Have a question that isn’t answered below? Please feel free to email it to jessica.polka@asapbio.org.


  1. Introduction
  2. ArXiv founder Paul Ginsparg’s thoughts on scooping
  3. Can preprints help in cases of unintentional “scooping” (two groups are working on the same problem; work from one lab appears first)?
  4. How can preprints help cooperation between competing groups?
  5. In establishing priority, could I be unlucky and get scooped during the publication process itself?
  6. Will my preprint be seen? How do I know if my work is not cited because it was wrongly ignored or because other scientists are just not looking at preprints?
  7. Will preprints result in lots of small, poor quality postings just to prevent getting scooped and claiming priority?
  8. Can my journal submission be scooped by the appearance of a preprint from another group, leading to editorial rejection of my paper?
  9. Can preprints help scooping from presentations at meetings?
  10. Would my preprint enable my competitors to catch up?

Submitting preprints

  1. How should I prepare my preprint before hitting the submit button?
  2. Does a preprint differ from a journal submission?
  3. Which journals allow preprints?
  4. What about the timing of the preprint relative to the journal submission?
  5. Do I need to submit all of the information on how the work was done (e.g. all Methods)?
  6. What about sharing of reagents after a preprint?
  7. What about co-submission of papers from different laboratories?
  8. What if I want to revise my preprint?
  9. What if I have been “scooped” by another paper appearing in a journal or a preprint server? Should I submit a preprint?


  1. What is a preprint?
  2. What constitutes a preprint and when should I submit my work as a preprint?
  3. Why do people use preprints? What is their value?
  4. Can a preprint help my journal submission?
  5. Do funders/job search committees give credit for preprints?
  6. Why publish a paper if the work is already a preprint?
  7. Will preprints be integrated with PubMed or a similar service?
  8. Will preprint commentary potentially hurt or harm my paper?
  9. What are the main arguments against preprints or possible unintended consequences?
  10. What are the preprint servers for biology?
  11. Without peer review, how do I know if a preprint is flawed?
  12. Can you include a preprint on an NIH biosketch?
  13. Do preprints establish priority?
  14. How does one cite a preprint in a journal publication?
  15. Are preprints “open access?”
  16. What if incorrect information gets disseminated to the broader public?


ASAPbio receives many inquiries regarding preprints and “scooping”.  As jobs and grants become very competitive, there is increasing worry among biologists about scooping, ie that their ideas/results will be published by others and that they will not receive proper attribution. Here we try to breakdown the issue of scooping into specific scenarios and points of view.  However, it is worthwhile prefacing these remarks that scooping, while it can occur, is less prevalent than one might think.  Most work is unique or unique enough that it concerns of scooping do not compromise publication.  Furthermore, even though reagents have become more available and assays easier to perform, most work is not that easy to replicate in a few weeks by an unscrupulous scientist. The key question is whether preprints will have unintentional consequences of engendering bad behavior and making biologists more vulnerable to scooping compared to a journal-only publication.   Our argument is that this is unlikely, and indeed there is likely be to greater protection and overall fairness in establishing credit for work by submitting both to a preprint server (for fair and timely disclosure) and to a journal (for validation by peer review), as discussed below.
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ArXiv founder Paul Ginsparg’s thoughts on scooping

Since arXiv has a long track record and experience, we asked the following question to Paul Ginsparg, physicist and founder of the preprint server arXiv:

“Many biologists worry that they will get “scooped” if they place their work on a preprint server. How common is it for someone to see a study posted on arXiv and then try to rush their own paper to a journal to claim credit and try to receive more recognition for the work?”

His response:

It can’t happen, since arXiv postings are accepted as date-stamped priority claims.

