The use of preprints is growing across different life sciences disciplines. After a slower adoption in the plant and agricultural sciences, we are now seeing more researchers in these fields disseminating their work via preprints. At our webinar on April 29 co-hosted with CABI, we discussed how preprint trends are looking for these disciplines and we heard the perspectives of researchers and editors who have had first-hand experience with preprints.
Our first speaker was Sridhar Gutam, Senior Scientist at ICAR-Indian Institute of Horticultural Research and founder of agriRxiv and IndiaRxiv. Dr Gutam discussed how preprints allow researchers to gain both visibility and feedback for their work. Dr Gutam also noted that national academies in India recommend the deposition of manuscripts on preprint servers to accelerate dissemination, address concerns about idea plagiarism and ensure broad access to publicly-funded research.
The second presentation was by Dr Sam Hindle, Content Manager at bioRxiv and medRxiv. She discussed that plant biology preprints constitute 3% of bioRxiv content currently, but submissions in this discipline have been growing over recent years. Dr Hindle also shared that geographical trends for bioRxiv preprints reveal an increase in submissions from countries which had traditionally shown less adoption, suggesting that in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic familiarity with preprints has increased globally.
The next speaker was Stephanie van Wyk, post-doctoral research fellow at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute, University of Pretoria. Dr van Wyk posted a preprint describing ‘The RIPper’, her tool to investigate genetic mutations in fungal pathogens, and she explained how this facilitated visibility and use of the tool by the scientific community, as exemplified by the citations to her tool in other preprints. Dr van Wyk also drew on her own experience to note that preprints can save early career researchers from ‘the dreaded scoop’.
We then heard an editor’s perspective on preprints from Niklaus Grünwald, Research Plant Pathologist at the Horticultural Crops Research Laboratory, USDA Agricultural Research Service and founding Editor-in-Chief for CABI Agriculture and Bioscience. Dr Grünwald reiterated that all major journals in plant and agricultural sciences accept papers previously posted as preprints and discussed that preprints provide benefits for authors but also journals, as they can enable collaborations across groups and increased visibility that can lead to additional downloads and citations.
After the presentations, the speakers shared their perspectives on a number of topics and questions about preprints. Diving further into concerns around scooping, the speakers noted that while preprints allow similar scientific discussions to those that take place at a conference, they have the advantage of providing a dated permanent record of the work which others can cite. In the context of citing preprints, the speakers highlighted the importance of giving attribution to the authors of work you are building on, so if following your own scrutiny you find the preprint relevant to your work, then the preprint should be cited.
The speakers also provided advice on things researchers should consider before posting a preprint: ensure all your co-authors agree to post as a preprint, check the editorial policies at the journal you intend to submit to for any nuances regarding the version of the paper the journal allows posting as a preprint, and if you are thinking of patenting your work, then follow the same procedures as you would for a journal article submission.
The discussion also touched on the potential risks around media coverage of preprints. The speakers noted the need for scrutiny on preprints as they may report preliminary work, but also highlighted that preprints present advantages by providing a full report of the research which is not available in press releases or similar communications. As the pandemic evolved over the last year, journalists have also become more familiarized with preprints and now often provide accompanying descriptions and caveats when reporting on findings from a preprint.
We covered these and many other items at the webinar, you can catch up on the discussion with the recording, and the slides from the presentations. Thanks to all our speakers for excellent insights, and to the attendees for an engaging discussion!
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