Drafted by ASAPbio
Preprints are a global archive of knowledge that serves the public good.
Here, we hope to discuss and define the basic functions that scientists and funding agencies seek from a Core Preprint Service. We use the term “Core” to define the basic features that meet these goals and might define a “minimal viable product”. Additional services (either for- or not-for-profit) could grow on top of this core. The needs for good governance and the potential for adaptability are critical, since it may not be possible to build or even envision all elements of an initial core preprint service.
What Scientists Desire:
- Good visibility of their work. If preprints are difficult to find or behind a paywall, then the purposes of using preprints- to share findings rapidly, to establish priority, and to obtain feedback- are diminished.
- Credit for their efforts. Preprints need to be acknowledged by funders and universities as component of the evidence of productivity, particularly recent productivity.
- Easy access to preprints to aid their own research projects. The ability to search the entire preprint archive easily and receive RSS feeds will be appealing to biologists as has proven true for the physicists with arXiv.
- Easy and no (low) cost author uploads. Like many internet services, being free and easy to use (ie upload) will lower barriers for submission and facilitate wide-spread use in the life science sector. The option of charging small fees may be possible later, if there is larger scale adoption and possibly added features.
- The ability to update and submit new versions of the manuscript. Revisions are critical for a preprint service.
- Freedom to submit to a journal of the author’s choice. Preprints should not be aligned with a single journal or publisher in a way that creates the perception that the preprint server is a preferential ingestion mechanism for specific journals/ publishers.
- Sustainable model and long-term permanence of submitted work.
- Governance by well-established and trusted parties. Trust is an important component of a preprint service. Scientists and funders should have a voice in its governance.
- Open and rapid communication. The ability to make their supported research openly and rapidly available to the world wide scientific community and thus advance scientific progress.
- Information to help make funding decisions. The desire to make well-informed decisions on grant applications. Preprints offer access to the most recent and publicly accessible work from an applicant and facilitate merit-based evaluation of recent productivity
- Permanence of the scientific record. Stability and permanence of the scientific record (including maintaining different versions of the work).
- Community support. Excellent leadership and governance from the scientific community, credibility, and wide use.
- Facility sharing and innovation. The potential for future innovations and change in ways that maximize the funder’s scientific mission, promotes data sharing, and improves scientific evaluation.
- Upfront quality control to screen for pseudoscientific work and plagiarism. This QC process could include other assurances that fraudulent or low-quality science will not be maintained as a permanent and misleading record. Preprints will also enable more scientists to evaluate and potentially help to correct work before reaching journal publication.
I didn’t see any item on the agenda relating to the possibility of working with an existing preprint server system, such as arXiv. arXiv is widely respected, already works extremely well and is fundamentally subject-agnostic. Indeed, it already has subject categories at the life sciences interface and might very well be interested in opening up many others in core life sciences.
Have those pushing for a completely new preprint server discussed the possibility of using arXiv instead? There would be cost savings and fewer (if any) teething troubles. However, there is one other excellent reason to use arXiv – it would erode, rather than reinforce, some of the barriers between the physical and life sciences!