10 things you should know about preprints

KamounLab
7 min readNov 27, 2023

This month marks the 10th anniversary of bioRxiv, a significant milestone for the biology preprint server that has revolutionized the way biologists share their research. Here is a personal take on 10 things you should know about preprints.

Happy birthday bioRxiv!

1. Preprints enable you to share your science at an earlier stage

The preprint movement is often referred to as ASAPbio, or “As Soon As Possible” biology. After all, the purpose of publishing is to communicate your scientific work, with the hope that it will inspire others to build upon it and achieve further advancements. Preprints expedite this communal cycle, allowing the wheel of progress to spin more rapidly, benefitting society and everyone involved.

Preprinting in 5 easy steps /via ASAPbio.org.

2. Preprints are citable and should be cited

Because they are assigned a DOI, preprints become permanent fixtures on the internet and can be cited in formal academic publications. Furthermore, it is essential to acknowledge preprints through citation. Citation serves not only as a means to substantiate factual claims from the literature but also as a way to attribute the original source of a dataset, resource, or even an idea. Citing sources is also an ethical imperative; if you have derived information from the literature, it is your responsibility to provide proper attribution. Neglecting to do so may be perceived as a breach of scientific integrity.

3. Preprinting is not a movement against peer review

There’s a common misconception that preprint advocates are against peer review, but this notion is unfounded. What many preprint advocates oppose is a specific form of peer review known as pre-publication peer review — a non-transparent system that is often susceptible to manipulation. How else can we explain that clearly flawed scientific work is regularly published in some of the leading journals?

4. Anyone can review preprints

Preprint advocates argue for an alternative approach to peer review, wherein papers are first preprinted, made available for everyone to examine and provide feedback on. In fact, the next significant development in the preprint movement is the integration of preprint peer review. Sign up and participate in crowd review intiatives to provide valuable feedback to preprint authors!

Crowd preprint review is back! Sign up to participate in one of several groups led by ASAPbio Fellows.

5. Preprints can be be copied and redistributed

Preprints can be freely copied and redistributed, providing a distinct advantage over journal publications. Journals often impose copyright restrictions, making it cumbersome for others to reproduce figures and datasets, even when full credit to the authors is intended. One might question why journals enforce such limits, given that it is the authors who create the work and figures in the first place. Preprints offer a solution by allowing you to sidestep these journal copyrights. When you preprint your work under licenses like CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution), you grant permission for others to reuse the material, provided they give proper citation to the source. This remains applicable even if the preprint is subsequently published in a journal. This is a significant stride in favor of open access and information sharing, challenging the practices of commercial publishers.

6. Preprints are free to publish and free to read

If you support open science, you should embrace preprints. In an era of exorbitant Article Processing Charges (APCs), where publishing a single article can cost as much as supporting a PhD student, it’s crucial to emphasize that preprints are entirely free. This accessibility empowers scientists, particularly those in the global south and with constrained budgets, to freely disseminate their research. And let’s not be fooled into thinking that APCs don’t ultimately come out of our own pockets. Whether through direct payment or University allocation, APCs still impacts us as taxpayers and consumes a portion of our research funders’ limited budgets, which could otherwise be dedicated to supporting research and researchers.

7. Funders should mandate preprints

Plan U calls for funders to mandate the use of preprints. This is a forward-thinking policy that is perhaps starting to take hold in one form or another. By requiring researchers to share their work through preprints, funders can promote greater transparency, accessibility, and collaboration in the scientific community. This move not only maximizes the impact of funded research but also ensures that valuable research findings reach a wider audience without the barriers of journal paywalls. Ultimately, mandating preprints aligns with the principles of open science and helps optimize the allocation of research funds towards the advancement of knowledge rather than publishing costs.

Plan U: one of science big ideas. Plan U was articulated in this 2019 PLOS Biology article by Richard Sever, Mike Eisen, and John Inglis.

8. Preprints should not be published after the paper is accepted

Don’t be a #LatePreprinter, someone who posts a preprint after it has already been accepted by a journal. Some even wait for a positive evaluation and quasi-acceptance before posting the preprint. This can be seen as merely checking a box to give the appearance of supporting preprints or fulfilling funder mandates, without genuinely embracing the core principles of preprinting. It’s worth noting that this practice goes against the guidelines set by bioRxiv, which permit submission at any point before journal acceptance but explicitly prohibit post-acceptance submissions.

#LatePreprinter

9. Preprints should include the supporting data

Preprints should incorporate links to their supporting data, and preprint servers like bioRxiv could play a more proactive role in ensuring this practice. It can be exasperating to peruse a preprint and find no convenient access to the underlying data. Consider, for instance, the futility of reading a genome paper without the ability to query the genome sequence itself. To rectify this issue, a straightforward checkbox system could be implemented to enforce the inclusion of supporting data with preprints. This would not only enhance the transparency and credibility of the research but also facilitate the replication and further exploration of the findings by the scientific community.

bioRxiv: Show me the data.

10. You can preprint anything you want

People, you can preprint virtually anything you wish to disseminate to the scientific community, and get credit for it. While bioRxiv is widely known for full-length research papers, there is a broader preprint landscape for other academic outputs. For materials such as review articles, posters, and datasets, Zenodo, a general-purpose open repository developed under the European OpenAIRE program, offers an excellent alternative platform. Zenodo provides an ideal space to share a diverse range of scientific content, and allows researchers to maximize the visibility and accessibility of their work, encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing across a multitude of scientific disciplines.

Why you should publish your posters.

Acknowledgements

I’m grateful to the colleagues whose tweets inspired this article. I dedicate this post to the bioRxiv Team and wish them the best for their 10 year anniversary. This post was written with assistance from ChatGPT.

This article is available on a CC-BY license via Zenodo. Cite as: Kamoun, S. (2023). 10 things you should know about preprints. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10207884

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KamounLab

Biologist; passionate about science, plant pathogens, genomics, and evolution; open science advocate; loves travel, food, and sports; nomad and hunter-gatherer.