I believe that preprints are a great medium for communicating and disclosing new research in the life sciences. Recently, Science magazine asked me why I am so enthusiastic for preprints and published a feature including some of my responses, and some reasons why I love preprints. Below are more reasons why I believe that preprints hold much promise for improving the communication of biomedical research:
What do you get out of it? Have you gotten useful feedback (if so via comments, twitter email etc.)?
Preprints are great for sharing broadly my latest research findings. My first bioRxiv preprint has been viewed over 11,000 times and my preprint on single cell proteomics (SCoPE-MS) of stem cells well over 19,000 times in just a few months. These numbers, along side with comments from leading scientist and prominent news coverage of my preprints, suggest that preprints can be very effective in communicating my results to the community and establishing priority. I believe preprints and journal articles can be equally effective (or ineffective) at establishing priority, depending on the their quality, visibility and percolation through the community.
I have received feedback from senior professors, multiple suggestions for collaborations (some of which materialized), news coverage of my preprints, editorial invitations to submit my preprints to journals, and an invitation to apply for a faculty position at an elite institution.
Have you modified a manuscript as a result? Or is the benefit more getting your work out there/sharing earlier?
The benefits are many. One is modifying and improving a manuscript based on the feedback, which I have done. Another is getting a timestamp on my work that makes me more willing to broadly share and present my results without concerns for being scooped.
Do you worry that posting a preprint could jeopardize publication in a journal?
No. Most prominent journals accept preprints; journals that do not, lose. In my opinion, the benefits of using preprints far outweigh the limited opportunity to publish in some journals. I believe that journals that do not embrace preprints will decline in prominence over time.
Do you have papers you have not posted as preprints? if not why not?
I am committed to posting all papers from my laboratory as preprints. I am coauthor on papers that were not posted as preprints but I was not the lead author for them and did not make the final decision.
Do you think preprints will make journals obsolete, or do we still need peer reviewed journals?
Preprints are not aiming to side-step peer review. We need good peer review, more than ever, and preprints provide more opportunities for peer review, not less. We still need a formal system that can ensure peer review with minimal bias that is as transparent as possible and successful journals will adapt to fulfill this need.
How do colleagues react when you try to get them to share preprints? Are some more receptive than others? Are there differences by age or field? Why do you think some are still reluctant?
Many of my colleagues are receptive, others less so. Importantly, I have not heard a cogent argument why preprints are bad for science. The most frequent argument revolves around fear of losing priority of discovery. My usual question is: Have you ever felt that one of your peer reviewed papers is not cited and given credit when it should have been? Publishing a paper in a peer reviewed journal does not make it immuned to scooping. I think that the quality and the visibility of a timestamped research article is more important for establishing priority over the exact time when it is peer reviewed. Of course peer review and independent replication are essential for establishing the validity of any research article but these can be separated in time from the first disclosure of the results.
I have noticed that in many fields, a lot of the papers are quantitative, modeling, etc. and not wet biology. Will it take longer for those doing lab experiments to embrace preprints? Why would they be more reluctant?
I have observed these differences across disciplines. I think they stem from differences in culture and technical skills. Preprints will percolate slower in some communities, but I am confident that they will continue to spread fast and eventually will be adopted by all.