Getting the word out on preprints

By Lilian Lamech, Zheng Ser and Michiel Boekhout

As momentum builds on publishing preprints in the biological sciences, there are still many in the scientific community who have concerns about posting preprints or are only vaguely familiar with this publishing trend. A group of eLife ambassadors at Memorial Sloan Kettering felt there needed to be a forum for researchers to learn about preprints and openly discuss their viewpoints and concerns. How might one learn more about preprints? Go straight to the experts!


Dr. Inglis recounts his inspiration for setting up bioRxiv and medRxiv
Image Credit: Lilian Lamech

eLife ambassadors brought Dr. John Inglis (twitter @JohnRInglis), co-founder of preprint servers bioRxiv and medRxiv, and Dr. Leslie B. Vosshall (twitter @pollyp1), ASAPBio ambassador and Professor at Rockefeller University, to share their expertise on a Tuesday afternoon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute, New York.

Preprints are scientific manuscripts that have yet to undergo or complete the peer review process which have been put on a public server. Dr. Vosshall, a strong advocate of open science, was keen on sharing how preprints can help speed up scientific progress by more rapidly disseminating new scientific ideas and injecting greater transparency into the publishing process. Faster access to the latest scientific works-in-progress also allows review and critique by the broader scientific community so authors can get swift feedback on their work.

Dr. John Inglis recounted his inspiration for setting up the preprint servers for biological sciences, bioRxiv and for medical sciences, medRxiv. He also mentioned that an increasing number of journals accept preprints for publishing, with some journals allowing direct submission from preprint servers.  Dr. Inglis talked about what it takes to upkeep a pre-print server, from securing funding from various sources to the wonderful staff required to keep up with manuscript submissions and the inherent potential of misusing the transparency of open science.

Dr. Vosshall shares her experience with pre-prints.
Image Credit: Lilian Lamech

The two speakers addressed an audience of 40 people, some of whom were skeptical of preprints. The short presentations by the speakers was followed by a Q&A session in which concerns of junk science being put on preprint servers, arguments of novelty claims and being scooped by preprints were addressed by Dr. Vosshall and Dr. Inglis. The open nature of a preprint server allows the scientific community to call out and address weak science and the minimal filters put in place to run the preprint servers help to filter away outright pseudo-scientific manuscripts.

The event was put together by eLife ambassadors (Michiel Boekhout, Lilian Lamech, Zheng Ser) in a grassroots effort to raise awareness on the benefits of preprints. The ambassadors approached Donna Gibson from Memorial Sloan Kettering Library services to collaborate and help organize this local event as part of the Authorship: Library series of seminars. Other eLife ambassador initiatives to promote pre-prints and peer review include organizing preprint journal clubs to increase awareness of the benefits of pre-prints while also training early career researchers in reviewing manuscripts.

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