It is infuriating how stodgy biomedical sciences are in terms of information sharing. It’s not clear how much of this is bred of inherent conservatism, the pressures of a very competitive field or just plain technobackwardness. But while mathematics and physics have had preprint servers for years, biomedicine has had nothing or virtually nothing (that last to cover myself in case I am forgetting something or just didn’t know about it). What’s a preprint server?
A preprint is a version of your scientific paper prior to its publication. Maybe it hasn’t been submitted yet and you are circulating it to get comments from colleagues. Maybe it has been submitted and is in review. Maybe it has been accepted for publication and is in a queue that might be a year and a half or two years long. A preprint server makes it available, free of charge and without barrier, to anyone who wants to see it and read it prior to publication (hence “preprint”). Cornell library’s venerable arxiv.org has been serving up unpublished papers in physics and mathematics for 15 years. It gets about 4000 submissions a month. There is a small quantitative biology section there, too, but most biologists don’t know about it.
Now the world’s premier scientific journal, Nature, is starting a preprint server where papers can even be cited, as I learned via the O’Reilly site (no,not Bill O’Reilly). The Nature effort is called Nature Precedings. Here’s a brief description from Timo Hannay from Nature’s Web publishing effort:
Nature Precedings [give] researchers a place to post documents such as preprints and presentations in a way that makes them globally visible and citable. Submissions are filtered by a team of curators to weed out obviously inappropriate material, but there’s no peer-review so accepted contributions appear online very quickly — usually within a couple of hours. The content is all released under a Creative Commons Attribution License, and each item is made citable using a DOI or Handle (the same systems used for peer-reviewed scholarly papers).
Because Nature Precedings isn’t peer-reviewed (to be more accurate, the submissions are subjected to open review *after* their release, through user comments and votes), we see it as complementing rather than competing with traditional journals, just as arXiv.org operates alongside the peer-reviewed journals in physics. (O’Reilly Radar)
This is a free service, whether you are a reader or author. UK based Nature is one of a small handful of super elite scientific publications, along with US based Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and Cell. It was Nature that championed the cause of the Tripoli 6 and highlighted the power of the scientific blogosphere (here and here).
With Nature Precedings it solidifies its position as the most innovative of all the journals. Now it sits alone at the top of the heap of scientific publishing.