Eventually I came to understand that biologists do not use “scoop” in the standard journalistic sense, where it means an exclusive news item of exceptional importance or surprise, with no unethical connotation. Instead “scooping” in the context of biology research appears to mean using information or ideas without proper attribution. This is dishonest, of course, regardless of the source. Similarly, when biologists are described as “competitive”, it is apparently connotes some form of unscrupulous behavior. I’d long responded that physicists are as or more competitive, in the sense of being eager to be first to discover some new phenomenon and get credit for it, but now clarify that competitive ordinarily stops well short of cheating or stealing. On the other hand, while fear of such unethical behavior may seem widespread in biological circles, it’s not at all clear how prevalent the behavior is in reality, or for that matter would be if preprints were widely available.

Whether or not the concerns are exaggerated, though, the long-term solution could still be systematic posting of preprints, and consensus of the community that it counts for staking intellectual precedence. There might be some intermediate pilfering phase, but a few high profile cases of admonishment and censure would quickly establish a proper ethos.

Once preprints achieve higher number, visibility, and easier searchability within a subcommunity, no one can plausibly claim they “did not see it”. Vale and Hyman have recently discussed the principles for establishing “priority of discovery”, disentangling disclosure from validation, and examine how journal publication dates can obscure priority.

Biology partitions into subcommunities with sizes ranging from many hundreds into the thousands of researchers, just as in physics and other research areas, so the self-policing mechanisms can be just as effective.

As for concerns that research in biology is fundamentally different from other fields, there are many ideas or calculations in theoretical physics that are much easier to reproduce and claim than would be an experiment in biology. And various tabletop experiments in condensed matter physics might be roughly comparable to those in biology in that regard.

But the experience has been that unexpected or rapid progress leads to increased preprint usage within communities, precisely to stake priority claims, and that increased usage remains the norm afterwards.

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Can preprints help in cases of unintentional “scooping” (two groups are working on the same problem; work from one lab appears first)?

This happens to every scientist at some point.  We look at PubMed or examine the latest table of contents in Journal X and find a similar study.  Often, there is no bad intention, just different labs in a similar field converging on the same topic.  Naturally, this scenario can be very dispiriting to the student or postdoc from “second group” whose work is not yet published.

With Preprints: If the “second” group is close to the completion of their work, then they can post their findings on a preprint server.  The “first” preprint or journal publication should be cited in this work.  If the “second” work appears within a few weeks, it is clear that this work was performed independently as the time span between the two disclosures is too short for the “second group” to have initiated and completed the study de novo after the announcement of the first paper.

Without Preprints: If the “second” group tries to make their disclosure in a journal, then the situation is less predictable.  First, many journals might reject the work editorially or after peer review because it is too similar to already published work (even though it was performed independently and at approximately the same time). Furthermore, the journal publication will take time (potentially months), thus creating a larger time gap between the first and second study and making more ambiguous what the second group achieved independently at the time of the disclosure of the first group.

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How can preprints help cooperation between competing groups?

This is an ideal and not infrequent situation where two groups become aware of similar work and wish to “co-disclose” or “co-publish” together to obtain a similar time stamp.

Preprints:   This situation is very easy to navigate with preprints, since the disclosure is under the control of the scientists.  The groups simply have to agree upon a date when they will submit to a preprint server. The coordinated submissions then receive the same time stamp and are made available to the scientific community concurrently. There are no hassles and no unpredictability.

Journals: The same outcome can be achieved with journals, but with greater difficulty and uncertainty, since:

  • The different scientific groups may decide to submit to different journals, based upon journal preference or likelihood of being accepted. Coordination the timing of publication date between two or more journals is possible but often becomes difficult.  Generally, one journal must be pressured to speed up its publication pipeline for fear of being second.
  • If submitted to the same journal, the journal may ultimately decide to only accept one of multiple submissions given demands for journal space.
  • The referee process can be unpredictable in the same or different journals, making it difficult or impossible to coordinate timing. One paper might also get rejected at the very end of the pipeline.

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In establishing priority, could I be unlucky and get scooped during the publication process itself?

