My experience publishing scientific research has ranged from receiving valuable critical and constructive feedback to receiving vague, utterly unsubstantiated criticisms. One example, however, stands apart. I want to share it, to spread the word for the good practice.
Last autumn, I measured changes in the composition of the ribosomes that defy our decades-old understand of this structure. Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence; I did my best to test the evidence, and by the time I was ready to submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal, I was too impatient to wait for a few months before I start receiving feedback, before I know what my peers thought about the work. This impatience gave me the final push to try the new preprint server for biology research, bioRxiv. There are very many good idealistic reasons why we should all use it and a few pragmatic fears that inhibit its use. I tried it. I uploaded my manuscript.
My experience exceeded my expectations, by far! I received very constructive and thoughtful feedback from some of the most knowledgeable experts in the field, both by emails and comments on the server. Is not this what publication is supposed to do, to disseminate widely the results to our colleagues and solicit their feedback? BioRxiv worked marvelously in this regard, providing all essential aspects of publishing research results!
How about the stamp of approval of a “prestigious” journal/magazine? We see increasing number of cases undermining the credibility of this stamp. Still, I am far from denying the value of critical peer feedback; it is a very valuable initial screening, and I already got this feedback from bioRxiv. The ultimate stamp of validation is when the work is successfully reproduced by independent researchers and tested again and again over the coming decades. Of course I cannot be 100% certain that my work (or any other recent work) will survive this test of time and no peer-reviewed journal can tell me that, only time can. The essential functions of peer-reviewed journals — providing a wide dissemination and initial feedback from peers — is also provided by bioRxiv only much faster and at no expense. Use it! Let’s make publishing about sharing results and critical feedback, not about journal/magazine politics.
Slavov N., Semrau S., Airoldi E.M., Budnik B., van Oudenaarden A. (2014)
Variable stoichiometry among core ribosomal proteins, bioRxiv, PDF, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/005553