Eight reasons early posting models are taking off in 2018

Guest post by Christine Ferguson, 06/03/2018

Momentum continues to grow for early posting initiatives such as preprints and ‘Open Research’ platforms. In a previous post, I provided a recap of early posting models that have attracted buy-in from key stakeholders in the life sciences in recent years. Below, I recount eight reasons why these platforms are likely to be used and built upon still further by the life sciences community in 2018.

  1. Researchers are using preprints servers and ‘Open Research’ platforms: it is encouraging to see that preprint postings are increasing – bioRxiv currently hosts over 21,000 manuscripts compared to the 11,000 in May 2017 and is seeing a rising monthly rate of submission – 1,200 submissions in January 2018, their largest figure to date. To make life easier, bioRxiv offers authors the opportunity to submit their manuscript directly to a journal (the ‘B2J’ submission route): currently 120 journals from 31 publishers are available. Analyses and author surveys conducted by F1000 and Wellcome on their ‘Open Research’ platforms are positive and found that researchers appreciate the speed of publication and the variety of research outputs that can be published.
  2. The scale of CC-BY preprint postings is about to rocket: in Feb 2018, PLOS announced a partnership with bioRxiv that will enable authors to automatically post a preprint of their of their PLOS submissions following initial QC, on bioRxiv – the ‘J2B’ submission route. PLOS publishes one of the largest annual volumes of open access content under the CC-BY license that permits re-use by all, provided attribution is given. This partnership will not only dramatically increase the numbers of preprints being posted but will drive the posting of CC-BY preprints available for global discovery, discussion and text and data mining.
  3. Preprints are discoverable: preprints (and ‘Open Research’ publications prior to review) are not indexed by PubMed, yet numbers being posted are on the rise. The Open Science Foundation provides a solution to help researchers, funders and editors discover relevant studies via its own preprint server. It has also contributed the infrastructure for the Preprint Archive Search: it partners with 25 other preprint domains and currently provides access to 2 million searchable preprints.
  4. Preprints and Open Research models are attracting comments and reviews where commenting on “traditionally” published articles has failed: the recent announcement that PubMed Commons is to be discontinued seemed, at first, to be a slap in the face for the ‘open discussion of published literature’. This may be down to incentives: researchers are rewarded for their commenting efforts and time through reviewer recognition offered by initiatives such as ORCiD and Publons. Contrary to post-publication commenting as promoted by PubMed Commons and PLOS journals, however, a growing number of researchers do seem to be spending time on newly-released research, publicly critiquing it at a stage early enough to influence the associated publication.
  5. Anyone can join the scientific discussion and offer a review. Journal clubs are a staple activity of research groups across the world, with the emphasis being on keeping up with the recent literature and discussing the pros and cons of the research with peers in the lab. Some peer review platforms have set up facilities for journal club peer review, including Academic KarmaPREreviewPCIEvolBiolpreLights and biOverlay.
  6. The posted preprint can and is increasingly being used as a measure of productivity. ASAPbio lists the growing number of funding agencies that embrace the posting of preprints and encourage grant holders to include these products in funding reviews. The ASAPbio site is a fabulous starting point for information about preprints.
  7. There may be changes afoot for funder support of hybrid journals. Hybrid journals are accused of “double dipping” because they charge subscription fees to readers in return for access, as well as charging publication fees to authors who want their work included as ‘free to read’. The rise of preprints is one of several factors prompting a rethink on policies for the management and sharing of research outputs. A recent Q&A with Wellcome makes for interesting reading, with both Wellcome and UK Research and Innovation committed to undertaking reviews of their OA policies in 2018. As concerns grow over the costs of hybrid publication, funders may turn their attention to alternative routes to open research, including early posting, ‘green’ OA and fully OA journals.
  8. The journal impact factor is made to look even less meaningful as a metric for research assessment: article-level metrics suddenly make a whole lot more sense when evaluating research outputs posted as preprints or published as ‘Open Research’ – see the following FAQs: Wellcome Open Research general questions and F1000 FAQs on indexing of articles. I think that one of the greatest incentives for traction of these early posting models in the community is that they offer liberation from the journal impact factor and its problems (read this preprint for an account of the issues and additional possible antidotes).

These early posting models are promoting open peer review, enabling truly global participation and rapid dissemination of scientific findings. Given the commitments we have seen from funding bodies, publishers, those generating overlay platforms, early career selectors and reviewers, it will be interesting to see whether preprints or Open Research models attract the critical mass of submissions from life science researchers necessary for real change in scholarly communication.

I am hopeful that the advent of meta-research – data driven evaluation of how science is performed and communicated – will encourage transparent evaluation of the performance of these initiatives and provide an evidence base for ongoing traction within the life sciences.

About the author

Christine Ferguson (e-mail | Twitter | ORCID), Freelance life sciences editor and Open Science advocate and researcher

Trained lab biologist turned editor and Open Access journals professional, I was Joint Chief Editor at PLOS Biology (2014-2017). I am inspired by the principles of Open Science and the promise it holds for research and society, especially in resource-limited settings. Through consultancy work with stakeholders across the research and higher education community, my focus is to help identify and promote innovative technologies or practices that could lead to more effective knowledge production and exchange; and to understand the cultural change required for traction of these innovations.