Let us imagine a scenario in which two groups with similar discoveries backed by similar quality of data submit to two separate journals at the same time. For one group, the journal sends out the work for review, the reviews are favorable, and the work is published quickly. However, the other group is less fortunate and subject to the “Samsara” of resubmissions and revisions; two journals reject the work and the third journal requires lengthy revisions.  While imaginary, most scientists have done an even better controlled experiment of submitting the same paper and receiving different outcomes- rejected by top journal X and top journal Y, then proceeding rapidly to publication in top journal Z.

By submitting only to a journal, the scientist loses control of the timing of when their discovery is made public.  That decision is made by a journal editor.  In some cases, one can be lucky and it might sail through. In other cases, it may have to undergo many rounds of journal submissions and revisions.  There is also perception and (perhaps a reality) that the top scientists at top institutions have an easier time getting work published quickly in top journals, whereas younger scientists and scientists from less well-known institutions can have a harder time. Preprints provide transparency, equity, and reliable timing of disclosure.

Furthermore, the initial manuscript submissions to journals are lost from the historical record.  A scientist cannot claim “I made the discovery at the same time as scientist Y” but my paper took longer to get published.  The journal review process occurs “behind the curtain”, the community and history will never know exactly what a scientist discovered or how data was interpreted when he/she initially submitted the work to a journal; there is no public record of this submission. Perhaps an injustice occurred when the journal delayed publication, thus delaying the transmission of an important discovery.  However, perhaps there were fundamental problems in the data or in the original interpretation which came to light during the review. We simply don’t know.

Although not the intention of this article, Eric Lander’s article “The Heroes of CRISPR” (Lander, 2016 Cell) illustrates the unreliability of using journals for establishing the timing of disclosure with several examples:

CRISPR as an adaptive immune system

“Mojica went out to celebrate with colleagues over cognac and returned the next morning to draft a paper. So began an 18- month odyssey of frustration. Recognizing the importance of the discovery, Mojica sent the paper to Nature. In November 2003, the journal rejected the paper without seeking external review; inexplicably, the editor claimed the key idea was already known. In January 2004, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences decided that the paper lacked sufficient ‘‘novelty and importance’’ to justify sending it out to review. Molecular Microbiology and Nucleic Acid Research rejected the paper in turn. By now desperate and afraid of being scooped, Mojica sent the paper to Journal of Molecular Evolution. After 12 more months of review and revision, the paper reporting CRISPR’s likely function finally appeared on February 1, 2005 (Mojica et al., 2005)

“The authors proposed that the CRISPR locus serves in a defense mechanism—as they put it, poetically, ‘‘CRISPRs may represent a memory of ‘past genetic aggressions.’’’ Vergnaud’s efforts to publish their findings met the same resistance as Mojica’s. The paper was rejected from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Bacteriology, Nucleic Acids Research, and Genome Research, before being published in Microbiology on March 1, 2005.”

“Finally, a third researcher—Alexander Bolotin, a Russian e´ migre´ who was a microbiologist at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research—also published a paper describing the extrachromosomal origin of CRISPR, in Microbiology in September 2005 (Bolotin et al., 2005). His report was actually submitted a month after Mojica’s February 2005 paper had already appeared—because his submission to another journal had been rejected.”

On the in vitro reconstitution of CRISPR and the potential of gene editing:

“Siksnys submitted his paper to Cell on April 6, 2012. Six days later, the journal rejected the paper without external review. (In hindsight, Cell’s editor agrees the paper turned out to be very important.) Siksnys condensed the manuscript and sent it on May 21 to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which published it online on September 4. Charpentier and Doudna’s paper fared better. Submitted to Science 2 months after Siksnys’s on June 8, it sailed through review and appeared online on June 28.”

Some journals, including EMBO Press titles, offer “scoop protection” at the time of preprint posting.

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Will my preprint be seen? How do I know if my work is not cited because it was wrongly ignored or because other scientists are just not looking at preprints?

All physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists use arXiv and as Paul Ginsparg articulates in his comments about scooping, it is not plausible to claim that “I never saw it”.  Preprints are undergoing a transition in biology where the numbers are still small and many scientists do not know about them.  This situation will likely change in the future and ASAPbio will also work towards making them more discoverable.  However, even now, preprints are permanent public documents with DOI number.  They are a record of an accomplishment that can be pointed out to any other scientists, cited in journals and in grants to funding agency.

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Will preprints result in lots of small, poor quality postings just to prevent getting scooped and claiming priority?

There is no indication that this type of behavior has emerged in the physics community as a result of wide-spread use of preprints.  Scientists do not engage in quick posting of low quality work because they are wary of developing a bad reputation in the community. Furthermore, if the work is poor, then it will likely just be ignored by the rest of the community.  A discovery is not just a date stamp; there has to be clear data supporting the discovery and clear articulation of the nature of the discovery in order to make an impact on the scientific community.

That said, preprints could potentially allow authors to post (and update) papers throughout the process of their development, enabling them to share findings with the community before polishing them into a more comprehensive story.

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Can my journal submission be scooped by the appearance of a preprint from another group, leading to editorial rejection of my paper?

Another group posts a preprint on a similar work to my own.  I decide that I do not want to submit a preprint and but rather go straight for a journal publication.  Will the chances of my publication be jeopardized by the appearance of this earlier preprint?

We have discussed this scenario with several journals and the response received so far is that editors consider only peer-reviewed work (on PubMed or the like) in applying criterion of originality.  They do not use preprints as a basis of deciding whether to review and ultimately accept work. However, reviewers might note in their reviews if there is a discrepancy in the results of the studies, since they have public access to the preprint.

We note that intentionally ignoring and failing to cite the earlier preprint in an appropriate way in one’s own journal article (or preprint) would be deceitful, as it would be intentionally ignoring work from a scientific colleague in order to advance ones own work.  Such behavior is not tolerated in the physics community (see comments by Paul Ginsparg).  It should not be tolerated in biology as well.

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Can preprints help scooping from presentations at meetings?

Scientific meetings are increasingly becoming dominated by published or soon to be published data (e.g. manuscripts that are accepted).  Many scientists are wary of sharing earlier stage work, even if they have a manuscript in hand as they have no idea of how long it might take to get published.  Meeting presentations and posters are generally not considered to be “protected”, since the data is not citable and only a limited number of individuals have access to the talk/poster.   In contrast, a preprint is a public, globally-accessible document, has a DOI number, and is citable as a disclosure.  Thus, if a scientist wishes to disclosure new data at a scientific meeting, they have the option of also reporting that data either before or after the meeting in the form of a preprint. In contrast, if the presented work is only submitted to a journal, the time until public disclosure is not certain.

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Would my preprint enable my competitors to catch up?

Naturally, the answer is yes.  But the same is true for a journal publication.  Once work is public, the entire scientific community can make use of the new knowledge and this is indeed how the scientific enterprise advances as whole.  That is why preprints are valuable for science and valuable for society.  This is also the primary goal of the public and funding agencies who pay our salaries and enable our research.

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How should I prepare my preprint before hitting the submit button?

Prepare you manuscript as carefully as you would for a journal submission, if not more so. In bioRxiv, all versions submitted are retained and can be viewed.

Unlike a journal submission, which will be seen by only two or three anonymous peer reviewers, your posted preprint is public and the scientific community will be able judge your work immediately. Thus, be sure that your preprint meets the benchmarks of rigor and quality that you aspire for yourself or your laboratory. A well-constructed preprint will help to build your scientific reputation. In contrast, a hastily submitted preprint with scientific errors (or even grammatical mistakes) might be detrimental. An editor and the peer reviewers can help to correct mistakes as part of the services of journal submission; however, for a preprint, the burden of quality control belongs to authors. We recommend that the submitting authors perform a rigorous internal review process, which can involve lab members or scientists outside of your lab.

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Does a preprint differ from a journal submission?

