Steadily growing year on year, pre-prints are hard to ignore. It is obvious that pre-print servers are fulfilling a demand in scholarly communications, and there are benefits from sharing findings quickly outside of peer review. What kind of impact do pre-prints, which are free to read and post, have on open access publishing, and on the publishing process in general? Opening the discussion was our host and Head of Publisher Relations, Romy Beard, and joining us as our pre-print experts were Ben Mudrak, Senior Product Manager at ChemRxiv and Philip Cohen, Director at SocArXiv.
Before we get started, let’s explain what we mean when we talk about pre-prints. A pre-print is an article written by an author that is not peer-reviewed - essentially the same as what an author would submit to a journal for review. Crucially pre-print servers differ from archiving because an article in a repository will usually be peer-reviewed. The third article type we will refer to is the published article, which is on the publisher’s website and is peer-reviewed, edited, and typeset. Now we have that sorted, let’s jump straight into the discussion!
Why are people sharing their papers on SocArXiv? It’s about efficiency, engagement, inclusivity, and equity.
There can be long delays in publishing, and this can make researchers frustrated. Sometimes it can take a year from acceptance to publication, and Philip highlighted that right now there is a backlog in peer review. This is especially difficult when you have results and findings you are keen to share! Pre-prints are one solution to this problem. Others want their work to come out more equitably and with more reach – not so different from the aims of open access. What is desirable is a sense of connection, so when those hard-earned results are ready, they can be shared quickly with interested peers.
Ben summarized the advantages: scientists can gather feedback rapidly and therefore grow their networks, it’s a good way to share work in progress when reporting to a funder or applying for a job, and pre-prints can be used to show the journey of a research paper. Over at SocArXiv, they even link to published versions of pre-prints, and any papers associated with an Open Science Framework project will be connected to the project data. Interestingly, there is an increase in publishers accepting submissions from some pre-print servers. Are you feeling dizzy? We are - it’s a lot!
This sounds great but doesn’t peer review ensure the publication of rigorous scholarship? Although pre-prints are not peer-reviewed, it is not a free-for-all. SocArXiv was started by social scientists and librarians, and ChemRxiv is associated with five different chemical societies. So, it is not the same as posting something on the internet without moderation. Pre-print servers also don’t claim to have fully verified results and reviewed data, so they should be used with this in mind.
Submissions are screened for metadata, pseudoscience, fraud, dangerous content, and whether the papers relate to the subject area. Doing this keeps basic standards, builds trust, and most importantly readers can find what they are looking for. And remember, pre-prints can be the start of the publication journey – 80-90% of published articles in the field of Astronomy start off as pre-prints. Other subject areas are starting to come around to changing the culture around pre-prints and using them as a tool to disseminate findings. Posting on a pre-print server doesn’t mean the paper won’t be peer-reviewed at a later stage or cannot be submitted to a journal.
We want people to understand pre-prints as a tightly bound part of publishing and not something completely separate.
Because pre-prints are free to access, we’re sensing some friction here, and it’s with open access! A publisher might ask for the pre-print of a published article to be taken down, although this is happening less and less now – so don’t be put off sharing a pre-print, and make sure to check the publisher’s guidelines. It’s true that if an article is posted as a pre-print, an author might have less incentive to publish open access. An author could think that if it is available on pre-print server, why pay for open access? On the other hand, an author with funding for publishing open access could have a pre-print and an open access peer reviewed version of the article.
The good news is that there are some solutions available to tackle these conflicting interests. Philip shared the example of pre-print review, and there are some journals, such as those published by Peer Community, that will review and accept a pre-print as a journal article. Rather than being hosted on a dedicated journal site, the article will continue to be hosted on the pre-print server.
From Ben’s perspective, the percentage of pre-prints that end up as open access is around the same as a standard submission. Both speakers concluded that they want to improve the data flow, so different versions of an article can be tracked easily. This will help integrate pre-prints further into the existing publishing process – highlighting a new way of publishing that flows from pre-print to publication and institutional archiving.
Romy was intrigued to know if the announcement from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to increase the amount of research that is freely available would perhaps expand the use of pre-prints. The panel agreed it is too early to tell as more details are emerging of these plans. And it is not just OSTP who are looking into widening access to research and creating open access policies. As open access continues to grow, it will be interesting to see if there is an increase in traffic along the pre-print to open access publication route. The panel certainly seemed to think so!
Watch or re-watch the webinar via the page below.