NIH launches preprint pilot to expand discovery of NIH-funded research

The National Institutes of Health is launching the first phase of a pilot project designed to test the viability of making preprints resulting from NIH-funded research searchable in PubMed Central (PMC), a widely-used digital archive of full-text articles and, by extension, discoverable in PubMed, a database containing more than 30 million citations and abstracts of biomedical literature. The NIH Preprint Pilot, a project of NIH’s National Library of Medicine (NLM), is intended to increase early discoverability of NIH-supported research results, maximizing the possible impact of the research. Phase one of the pilot will focus on preprints relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preprints are complete and public drafts of scientific journal articles, not yet peer reviewed, and they are playing a key role in accelerating dissemination of research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19.

This pilot builds on PMC’s role as a repository for peer-reviewed articles supported by NIH under the NIH Public Access Policy as well as NIH’s encouragement of investigators to use interim products of research, including as preprints, to speed the dissemination of research and enhance the rigor of their work.

In the first phase of the pilot, NLM is leveraging the iSearch COVID-19 portfolio tool developed by NIH’s Office of Portfolio Analysis to identify relevant preprints posted to eligible preprint servers. NLM will select preprints that either list an NIH-affiliated author or acknowledge NIH grant support and include them in PMC. Following standard NLM practice, a citation for each preprint record in PMC will also be available in PubMed to further increase the discoverability of this content.

This narrowly scoped first phase allows an opportunity for NLM to streamline curation and ingest workflows and refine the details of implementation with a set of articles for which there is a growing demand for accelerated access and discovery.

“We will monitor the pilot closely to see how and when preprints are reported, shared, discovered, and disseminated so we can assess their role in advancing scholarly communications,” said NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, R.N., Ph.D. “We invite feedback from stakeholders throughout this process.”

Results of NIH-funded research made available as preprints will become more easily discoverable in PMC and PubMed. PMC stores content in a common format, providing a central repository that allows users to quickly search its entire full-text collection, including accepted author manuscripts, published articles, and, now, preprints supported by NIH. 

Preprint records will be clearly marked as preprints. Large banners will explain that the papers have not been peer reviewed and link to information about the pilot for additional context. Newly created filters will also provide users with the option to exclude preprint records from search results in both PMC and PubMed.

NLM will pay close attention to the early outcomes of the first phase of the pilot and hopes to expand the scope in subsequent phases to include the full spectrum of NIH-funded research. In future phases, NLM also plans to simplify the process for NIH investigators to identify preprints supported by NIH grants using NLM’s My Bibliography tool and establish faster, more automated, curation workflows. Across its multiple phases, the NIH Preprint Pilot is expected to run for a minimum of 12 months.

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