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Are biologists ready for preprints?



8 September 2016 – EMBO Associate Member Ron Vale and EMBO’s Head of Scientific Publications Bernd Pulverer make the case for the sharing of preprint manuscripts.


Access to scientific data, or Open Science, is a topic of lively discussion between scientists, publishers and funding bodies. This theme is particularly relevant in light of the recent announcement from EU Commissioner Carlos Moedas, which included a statement that all publicly funded scientific papers published in Europe should be freely accessible by 2020.


For Ron Vale of the University of California, San Francisco, giving biologists the ability to rapidly share original research papers with their peers before publication in scientific journals is a big step forward in simplifying the dissemination of new data and engaging scientists in commenting on each others work before publication. However, Vale acknowledges that for the sharing of preprints to become widespread in biology, they need to be accepted by funding bodies and publishers as well as by scientists themselves. Once funders explicitly consider preprints for research assessment and journals universally encourage preprint posting, scientists are more likely to appreciate their utility.


In June 2016, EMBO Director Maria Leptin chaired a meeting including a presentation by Vale on the merits of preprints, along with an editor’s perspective by the head of scientific publications at EMBO, Bernd Pulverer. Vale explained that sharing preprints is not a replacement for traditional journal publication, but that the peer-review and editorial process can be lengthy and unpredictable, while preprints offer the ability to communicate new findings with minimal delay, in a form that is stably archived and citable yet open to community discussion and revision. Adding a new manuscript to a preprint server can provide evidence of priority for new findings and evidence of productivity for grant or fellowship applications. In response to concerns about research being posted prematurely in order to stake a claim on a new finding, Vale noted that researchers would likely be conservative in releasing unvetted information in order to protect their reputations.


Pulverer stated that the majority of scientific journals, including those of EMBO Press, had embraced preprints, defining their own role as providing the point of record with peer-reviewed and edited research papers. The two streams of communication have been working alongside each other in the physical sciences for 25 years, where uploading research to the arXiv preprint repository is a firmly established practice. Pulverer also emphasized that the comments on preprints can enhance the quality of journal submissions and reduce the pressure towards rapid journal publication. Authors can submit directly from a preprint server to all four EMBO Press journals at the click of a button.


“Scholarly communication should be a joyful process where you share the research on which you have worked so hard”, said Vale. Recent enthusiasm towards preprints from funders and journals at two workshops organized by Vale and colleagues (see http://asapbio.org) suggests that preprints could become a routine part of communicating findings in biology, as open science becomes more widely embraced.


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Tilmann KießlingTilmann Kießling
Head, Communications
T. + 49 160 9019 3839