A renewed effort has been underway by leading biologists this year to persuade their colleagues to preprint. This is the posting of a paper to an open access server before peer review and publication. The proponents argue that preprinting will be good for science because discoveries will be made available sooner. The peer review process can take several months, and by preprinting, a biologist doesn’t have to wait to get their work out there and begin interacting with the community.
It’s a powerful argument, and one that has been embraced by the discipline of physics for some time. However, only a small fraction of biologists have been willing to jump on board, according to today’s guest, Jason Hoyt. He anticipates that about 5,000 biology papers will be preprinted this year out of a total of 1.5 million.
As co-founder and CEO of the open access publisher, PeerJ, Jason advocates for preprinting. He and his co-founder, Peter Binfield, launched PeerJ Preprints back in 2013, one of the first preprint servers online. At that time, the two co-authored a blog in Scientific American (Who Killed the PrePrint and Could It Make A Return) explaining that historically preprints were the way science was done (though it wasn’t called that). They point out that it's only been in the last 50 years that the peer review process has come to dominate the publication of biological discoveries.
So why are so few biologists making use of preprint servers today? Jason replies that “it’s still early days” for the online servers.
“There’s some good questions being raised about what influence funders or tenure committees could have to encourage preprints," he says. "I don’t think a lot of biologists are educated yet as to what a preprint is, and what the benefits of it are. And that just takes time. It took 300 years for peer reviewed literature to get where it is today. And we’ve been going three years with preprints."
Like the popular open access journal, PLOS (Public Library of Science), PeerJ charges biologists to publish (with a somewhat different business model) and makes their publications freely available for the public to read. But unlikePLOS, PeerJ offers a preprint server at no cost to biologists who use it. Jason anticipates that preprinting will shake up the traditional peer review process. That in the future peer review will be done and paid for separately from publication.
“Publishing—the different components of it—are becoming commoditized already. It’s conceivable that in 10 or twenty years [science publishing] is completely commoditized. Meaning that we preprint first and then we pay for peer review, somehow—maybe the funders do it—and then it’s published separately. . . Maybe there will be an aggregation service that will help people run through this all themselves.”
We finish the interview with Jason’s thoughts on SciHub and questions of copyright.