Preprint publishing challenges the status quo in medicine


Like an upstart quick-draw challenging a grizzled gunslinger, preprint servers are muscling in on the once-exclusive territory of scientific journals.

These online venues sidestep the time-honored but lengthy peer-review process in favor of instant data dissemination. By directly posting unreviewed papers, authors escape the months-long drudgery of peer review, stake an immediate claim on new ideas, and connect instantly with like-minded scientists whose feedback can mold this new idea into a sound scientific contribution.

“The caveat, of course, is that it may be crap.”

That’s the unvarnished truth of preprint publishing, said John Inglis, PhD – and he should know. As the cofounder of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s bioRxiv, the largest-to-date preprint server for the biological sciences, he gives equal billing to both the lofty and the low, and lets them soar or sink by their own merit.

And many of them do soar, Dr. Inglis said. Of the more than 20,000 papers published since bioRxiv’s modest beginning in 2013, slightly more than 60% have gone on to peer-reviewed publication. The four most prolific sources of bioRxiv preprints are the research powerhouses of Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard. The twitterverse is virtually awash with #bioRxiv tags, which alert bioRxiv’s 18,000 followers to new papers in any of 27 subject areas. “We gave up counting 2 years ago, when we reached 100,000,” Dr. Inglis said.

BioRxiv, pronounced “bioarchive,” may be the largest preprint server for the biological sciences, but it’s not the only one. The Center for Open Science has created a preprint server search engine, which lists 25 such servers, a number of them in the life sciences.

PeerJ Preprints also offers a home for unreviewed papers, accepting “drafts of an article, abstract, or poster that has not yet been peer reviewed for formal publication.” Authors can submit a draft, incomplete, or final version, which can be online within 24 hours.


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