Desjardins-Proulx 2013 PLOS Biol

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Desjardins-Proulx 2013 PLOS Biol

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Desjardins-Proulx P, White EP, Adamson JJ, Ram K, Poisot T, Gravel D (2013) The case for open preprints in biology. PLoS Biol 11:e1001563. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001563.

» PMID: 23690752 Open Access

Desjardins-Proulx P, White EP, Adamson JJ, Ram K, Poisot T, Gravel D (2013) PLOS Biol

Abstract: Public preprint servers allow authors to make manuscripts publicly available before, or in parallel to, submitting them to journals for traditional peer review. The rationale for preprint servers is fundamentally simple: to make the results of research available to the scientific community as soon as possible, instead of waiting until the peer-review process is fully completed. Sharing manuscripts using preprint servers has numerous advantages, including: 1) rapid dissemination of work-in-progress to a wider audience; 2) immediate visibility of the research output for early-career scientists; 3) improved peer review by encouraging feedback from the entire research community; and 4) a fair and straightforward way to establish precedence.

Despite the success of this approach in other fields, most manuscripts in biology are not posted to preprint servers and are therefore not seen by more than a handful of other scientists prior to publication. In this article, we highlight the advantages of open preprint servers for both scientists and publishers, discuss the preprint policies of major publishers in biology, and describe the main options to publish preprints.


Bioblast editor: Gnaiger E

Selected quotations

  • The current system of hiding manuscripts before acceptance poses problems for both scientists and publishers. Manuscripts that are unknown cannot be used and thus take more time to be cited. It has been shown that high-energy physics, with its high arXiv submission rate, has the highest immediacy among physics and mathematics [Prakasan E, Sagar A, Kalyane V, Kumar A, Harnad S (2005) Minimum impact and immediacy of citations to physics open archives of arXiv.org: Science Citation Index based reports. CogPrints 4272]. Immediacy measures how quickly articles are cited.
  • Public preprints can be crucial to early-career scientists. The delay before publication is seldom compatible with the pressure to show an impressive publication record when applying for a scholarship or a position. Increasing the perceived value of preprints as close, or equal, to journal articles will allow young researchers to put their research outcome in the open, and build a reputation for themselves through the diffusion of their work without fear that this work will not be recognized by grant or job committees.
  • Posting manuscripts as preprints also has the potential to improve the quality of science by allowing prepublication feedback from a large pool of reviewers. .. These “friendly” reviews increase the chance of errors being caught prior to publication.
  • In contrast to other disciplines, the field of biology has effectively no preprint culture, with the exception of small pockets of primarily highly quantitative research (e.g., epidemiology, population genetics). While submitting to preprint servers has become more common in the past few years, the number of biology papers submitted to preprint servers still represents only a small fraction of the total research produced in biology (Figure 2).
  • There are a number of reasons why biologists have not developed a culture of sharing preprints, many of which are based on common misconceptions. For example, in contrast to other fields, there is a perception in biology that public preprints make it easier to steal ideas [Ginsparg P (2011) ArXiv at 20. Nature 476:145–7]. In other fields, preprints serve the opposite role: they allow straightforward establishment of precedence, letting a researcher lay claim to an idea, thus preventing it from being “stolen” [Ginsparg P (2011) ArXiv at 20. Nature 476:145–7]. Another major concern is based on a certain interpretation of the Ingelfinger rule: scientists should not publish the same manuscript twice [Altman L (1996) The Ingelfinger rule, embargoes, and journal peer review - part 1. The Lancet 347:1382–6]. A preprint is simply a document that allows ideas to spread and be discussed, it is not yet formally validated by the peer-review system. This is why almost all the major publishers in biology are preprint-friendly, including: Nature Publishing Group, PLOS, BMC, PNAS, Elsevier, and Springer (Table 2).
  • The ongoing discussions on the publication process, peer review, and alternative publication models are all symptoms of the current uneasiness with the ever-growing obsession with bibliographic metrics such as the impact factor [17]. Researchers are pressured to orient their publication strategy to maximize their number of publications and total citations. A well-known consequence is to submit manuscripts first to the most prestigious journals, and then resubmit to “lower level” journals as they are rejected. The numerous negative impacts of such behavior have been discussed in depth [6] and include a long delay between the time a manuscript is finished and its publication. Research activities and the publication process are drifting away from their fundamental objective, namely the diffusion of novel scientific discoveries.
  • In practice, the peer-review system is not only used to evaluate scientific quality but also to judge pertinence. On the other hand, preprints are not filtered, neither for their quality nor their pertinence. Widespread adoption of preprint servers has the potential to shift the diffusion strategy: journals would remain important to validate publications, but the relevance of a study should only be judged by many more readers than the typical two–four anonymous reviewers. With a shift in the diffusion strategy, the role of traditional journals and their editors would be to showcase scientific discoveries for specialized readership.
  • With increasingly stringent peer review, the quality of published papers can improve at the cost of an increased load on authors and reviewers and greater delays for publication. Preprints are simply bypassing this model for what we believe is the progress of science: they speed up the dissemination of scientific discoveries and put on readers' shoulders the responsibility to judge originality and pertinence.


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