Preprinting in biology is gaining steam, but the process is still far from normal: the upload rate to all preprint servers is about 1% that of PubMed. The most obvious way for individual scientists to help turn the tide is, of course, to preprint their own work. But given that it now takes longer to accumulate data for a paper, this opportunity might not come up as often as we’d like.
So, what else can we do to promote the productive use of preprints in biology?
1. Cite preprints
Many biologists, especially early career researchers, are concerned that their preprints won’t be properly acknowledged.
If you’d like to see some anecdata, here’s a word cloud generated by digitally polling the audience at the 2016 EMBO Long Term (postdoctoral) Fellowship retreat in November, 2016 (39 devices responded). The prompt was, “What is your biggest concern about preprints?”
While we have yet to hear an example of a preprint author getting scooped, the concern remains very real. To counter this fear, we need to set an expectation that work disclosed in preprints will be cited fairly when relevant to other preprints and journal articles. A commitment to fairly cite relevant preprints was included in a draft statement from our first meeting, and it was widely endorsed.
2. Comment on a preprint
One of the greatest opportunities preprinting presents is the chance to receive more feedback on a paper. For example, Nikolai Slavov describes how thoughtful, constructive feedback helped his paper improve:
By using this feedback mechanism, we can strengthen one anothers’ science.
3. Set up email alerts
bioRxiv offers both keyword/author and subject category alerts via email. Preprints will also show up in your Google scholar alerts along with published papers. Either way you set it up, you’ll get information about new preprints delivered straight to your inbox.
4. Review a preprint in your journal club
Reviewing preprints may be even more rewarding that reviewing papers: you have the option to share your opinions with the authors, publicly or privately.
— Academic Karma (@AcademicKarma) August 4, 2016
It’s a great educational experience for students, too. Prachee Avasthi at the University of Kansas Medical Center draws material for her “Analysis of Scientific Papers” course exclusively from preprint servers. She’s generously shared her syllabus and introductory slide deck, and the students’ reviews can be found on the Winnower.
See more examples of preprint journal clubs here.
There are probably researchers in your department who aren’t aware that someone they know has posted a preprint. You can spark conversations around your lab or at conferences by affixing a sticker to your laptop, water bottle, or office door. See examples below for inspiration.
Fill out this simple form to request some free stickers.
6. Add a message to your email signature
You can raise awareness about preprints with every message sent. Here’s an example:
7. Tell your preprint story
We’re collecting stories about researchers’ experience with preprints. You can tweet them @jessicapolka or using the #ASAPbio hashtag. You can also make a video (similar to Nikolai’s, above), or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to share something in longer written format.
8. Become an ambassador
ASAPbio ambassadors have agreed to act as local points of contact for discussions regarding preprints. They are listed on asapbio.org and have a private discussion group and access to shared presentation materials like slides and posters.
Sign up here.
9. Promote policy change
Journal, funder, and university policies are critical to make preprinting a viable options in biology. If journals with restrictive preprint policies operate in your field, you could write to editors to request that they reconsider. Requests could be made spontaneously or by using an ongoing correspondence to bring attention to the matter.
— Casey Greene (@GreeneScientist) September 29, 2016
A anonymous researcher includes a statement like this one in their peer reviews:
I encourage authors to post future manuscripts to preprint servers and archive data and strains in public repositories.
If you’re on a faculty search committee, consider working to insert a call for preprints into the job ad:
— Stephen Floor (@stephenfloor) September 9, 2016
Of course, this works best if customized to fit your own experience (eg, a screenshot of the preprint you’ve been discussing in the talk). You can download a template in pptx here.
Note: the original version of this post encouraged responses to the NIH’s RFI on preprints as item #10.