The rationale for ASAPbio
Most scientists agree that the research in biology could be accelerated and improved if scientific publishing was made easier, faster, and more transparent. On the evening of February 16th and all day on the 17th, ~70 members of the science community, young and old, leaders and trainees, and representatives of journals, scientific societies, academic institutions, and funding agencies, will convene at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland to discuss ways in which “preprints” might facilitate this goal. This meeting, called ASAPbio, will also be streamed live so that anyone can watch online.
Preprints allow scientific findings to be posted immediately, without peer review, in a format freely accessible to anyone in the world. They can help scientists get productive feedback on their work and also could serve as interim evidence for productivity. While preprints have been a key aspect of the physics community for decades, they are not widely used in biology because they are incompatible with the policies of some journals, not officially acknowledged by many funding agencies, and not clarified with regard to their role in establishing priority of discovery in the biology community.
Focus of the Meeting
The ASAPbio meeting will focus specifically on the questions of how preprints can be used optimally and fairly to: 1) advance progress in the life sciences, and 2) meet the needs of practicing scientists, from trainees to senior scientists. The meeting has been organized in the hope of recommending policies that ensure that preprints contribute positively to the communication of results in the life sciences.
Since preprint servers are already widely used in physics and related fields (arXiv) and are now available in the life sciences, we do not wish to debate whether they should or should not exist. We also recognize that there are many other important and contentious issues in the publication process, including journal-based peer review, the use of biobliometrics (such as impact factors), and means of access to published work. However, given the brevity of the meeting, we have arranged it to focus primarily on preprints, recognizing the immediacy, complexity, and potential impact of this single topic.
In contrast to the fields of physics, mathematics and computer sciences, the life sciences community has yet to fully consider preprint servers and to debate the questions that they raise. The lack of consensus about answers to such questions creates substantial barriers for their use. For this reason, an important goal for the morning session on February 17th is to discuss and clarify the use of preprints in establishing priority of discovery, applying for research grants, and preceding a traditional submission process to journals. These issues, which have been clarified for preprints in physics, are central to how preprints might be compatible with the practices and the needs of life scientists. The afternoon session will promote discussions about how preprints might interface with other aspects of the life sciences, including new methods of evaluation, increased data sharing, and better organization of and access to the products of our scientific work.
Potential Products of ASAPbio
An important goal of the meeting is to identify areas of consensus and outcomes, in addition to generating ideas and promoting lively discussion. The life sciences community is not monolithic, and opinions will not be uniform. Some fields or constituencies might embrace preprints, while others might not. Recognizing this diversity, we nevertheless hope to develop feasible next steps based upon a “reasonable consensus” about some conclusions at the meeting.
While not possible to predict in advance, potential outcomes could take some of the following forms:
- A statement for scientists to sign, committing to specific responsible actions regarding how to disclose new work as preprints and how to cite preprints.
- A statement for journal editors and publishers to sign, clarifying policies on about manuscripts that have previously appeared as preprints.
- A request to funding agencies regarding clarification of policies surrounding the citation and provision of preprints in applications for grants.
- A definition of the characteristics of preprint servers that are likely to best serve the life science community.
- The generation of ideas and possible next steps on several issues that involve preprints. Some topics of interest might include: methods for evaluating work after it is disseminated on a server; strategies for making preprints readily discoverable by life scientists and others; and procedures for creating a better historical record by linking various time-stamped versions of a scientific work.
- Publication of meeting report that will provide an overview of the proceedings, as well as an account of areas of agreement, new ideas, and further recommendations.