Scientific breakthroughs, in various fields, have the power to change the world, often for the better. This is evidenced throughout history. We have abolished or controlled many once-fatal diseases, and the medical technology we have today saves a lot of lives.
In the case of groundbreaking scientific discoveries, it is in the public’s interest to know about them as quickly as possible. The downside is, it can take years for research in the field of biomedical science to go through the peer-reviewed publication process. This can significantly impede scientific progress.
A group of biomedical researchers, however, is striving to change that by publishing their papers online for free, prior to being peer reviewed. More and more papers in this field are being posted to the public website, bioRxiv, where anyone can read and comment on them.
The “About” section of the website explains:
“bioRxiv (pronounced “bio-archive”) is a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences… By posting preprints on bioRxiv, authors are able to make their findings immediately available to the scientific community and receive feedback on draft manuscripts before they are submitted to journals.”
The website continues:
“Articles are not peer-reviewed, edited, or typeset before being posted online. However, all articles undergo a basic screening process for offensive and/or non-scientific content and are checked for plagiarism.”
The fields of physics and math have been posting work to preprint servers similar to this one for years — since the 1990s in fact. Eighty percent of the manuscripts posted to these servers go on to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Feedback received during the preprint stages of publication has helped many an author make positive updates to the final version.
In the field of biomedical science, however, there has long been a fear that preprint publishing would be damaging to one’s career. That view is slowly starting to change.
Recently, a group of 70 biologists met in Maryland, under the meeting hashtag #ASAPbio. The topic discussed was whether preprint publication should be more widely embraced. Those in support of preprinting offered two important arguments: Firstly, preprinting can expedite the scientific process; and secondly it gives the public, which pays for much of the academic research costs through taxes, access to the research.
On the subject, Kenneth Gibbs, PhD, tweeted:
“… We also must fulfill our contract to the public who supports our ability to do research #ASAPbio”
Some opponents of preprinting argue that if a work is not peer reviewed, it may disseminate inaccurate information and would therefore need to be retracted, thus damaging an author’s credibility. However, many papers that do go through the peer-reviewed process have also been found to have inaccuracies, which have to be subsequently corrected.
Many of the researchers in support of preprinting still want to have their work peer reviewed and published in traditional journals. Currently, some journals do not accept preprinted papers, while others do. Other journals will accept preprinted papers, but only with permission. The researchers in support of #ASAPbio hope that preprinting and traditional publication can go hand in hand, and not be opposing forces.
Having the latest biomedical research accessible at our fingertips may be highly beneficial, especially if the authors take good care to check their work for errors and inconsistencies before printing it. If this process is more widely, and responsibly, embraced, we could see faster innovations in this important field.
What do you think? Is preprinting scientific research online a good idea?
Tanya is a writer at The Alternative Daily with a passion for meditation, music, poetry, and overall creative and active living. She has a special interest in exploring traditional Eastern remedies and superfoods from around the globe, and enjoys spending time immersed in nature.