It notes that the ArXiv preprint for physics has been around for decades, but that the life sciences have been slower to embrace preprint servers: BioRxiv was established in 2013 and MedRxiv even more recently in 2019. The Scientist writes that while preprints had been increasing in popularity, the pandemic and the need to quickly get information out has "accelerated their use." In particular, it says an estimated one-quarter of all COVID-19-related scientific articles from the first 10 months of the pandemic were preprints. The Economist reported in May 2020 that there had already been more than 2,850 articles about SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 posted to BioRxiv or MedRxiv at that time.
The quick and unvetted release of papers has raised concerns about spreading misinformation, The Scientist adds. But it notes that a recent analysis suggests that, for the preprints that are eventually published, there is often little difference between the preprint and final article and that a Retraction Watch tally indicates that of the 137 COVID-19–related articles removed by journals or servers, 22 were preprints.