March 15, 2016

Preprint revolution in biology

A very nice article by Amy Harmon in the NY Times.

Handful of Biologists Went Rogue and Published Directly to Internet

On Feb. 29, Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University became the third Nobel Prize laureate biologist in a month to do something long considered taboo among biomedical researchers: She posted a report of her recent discoveries to a publicly accessible website, bioRxiv, before submitting it to a scholarly journal to review for “official’’ publication.


And many #ASAPbio supporters retweeted John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin, who found himself recently at an African university where a paper on African genomes was unavailable because it could not pay the fee for the journal where it was published, and no preprint was available. He expressed his frustration with a profanity. 
Preprint advocates counter that scientists care too much about their reputations to publish shoddy work, and posts to bioRxiv are clearly marked to indicate that they may contain information that “has not yet been accepted or endorsed in any way by the scientific or medical community.’’ Others note that plenty of peer-reviewed papers in high-profile journals have proved to be wrong, and some argue that carrying out peer review after a paper is published would provide a more rigorous and fair vetting of papers, anyway.  


sykes.1 said...

This discussion of open publication vs. refereed journal publication misses an important point. Publication is refereed journals is necessary for promotion and tenure, because P&T committees use it as a quality indicator. In fact, science and engineering are so fragmented today that a majority of the people on P&T committees are usually not qualified to judge the quality of a candidates' work. The peer reviewing process at the journals assigns people knowledgeable in the researcherss fields to evaluate their manuscripts, so the committees use of refereed journal publications makes eminent sense.

Note that the people publishing in bioRxiv are all very senior people who are no longer subjected to the P&T process.

eurologist said...

I have done the same thing in my field, a decade ago. When I then cited that "paper" (which by then had also been published in a traditional paper journal) in a proposal, a reviewer declined funding because said paper was "unavailable for review."

That strong is the prejudice against open and online publishing, and the fear it may expose outright wrong practices by some old-school scientists.

eurologist said...


Publishing in open formats does not normally preclude from publishing in traditional papers, later on, and some open publications are still peer-reviewed. Also, a paper in a locked peer-reviewed periodical has pretty much the same if not higher chance of being flawed as that in an open publication (which is either also peer-reviewed, or encourages a follow-up submission into a peer-reviewed format).

Finally, as I alluded to, even established scientists are at the mercy of this currently dubious and shady system because their livelihood (grant money) depends on it.