Post by ASAPbio Fellow Kasturi Mahadik
Throughout the year, groups of researchers, librarians, and other scholars are not only learning more about preprints but also unearthing various outlooks towards preprints through the ASAPbio Fellows program.
As part of our activities in the program, some of us are interested in discovering the various perspectives that journal editors have on preprints. Specifically, what they like about preprints, whether they pose any challenges for editors and how journal policies evolved over time to accommodate preprints. We interviewed several editors to ask about their experience with preprints at their journal. In this inaugural post, we summarize what we have learnt about journals’ motivations to engage with preprints, and share insights from our conversations with Drs. Alejandra Clark (Editor at PLOS ONE), Beth Osia (Postdoc at City of Hope, California, Preprint solicitation team, formerly at Proceedings B and now at Open Biology) and Mario Malički (Editor-in-Chief at Research Integrity and Peer Review).
Preprints promote open science
One of the topics mentioned in the interviews is that preprints offer an opportunity for the journal to engage with and support open science practices. Preprints allow researchers to promptly disseminate their latest work, before or in parallel to having their manuscript considered at a journal. Posting a preprint also increases attention and citations for the paper, and opens opportunities for the authors to receive community feedback.
PLOS ONE seeks to provide avenues for authors to easily transfer their paper from a preprint server to the journal and vice versa, and with this goal, the journal is diversifying its partnerships with preprint servers. Alejandra remarked:
“Essentially when an author submits a manuscript to PLOS ONE, we offer them the opportunity to also submit it to bioRxiv or medRxiv at the click of a button, thus furthering the aim of PLOS ONE which is to promote the advance of open science”.
Similarly, Mario remarked that during the submission of manuscripts to Research Integrity and Peer Review, authors have the option to post the preprint on Research Square, and utilize the Springer-Nature’s In Review services that publicly display real time updates on all stages of the review and publication process. (Examples from this journal can be seen here).
Preprint solicitation as a means to broaden the journal’s scope and breadth
Early access to cutting-edge research in the form of preprints has also opened new opportunities for journal editors to reach out to authors and express an interest in their preprint, a process referred to as ‘preprint solicitation’.
Several journals now have dedicated editors who check the latest preprints for manuscripts that may be suitable for consideration at their journals. Beth spoke to us about her experiences as a member of the preprint solicitation teams at Proceedings B and Open Biology:
“The primary goal of solicitation teams is to find preprints that the authors themselves do not submit to the journal because they think they may be out of scope. But journal scopes are changing all the time! And I have seen this at Open Biology.
In other words, solicitation exposes journals to the whole breadth of research being done and does not limit them to just the manuscripts being submitted to them”.
But editors have had mixed experiences with preprint solicitation, noting that often, by the time they approach the authors of the preprint, they have already submitted the paper to a journal. Alejandra feels this could be field-specific:
“A lot of times when we approached the authors regarding their posted preprint, the manuscript was already under review in another journal. They were flattered to be contacted and said that they would submit to PLOS ONE if their study wasn’t successfully accepted in the submitted journal. But we did not see many of these contacts translating into submissions at PLOS ONE. We were slightly more successful in physics than in biology”.
Preprints offer a glimpse into the manuscript’s life cycle
The editors also highlighted the fact that preprints provide an opportunity to gain a broader view into how a research paper has shaped and evolved over time, before it reaches journal publication. Beth made an interesting comment on the evolution of a manuscript.
“I could honestly see preprint servers becoming a sort of a tracking system for the various drafts of a manuscript. It offers a glimpse into the manuscript writing process that we do not always get to see prior to peer review”.
Mario is also interested in looking at how the paper evolves across versions and noted that he scans whether information about pre-registration, ethical oversight or author byline has changed between the preprint and the submission to the journal:
“This is important for me for the sake of transparency. As a research community, we have not yet established clear guidelines to handle or describe preprint differences as compared to the published (peer-reviewed) version of a paper”.
Engaging with preprints can help develop editorial skills, particularly for early-career researchers
Getting involved with preprints can be a great way for early-career researchers to gain editorial experience. Beth clearly outlined some of the benefits of working with preprints:
1. I put it in the editorial service section of my CV. It could be an important part of a job search. And service is a big part of academia as well.
2. It has helped me understand the publishing process better.
3. The Open Biology team is small, so we have more control over the solicitation. I have been asked to select reviewers, so that’s been eye-opening for me.
4. It increases the breadth of my knowledge.
5. It is a networking opportunity, you get to meet not only the editors but also other scientists who are working all over the world as part of the team.
Are you an editor who has worked with preprints at some point? We would love to hear of your experiences! Share them as a comment on this post or reach out via ASAPbio.
Also, stay tuned for our other posts on conversations with journal editors revolving around preprints.