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Preprints – what’s in it for me?

A preprint is a scientific manuscript uploaded by authors to an open access, public server before formal peer review. With the rising popularity of preprint servers enabling fast and direct distribution of knowledge across the world, and plans underway to establish a ‘Central Service for Preprints’, Isabel Baker asked some converts across the MRC community why they’ve jumped on board.

Dr Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, Programme Leader, Memory and Perception group, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit

“Preprint posting is the right thing to do for science and society. It enables us to share our results earlier, speeding up the pace of science. It also enablesDr Nikolaus Kriegeskorte us to catch errors earlier, minimising the risk of alerting the world to our findings (through a high-impact publication) before the science is solid.

“Importantly, preprints ensure long-term, open access to our results for scientists and for the public. Preprints can be rapidly posted for free on arXiv and bioRxiv, enabling instant open access. We post every paper as a preprint in my lab, at the time of the first submission to a journal.”

Extract from the full article ‘The selfish scientist’s guide to preprint posting’, also published on Nikolaus’ blog.

Professor Sylvia Richardson, Director, MRC Biostatistics Unit

Professor Sylvia Richardson“In statistics, the tradition to use the arXiv preprint server is well established and followed pretty much universally. We certainly use it extensively here at the MRC Biostatistics Unit.

“I heartily welcome the fact that biostatisticians will soon be able to quote papers submitted to arXiv, or its partner bioRxiv, in grant and fellowship applications or in five-yearly funding reviews. It is good to see that the biomedical sciences are catching up.”

Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine of the University of Cambridge, and Chair of MRC Molecular and Cellular Medicine Board

“I’m keen on preprints for a number of reasons. They enable results to be made available to other scientists more rapidly. For review processes (eg five-yearly MRC funding reviews, grant applications), preprints mean the reviewers have access to the most recent work undertaken by individuals. This may be especially important for earlier career researchers, those who have moved, or those undertaking long-term, high-risk, difficult science.

“We all know that on occasions the name of a journal, or its impact factor, can become a surrogate for the quality of the science that it contains. Use of preprints to disseminate important findings may also be useful in encouraging us to examine the source material.”

Professor Cyrus Cooper, Director, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit

Professor Cyrus Cooper“A few months ago I knew very little about the whole preprint world. When I asked senior scientists here in the UK for their opinions, I found that there were distinct differences in the responses I got from the clinical and biological side.

“Clinical scientists responded that there’s a plethora of speciality open access and online journals, and that specific peer review of papers and delays in publication is acceptable. The biological sciences were completely different. There was strong support ― not just for the paper, but also for the data that went in to the paper, to be immediately available.”

Professor Wendy Bickmore, Director, MRC Human Genetics Unit, part of the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine

Professor Wendy Bickmore“I’m a recent convert to the preprint service. I was persuaded about 18 months ago by John Inglis, who runs the Cold Spring
Harbour preprint service bioRxiv, and by my computational colleagues, particularly those with a physics background. Currently I’ve got six papers in bioRxiv and I’ve found it an incredibly liberating experience. I posted the majority of these papers before sending them to a peer reviewed journal.

“One problem with preprint services is that they are enormous and it can be difficult to find a specific paper unless you know where to look for it. But using social media makes a big difference. I tweet about papers when I post them. By using social media, communities of shared interest start to share their information on what they’ve found interesting.”

From 1 April 2017 the MRC will accept preprints in grant applications and five-yearly funding reviews, and encourages applicants to make use of established preprint servers. Read more about preprints in grant applications in The Scientist.

The MRC has signed up to a set of principles, along with 10 other international research funders, for establishing a ‘Central Service for Preprints’. The service would seek to aggregate content from multiple sources.

ASAPbio (a scientist-driven organisation promoting the productive use of preprints in biology) has released a Request for Applications (RFA) to identify potential suppliers to build a ‘Central Service for Preprints’ in the life sciences. 

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