Tobias Wingen, Jana Berkessel, Simone Dohle
Caution, preprint! Brief explanations allow non-scientists to differentiate between preprints and peer-reviewed journal articles

Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science, 2022: 5, issue 1, pp. 1-15
ISSN: 2515-2459 (print), 2515-2467 (online)

A growing number of psychological research findings are initially published as preprints. Preprints are not peer reviewed and thus did not undergo the established scientific quality-control process. Many researchers hence worry that these preprints reach nonscientists, such as practitioners, journalists, and policymakers, who might be unable to differentiate them from the peer-reviewed literature. Across five studies in Germany and the United States, we investigated whether this concern is warranted and whether this problem can be solved by providing nonscientists with a brief explanation of preprints and the peer-review process. Studies 1 and 2 showed that without an explanation, nonscientists perceive research findings published as preprints as equally credible as findings published as peer-reviewed articles. However, an explanation of the peer-review process reduces the credibility of preprints (Studies 3 and 4). In Study 5, we developed and tested a shortened version of this explanation, which we recommend adding to preprints. This explanation again allowed nonscientists to differentiate between preprints and the peer-reviewed literature. In sum, our research demonstrates that even a short explanation of the concept of preprints and their lack of peer review allows nonscientists who evaluate scientific findings to adjust their credibility perception accordingly. This would allow harvesting the benefits of preprints, such as faster and more accessible science communication, while reducing concerns about public overconfidence in the presented findings.