2018 NISO Conference

2018 NISO Conference

NISO Virtual Conference on Integrating the Preprint Into Scholarly Communications

I enjoyed participating in the NISO conference last week on preprints and their evolving role in scholarly communications (see http://www.niso.org/events/2018/02/preprint-integrating-form-scholarly-ecosystem) in which I spoke about publishing ethics processes and policies and their applicability for preprint servers. There is much discussion today about how systems that incorporate early publication (not only of scholarly papers, but also data and other types of research artifacts) can bypass the formal journal publication process for papers, with the idea that speed to publication is critical.  I wanted to point out that if new sites and services intend to supplant formal journal publishing, then those services will need to adopt greater formality in policy and process to better assure the scientific community, and perhaps more importantly society more broadly, of the quality of the content.

But it was also a great opportunity for me to learn more about changing practices among preprint servers, new links between university policies and repositories, and developments at both ArXiv and bioRxiv.  One overall sense I had was the growing maturity of these initiatives, and the thoughtfulness of the organizers and participants.

My former colleague Gregg Gordon gave a terrific summary of the history of preprints and SSRN, and the remarkable diversity of content and content types that is being posted and highlighted, from working papers to conference proceedings to early version papers (SSRN does not do much with data to date), and the importance of breadth of content for cross-disciplinary research, quoting Granovetter’s  1973 article “The Strength of Weak Ties” (Am.J.Sociol. 78(6) 1360-80).

The NIH’s Neil Thakur discussed policy development at NIH that supports the citation of “interim research products” in applications and reports. The NIH’s policy recognizes the speed factor in early versions and the more authoritative nature of preprint services.

Neil also gave some survey results (noting they were not weighed properly from a statistical perspective) that supported the policy change, noting that the inclusion of interim products could improve the rigor of application reviews, while noting some concerns re the absence of formal peer review processes.  The NIH’s new policy also includes guidelines on repository best practices and citation formats.

Matt Spitzer from the Center for Open Science described the OSF Preprints network, noting that it is an Open Source platform which can be utilized for multiple preprint servers, and listing the number of sites already started that utilize the platform (now 17, in a variety of fields).  One huge benefit of having a common infrastructure is to facilitate the amount of cross-connection among the sites of supplemental data or other materials (further information at https://osf.io/preprints/).

John Inglis of Cold Spring Harbor discussed the launch of bioRxiv (2013) and the upcoming launch of MedRxiv.  Echoing Darla’s comment on the importance of community, John mentioned the strength of Cold Spring Harbor, its conferences and resident researchers, and its key publishing activities.

An important element for bioRxiv is its emphasis on publisher neutrality—helping to broaden the content posted on the site and ensure widespread participation.  The bioRxiv screening process (for plagiarism, non-scientific claims) was described.  John had some interesting statistics on the number of papers that received substantial revision (29%) and the total numbers of papers (20,000) on the site.  MedRxiv is being organized by researchers at Yale and CSH, and intends to include a number of non-paper objects such as protocols and technical reports.  John also described the ethical concerns with medical preprints, and the importance of screening and disclaimers.  John also described the recent announcement by PLoS and CSH of manuscript posting to BioRxiv, just announced on 6 February.

In contrast to Gregg’s discussion about the importance of cross-fertilization among disciplines and communities, Darla Henderson from the ACS in her discussion about the launch of ChemRxiv emphasized the importance and strength of community in the ideation and development of the new service.  Darla noted that although there had been discussions for some years about the need for a preprint service in chemistry, it needed an organized effort and strong leadership, starting in early 2016, to identify the mission, identify strengths and weaknesses, and to bring to bear ACS strengths (quality, organization).  Perhaps most importantly, Darla emphasized the trust element that scientific societies can bring to the picture.

Oya Rieger presented interesting data on the grandmother of preprint servers (started 1991), arXiv, which seems to have retained its vitality notwithstanding age, with the number of submissions growing steadily to nearly 120,000 in 2017.  Oya focused on the question of design principles for the future of arXiv (the “next-gen” version), and noted the many comments received to the tune of not fixing things that are not broken (with a 95% satisfaction rate in a recent survey).  While some aspects of the current system may seem dated, they all function very well and are easily managed.  Comments were made to not add features just for the sake of adding features (something I think that all platforms are susceptible to and need to guard against).  Oya mentioned also the importance of moderation for annotations and comments.

Jamie Wittenberg, head of Scholarly Communication at Indiana University, spoke about the 2017 university OA policy and its relationship to the university’s own repository and preprint servers.  Jamie noted that the policy requires the deposit in  repository (absent a waiver) but was agnostic as to which repository that could be.

In the wrap-up questions at the end we discussed the evolution of journals policies on preprint posting, noting that while many journals had an earlier policy that pre-submission posting might disqualify an article from consideration, that more journals have accepted that preprints are part of and not in conflict with the formal publication process.  Often journals have outdated policies, and have simply not been asked to address the question directly and at the right level of engagement.  The number of journals with these kinds of prohibitions are clearly decreasing.  I did note in my presentation that there are some of the “weekly” journals that still have strong “news-embargo” type of prohibitions, where the preprint might be viewed by the journal as violating the embargo, particularly if the ultimate journal of publication is mentioned.  My slides can be found with the other speakers at the NISO site, but I will include them separately here.

Mark Seeley
16 February 2018