Good in 2017: preprint publishing

My blog on the “disease called peer review” (Dec 12th) evoked many comments (including from some journal editors), and these directed me to the concept of preprint publishing. Physicists started this 25 years ago, and were followed by mathematicians, computer scientists, and more recently by biologists. It is not yet widely known or practiced in the medical sciences. At least I was barely familiar with it, but I can only admit that this may well help to cure the “disease called peer review“ and H-indexitis.

What is preprint publishing? Exactly what it says: a server where you can place your new manuscript, before (or during) it undergoes peer review for a scientific journal (see bioRxiv). So, new findings are available (long) before they get published according to current practice (review by 2-5 peers, respond, pay the joural and your paper is accessible), and can be commented by thousands of peers. Manuscripts placed on preprint servers can be amended (for instance based on peer review) and can be cited.

What will this do to the quality of published science? Some fear that quality will decline (as it is not formally peer reviewed). Others trust that scientists will think twice before putting something online to be judged by all peers. In fact, comparison of the first draft placed as preprint and the ultimate version printed in a classical peer-reviewed journal allows (an unprecedented) quantification of the effects of peer review on the quality of science.

Another concern is that some journals will not consider work that has been published elsewhere (which preprint of course is). That problem is now rapidly resolving as many journals are allowing this now. Some fear that they will be scooped (i.e., someone else publishes similar findings just before you do), but that risk only declines! I thought of it for 2 weeks, but couldn’t think of any problem. Therefore, if I overlooked something, let me know. Otherwise this is (one of) my good intention for 2017: all new manuscripts go on preprint servers and you are all invited to review.

Anxious to see how many of my PhD students will have seen this blog on Jan 9th.

Recommended read!

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