Saturday, April 19, 2014

Preprints: Trying Something New in Publishing

As a trainee, having my papers reviewed by experts in the field has been both a frustrating and positive experience.  It has been positive, in that in nearly every case my publications have been improved by the process.  The enhancements from little embarrassing typos to new ways of conceptualizing our data, and certainly these papers are better for it.

On the other hand, some times it takes forever.  One paper went through 18 rounds of submission/resubmission, lasting over 3 years.  Another took almost 3 years and 10 submissions.  Some of these delays were certainly self-inflicted but in general it takes a really long time for papers to work through their pipeline.  Steven Royle recently looked at this more rigorously for the papers his group has published here.  In his experience, the average has been about 9 months

This can be bad for the careers of those involved, and for those for whom the data might help.  To get around this, we are trying something new with our next paper.  We submitted it to bioRxiv as a preprint.  The paper can be found here, so go ahead and take a look, I'll wait.  The posted version is identical to the submitted version, which was sent to a normal peer-reviewed journal.

What do I hope to gain?

This has been covered really well over the internet including in science, at Haldane's Sieve, and in PLOS Biology.  I hope that this will give people in my field a chance to read our work earlier.  I also hope that the people who may be interested in reading it will provide some feedback.  This paper, like all of our papers gets informally reviewed by colleagues and lab members before it goes out.  By putting it out online, I would like a broader audience to be empowered to take a look and give us their thoughts, before the 'final' version is done.

What are the downsides?

There are a couple, we could be scooped, or it could affect our ability to publish it in another journal.  For the latter, we used SHERPA/ROMEO to pick a journal that has an established policy that pre-prints are acceptable.  As far as getting scooped, I am even less concerned about that.  The data is freely available for this paper on GitHub for anyone to use and I think the risk of scooping is dramatically overstated in science.

So take a look, and let us know here or at the paper what you think.