In most cases, they are the same in content. However, the preprint could offer more freedom in terms of format. For example, the short communication format of many journals has strict guidelines for length, formatting and often has only a paragraph of introduction and conclusion. However, in a preprint, you could extend the introduction, conclusion and references to provide more context for the work. Additionally, a preprint can be uploaded in a single PDF file without the complicated forms for uploading separate images that are common for journal submissions.

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Which journals allow preprints?

Many journals that publish biological research allow preprint submissions. To get a sense for preprint policies, you can check SHERPA/RoMEO or Wikipedia’s List of academic journals by preprint policy. However, before submitting a manuscript, always check the journal’s website for recent changes or any nuances of their policy.

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What about the timing of the preprint relative to the journal submission?

This is your decision. In many cases, preprints are submitted close to the time of the journal submission. Several journals have enabled one-click manuscript transfer from bioRxiv. Some scientists may want to post a preprint publicly for a few weeks before submission and point their community to this version for initial feedback. Some editors invite submissions from preprint servers, and some journals have even appointed specialized “preprint editors” to do this work.

Some investigators may decide to submit after receiving the first set of reviews. However, it is important to note that some journals (e.g. currently Cell) do not allow new version to be submitted after peer review for continued consideration at the journal. Furthermore, many journals, however, do not allow a preprint submission of the final version of the manuscript. See the Nature policy as an example, which prevents upload of the copyedited, formatted article.

It’s important to consider the policy of the preprint server as well. For example, bioRxiv allows submission anytime prior to journal acceptance.

Whatever you decide, it’s best to be transparent with the journal editor about your preprint by notifying them when you post or in your cover letter.

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Do I need to submit all of the information on how the work was done (e.g. all Methods)?

A preprint should fairly and completely disclose the data and methods that necessary to evaluate and replicate the work, just as in a journal publication. If properly performed, then authors should also receive credit and be properly cited for their discovery. As with the formatting question above, a more complete description will help a scientist to build a positive reputation for thorough and open scientific communication.

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What about sharing of reagents after a preprint?

This is a grey area and one that might change over time. Currently, authors may benefit from sharing reagents after a preprint posting but are not required to do so, in contrast with most journal publications. Sharing ahead of publication may seed new collaborations, accelerate discovery, and also enhance the group’s reputation for being cooperative.

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What about co-submission of papers from different laboratories?

With preprints, it is simple to co-submit and have work from different groups appear at the same time.  In contrast, a journal may not want both papers or one paper may be delayed to referee requests.

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What is a preprint?

A preprint is a complete scientific manuscript that is uploaded by the authors to a public server.  The preprint contains complete data and methodologies; it is often the same manuscript being submitted to a journal (see FAQ on submitting preprints).  After a brief quality-control inspection to ensure that the work is scientific in nature, the author’s manuscript is posted within a day or so on the Web without peer review and can be viewed without charge by anyone in the world. Based upon feedback and/or new data, new versions of your preprint can be submitted; however, prior preprint versions are also retained and cannot be removed. Preprints allow scientists to directly control the dissemination of their work to the world-wide scientific community.

In most cases, the same work posted as preprint also is submitted for peer review at a journal.  Thus, preprints (rapid, but not validated through peer-review) and journal publication (slow, but providing validation using peer-review) work in parallel as a communication system for scientific research.

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What constitutes a preprint and when should I submit my work as a preprint?

A preprint is usually the same manuscript that is submitted to a journal, although other types of information that are currently difficult to publish (e.g. negative results) could be transmitted. Please see our related questions under the Preprint Submissions.

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Why do people use preprints? What is their value?

Because journal publication is slow and the peer review process unpredictable, preprints provide a mechanism for rapidly communicating research with the scientific community. This is good for science overall, since disseminating new knowledge or techniques leads to new discoveries. However, there are tangible benefits to the scientist who uses preprints, a subset of which are described below. Many of these points are also articulated in a commentary in Science Magazine (May 20, 2016).

