Thursday, May 16, 2013

The case for pre-prints in biology

So when I first met +Jonathan Eisen at TEDMED in 2012, in addition to the social media mandate he gave to me, he started to introduce me to the whole #openaccess debate (his brother founded PLoS and he is the chair of the advisory board at PLoS Biology).  As a physicist by training, I was an easy convert, but I've found that MANY of my biological colleagues (even the theoretical ones) have been more difficult to sway.

I just had a conversation today, in our awesome collaboration space - the collaboratorium (this panorama doesn't do it full justice, but there's +Philip Gerlee)

with a friend and colleague Jonathan Wojtkowiak (who doesn't seem to have a G+ account), where I faced the same arguments that I've heard so many times before:

Why should I post my papers on a pre-print server where anyone can see it before it is published!?  They could scoop me!

I honestly don't understand this argument, but I hear it all the time.  By nature of pre-print servers, like the arXiv, the idea is yours! Time and date stamped. And, better yet, it is completely #openaccess, free of charge, and helps move science along at a better pace.  Only a very few journals have problems with posting of pre-prints before they get their (greedy) hands on the results of all your hard work, but most are totally OK with it.

There is a nice movement starting in biology to get things posted.  And some communities, like the population and evolutionary biology one, have their own pre-print discussion site - Haldane's Sieve.  I am starting to consider trying to do something similar for quantitative cancer research as well, with the help of some friends and colleagues, but we'll see.

If you still aren't convinced, here is a nice article in PLoS Biology highlighting the issue.  Also, take a look at the some of the nice press that my mentor +Alexander Anderson and +David Basanta recently got on a pre-print about Game Theory and cancer they posted by MIT Technology Review - this is press this article likely wouldn't have gotten through the standard route... and we know that you don't get cited unless people read your paper...

If you are against it - please leave some comments about why, I'd love to try to convince you otherwise!  If you are a biologist (or know one) who DOES post pre-prints, weigh in and share your good experiences!

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