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I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.
The increasing interest among some scientists to publish research before it is peer reviewed presents interesting challenges for journalists and the public, explains a timely news article recently published in Science.
Science reports the interest in preprints among some biologists and scientists is expanding significantly. Science explains preprints provide scientists with the capacity to let the world see research that is in progress and has not gone through the formal peer review process used by established biomedical and scientific journals.
Science explains there are now an array of evolving Internet-based services that enable scientists to place a first draft of a manuscript to let other researchers see a work-in-progress. Science notes the availability of preprints is rapidly becoming common in biology, and the practice may spread to other scientific and biomedical disciplines.
Science adds the comfort among scientists to publish preprints was reinforced by the recent acceptance of the practice by key scientific funding agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Britain's Wellcome Trust. In addition, Science notes some biomedical and scientific journals are increasingly receptive to considering preprint research for peer review. Science explains major journals formerly turned down the consideration of research studies that were detailed elsewhere.
However, Science warns the evolving preprint exposure and process has important implications for health and science journalists as well as the public. Science notes it is important for journalists to realize as well as report (in news stories based on preprints) that the findings have not been peer reviewed.
While journalists frequently report and acknowledge when scientific research presented at conferences is not peer reviewed, Science implies this caveat can be confusing to lay persons, who find a decision to cover research represents a quasi-endorsement of the veracity or credibility of the publicized findings.
Paradoxically, Science adds that it may be self-defeating for some scientists to talk to the press about preprints. Science writes (and we quote): 'One downside to talking to reporters about a preprint.... is that early news coverage can mean that the study gets less attention from the media when it is published' (end of quote).
Overall, the communications editor at PLOS, a well-regarded scientific publication, tells Science (and we quote): 'preprints do not diminish the need for reputable peer-reviewed journals' (end of quote).
Yet, the implications of preprints for the public may be to blur what is evidence at a time when other scientists and medical professionals are encouraging consumers to make more evidence-based health care decisions.
Either way, Science concludes preprints are not a fad and implies it is time for consumers, journalists, and scientists to more publicly discuss resulting implications.
Meanwhile, a guide to help you find reliable health information on the Internet (from the American Academy of Family Physicians) is available within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page.
Genetics Alliance additionally provides a website to help consumers decide whether to trash or trust the biomedical research reported by news organizations also within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page.
MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page also provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. You can sign up to receive updates about evaluating health information as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.
To find MedlinePlus.gov's evaluating health information health topic page, please type 'evaluating health information' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'evaluating health information (National Library of Medicine).' MedlinePlus.gov also has a health topic page devoted to understanding medical research.
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