  1. Evidence of productivity and accomplishment. A preprint provides funding agencies and promotion and hiring committees with public evidence of your most recent accomplishments, which is pertinent for their decision-making.
  2. Visibility of work promotes invitation to meetings (meeting organizers are often looking for recent work not published in journals).
  3. Feedback on your work. You can send the link of your public preprint to fellow scientists and ask for comments. Sometimes scientists might contact you through email or through commentary on the server. These type of interactions and feedback can help you to improve your final journal publication beyond the two or three anonymous scientists who review your paper for a journal.
  4. Establishing priority of discoveries and ideas. Preprints are the main mechanism for disseminating work and establishing priority in the physics, and we anticipate this developing in biology (see draft document from the recent ASAPbio meeting and an eLife article by Vale and Hyman).
  5. Potential for developing new collaborations earlier. Once your technique or results are in the public domain, new interactions can occur which can advance your work.
  6. Open access of your work across the globe. Your research is made available to all scientists without requirement of subscription or other journal-imposed pay wall.

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Can a preprint help my journal submission?

We think so, but stories are anecdotal at this point. ASAPbio will collect more information and data on this point in the coming year.

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Do funders/job search committees give credit for preprints?

We are tracking the policies of both funders (including NIH, HHMI, Wellcome, MRC, HFSP, CZI, CIHR, Simons, EMBO, Helmsley, Cancer Research UK, & BBSRC) and universities that have considered preprints in assessment processes (including UC Davis, NYU, UCSC, UT Austin, and the Rockefeller University).

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What if I want to revise my preprint?

Most preprint servers allow new versions of the manuscript to be uploaded. Thus, you can update your paper based upon new experiments or input received from the community or through a journal-based peer review process. For example, on bioRxiv it is quite easy to tell when a new version has been posted, which reduces concerns about multiple versions. However, the original and all subsequent versions of the paper are retained and can be viewed. Most journals will not allow the final copy edited, journal-approved version to be uploaded. Please check the exact policy of the journal to which you submitted your work.

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Why publish a paper if the work is already a preprint?

In the present day reward system, journal publications play a major role in funding and promotions. For such reasons, the vast majority of research-paper preprints in physics (ie, not meeting proceedings, reviews, etc) are also submitted to journals (see slide 13 in Paul Ginsparg’s talk), even though work is one’s field is generally always seen and discussed first as a preprint.

However, journals provide many services for improving and validating work, which are labor-intensive:

  1. Journals provide an infrastructure for peer review and quality control. Journal-based peer review remains the present-day gold standard of validation, despite its shortcomings.
  2. Visibility of work is promoted by broad journal readership or added journal features (highlights, perspectives, etc).
  3. A paper can improve through revisions and editorial corrections.
  4. A journal can provide assurance that the authors have complied with standards of the field for database depositions, conflict of interest disclosures, and other issues.

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Will preprints be integrated with PubMed or a similar service?

Europe PMC began indexing preprints in July of 2018. While preprints do not currently appear on PubMed or PMC, they are also indexed in search tools such as Google Scholar, PrePubMed, and OSF preprints.

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Will preprint commentary potentially hurt or harm my paper?

Commentary is not part of the arXiv server. However, commentary has been introduced to bioRxiv. Importantly, the identity of the commenter is disclosed and anonymous commentary is not allowed. This mitigates potentially harmful commentary, since the individual is disclosed and will have to stand by their remarks.  Indeed, in some cases, commentary might help a submitted paper (see Can a Preprint Help My Journal Submission?). However, the usefulness and perhaps unintended consequences of commentary on preprint servers should be evaluated especially when more data has been acquired on this important issue.  We currently have included a question on whether authors want commentary and what type of commentary on our recent ASAPbio survey.

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What are the main arguments against preprints or possible unintended consequences?

The following have been raised as possible negative consequences of preprints.

  1. Poor quality and irreproducible data will be posted in preprint form.
  2. Scientists will rush out data pre-maturely to claim priority and get credit.
  3. Scientists will try to “scoop my work” if I post as a preprint.

