg did for physics?

It occurs to me that a lot, perhaps most, of the papers I am reading on COVID-19 research, are preprints, not articles in peer-reviewed journals. These are mostly not by physicists, who have been putting preprints on arXiv for over 20 years, but by scientists in a whole range of fields, including medicine. The biomedical research equivalent of arXiv, medRxiv, is only two years old but has been publishing a lot of COVID-19 research. arXiv has to an extent democratised research in physics, if people read arXiv preprints it matters less if the paper finally appear in the more glamorous journals like Science or Nature.

At least to someone outside the field, like me, it seems as if biomedical research is even worse than physics in the pressure to publish in the more glamorous journals. These journals certainly publish a lot of biomedical papers from big research groups in the more prestigious universities. If good papers that appear in the medRxiv before being published in a run-of-the-mill journal end being more read (and perhaps even more cited) than flashy but rather empty Science/Nature/Cell papers, then this could be quite a severe shock to the biomedical research community.

At least for COVID-19 research, this could be the case, as the field moves so fast people do not want to wait for Science/Nature/Cell reviewers/editors to argue over revisions and significance for 10 months. But whether this will spread from COVID-19 research into the rest of biomedical research, or stick after the pandemic is over, I don’t know.

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