Kaiser 2017 Science 357

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Kaiser 2017 Science 357

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Kaiser J (2017) The preprint dilemma. Science 357:1344-9.

» PMID: 28963238 Open Access

Kaiser J (2017) Science

Abstract: One day in May 2014, while visiting his parents in Bulgaria, biologist Nikolai Slavov sat at his laptop and called up a free online archive of scientific papers called bioRxiv. Then, with a click of an "upload" button, he submitted the draft of a paper he'd written about his postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge on the unexpectedly diverse structure of ribosomes, the cell's protein-making factories. "I was mostly excited, but a little bit nervous" about sharing findings that hadn't been scrutinized by peer reviewers, he says.

He didn't worry for long. In a few hours, the manuscript appeared online for all the world to see. Within weeks, it had drawn hundreds of downloads, two dozen tweets, and a trickle of online comments. It also brought job offers. And in July 2015, months before a final peer-reviewed version of his paper appeared in the journal Cell Reports, Slavov accepted a tenure-track position at Northeastern University in Boston.

Posting that first-draft manuscript, or preprint, "clearly expedited and helped with my job search," Slavov says. And he thinks the half-dozen preprints he's posted since have helped turbocharge his career. Science journalists have covered his work, colleagues have proposed collaborations, and journal editors have invited him to submit papers.

Keywords: Preprints Bioblast editor: Gnaiger E

Selected quotes

  • In the 1960s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, mailed photocopies of draft manuscripts to groups of biologists; the short-lived project was followed in 1991 by arXiv, a nonprofit preprint server for physics now at Cornell University. In 1999, Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, then-director of NIH, proposed a similar server for biology, but journal publishers saw it as a threat. In 2003, however, arXiv opened a quantitative biology section. And in 2007, Nature Publishing launched a server called Nature Precedings, which collated more than 2000 manuscripts, mostly in biology, before folding in 2012.
  • .. a nonprofit called ASAPbio, incorporated in San Francisco, California, began deploying preprint "ambassadors," enthusiasts who evangelize to their colleagues, and holding meetings on such topics as how funders and journals view preprints.
  • Although bioRxiv has grown rapidly, the more than 1200 preprints deposited in it in August {2016} still represented just 1.3% of the 93,000 papers added to PubMed .
  • Some scientists say the preprints they post are almost identical to what ends up in a journal. Neuroscientist Leslie Vosshall says that the papers she sees on bioRxiv are of "significantly higher quality" than the typical journal submission, because the authors can't lean on editors to fix typos, clarify prose, and ask for more experiments.
  • One advantage, preprint advocates say, is that you will be able to share your paper with colleagues months or years before it wends its way into a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Sometimes, preprints can promote healthy competition. Neuroscientist Leslie Vosshall cites a group that posted a preprint on the first genetically modified ants; another group doing similar work saw the paper and soon posted its own preprint. The two teams submitted their papers to Cell, which published them together last month. Preprints can also catalyze collaboration. Three groups studying the same cellular protein agreed to time their preprints so they all appeared on bioRxiv within a day or two of one another.
  • Scooping is the No. 1 worry. A competing team could see your preprint and rush a similar study into a journal. Editors might then reject your final paper. "I get that fear," cancer modeler Jacob Scott says. "But I look at it in the opposite [way]. Preprints are my defense … really a flag in the sand and proof that it's mine."
  • Still, this year EMBO Press's four journals announced "scooping protection": If an author submits a manuscript within 4 months of posting a preprint, EMBO will consider the work novel even if a competitor publishes similar work during that time.