Poor quality publications, irreproducibility, and scooping are already issues with our journal system, but there is no current evidence that the situation will worsen with preprints.  Most of these (with the exception of human research) have been tested with physics research and have not come to pass with arXiv; nor is there any indication that these problems are surfacing in biology preprints.  See the Q&A on scooping by Paul Ginsparg, founder of arXiv.

In practice, these tendencies are mitigated by the powerful driving force of scientists to develop and maintain a good reputation within the scientific community.  Reputation is the single most important factor for developing a sustained career in the sciences.  Even for scientists who voice the above concerns, when asked if they might be tempted to behave in such manners they immediately respond “no.” In fact, in some instances, poor quality/irreproducible work might be spotted by the community and corrected before reaching final publication in a journal.

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What are the preprint servers for biology?

bioRxiv is a server just for biology, while PeerJ Preprints hosts preprints in biological sciences and also computer science. The physics and mathematics server arXiv also has a section for quantitative biology. Many different preprint servers are index by OSF Preprints.

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What if I have been “scooped” by another paper appearing in a journal or a preprint server? Should I submit a preprint?

Many scientists are working in the same area, and papers from two or more groups that appear within a short period of time are usually recognized as having been performed independently. The advantage of a preprint is that you can post your work without any delay and therefore close to the publication date of the other work. Of course, any manuscripts submitted (whether to a journal or preprint server) should fairly cite and discuss related work regardless of where it appears.

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Without peer review, how do I know if a preprint is flawed?

You do not and you should be aware that it could be flawed. However, you should apply a similar wariness to journal publications since peer-review often misses important flaws in papers.

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Can you include a preprint on an NIH biosketch?

On March 24, 2017, the NIH released NOT-OD-17-050, which clarifies that “The NIH encourages investigators to use interim research products, such as preprints,” which can be “cited anywhere other research products are cited.” More details can be found in a subsequent NIH blog post.


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Do preprints establish priority?

In the physics community, preprints posted on arXiv clearly establish priority of discovery since they have a time stamp, are publicly available and are widely cited (for more on arXiv, see Paul Ginsparg’s comments on scooping).  We anticipate this developing in biology (see draft document from the recent ASAPbio meeting support preprints as mechanism for disclosing and citing work).  An article on the topic of priority by Ron Vale and Tony Hyman has appeared in eLife.

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How does one cite a preprint in a journal publication?

Most journals allow citation of preprints in the reference list of the article in question, similar to journal articles. The NIH has recommended a preprint citation format that makes clear the status of the work as a preprint and includes its DOI. While ArXiv does not use DOIs, they have their own persistent identification system.

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Are preprints “open access?”

Yes, anyone can view a preprint for free.

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What if incorrect information gets disseminated to the broader public?

Other concerns relate to the release of information that could have adverse effects on study participants or the public at large.

  1. Preprint servers will become venues for posting and providing some validation for “pseudoscience” (e.g. claims against vaccines, etc).
  2. Results from human research (e.g. clinical trials) or that have ethical or national security concerns.

These concerns are valid, but there is good reason to believe that they can be mitigated and managed. However, they will require continued attention and inspection from our scientific community.

Regarding the first issue, preprints can be screened before posting to block such submissions. arXiv has faced these issues with climate science and has largely managed to block or mitigate issues surrounding attempts to propagate misinformation. Furthermore, some preprint servers display disclaimers on the top of each article to make clear that preprints are not validated through peer-review. In fact, it can be much more damaging when misinformation is conveyed through a journal, which carries an implicit stamp of approval from the scientific community (a case in point being the connection of vaccines to autism which was published in a major medical journal).

The second issue will require more discussion and work with the life sciences community. In many cases, results from important clinical trials are not available for long time and thus preprints could be valuable. However, some work may not appropriate for non-peer-reviewed transmission and guidelines may need to be developed. The leak of personal data from the dating website OKCupid under a scientific pretense provides an example of behavior that should be regulated.

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