Nature Precedings

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 Cornell library's venerable has been serving up unpublished papers in physics and mathematics for 15 years.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 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.

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Thanks, Revere. Congratulations to Nature. An innovative step forward, for the various biomedical sciences. Very sound thinking, on the part of someone who could actually have an impact on the publication.

Excellent! I am in the midst of writing a post about this as well, but it is getting so long, I may have to break it into 3-4 posts in a series. It may take me a couple of days to finish and post.

This is a striking contrast from what we see from Nature's rival Science, which will not consider submissions that have been placed on a preprint server.

From Science's web site:

"Prior publication. Science will not consider any paper or component of a paper that has been published or is under consideration for publication elsewhere. Distribution on the Internet may be considered prior publication and may compromise the originality of the paper as a submission to Science. Please contact the editors with questions regarding allowable postings. Also see section on press coverage above
under manuscript selection."

(See also… )

That's an interesting policy of Science's part, particularly given the mission statement of the AAAS:

"AAAS seeks to "advance science and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people." To fulfill this mission, the AAAS Board has set these broad goals:

* Foster communication among scientists, engineers and the public;


But this is a good sign, with Nature going in the right direction. Perhaps now Science will wake up and smell the twenty first century.



Crow: Yes, Science is falling behind. I subscribe to both but I find myself reading Nature first and Science only if I have time or if there is something particular.

Coturnix: Look forward to your posts. It's in your line of work these days, right?

Dear Revere,

Given your highlighting of some of the great work in PLoS journals, would you include PLoSBio/PLoSMed alongside Science/Nature/PNAS/NEJM/JAMA?

While the PLoS One experiment isn't quite what's happening with Nature Precedings, the the end result's similar = it's getting the science out there -- fast and accessible.

PLoS's taking a gamble with PLoS One, and they're taking on a lot of work giving accoutnability via academic editor and review.

Wanting to have one's pre-pub work cited with a "Nature" tag may prove irresistble to many researchers.

I think PLoS oughta be given some props for One.

keep up the great blogging.

clioepi: It's a good point. I've only looked at it a couple of times, although my SciBling Bora (aka Coturnix at < href="">Blog Around the Clock ) is starting to work for them and he is the kind of forward thinking blogosphere denizen cum practicing scientist that could really make a difference. I didn't include PLoS in general in the mix because while it has prestige, it is has lots of company with the BMC journals and lots of other open access pubs, although PLoS ONE is clearly different. Probably should have made a mention. Thanks for reminding all of us this is also an important experiment.

The open, community review system at Nature Precedings, largely unique among preprint systems, is it's big advantage. However, the yes-votes-and-comments-only system needs improvement to have objective ratings that appraise different aspects of quality of preprints. I have written about it on the Nature Precedings forum -

I hope that, unlike with the open peer review experiment, the Nature group keeps up the preprint system. As the social and professional awareness and acknowledgement of preprints improves with time, Nature Precedings will ultimately succeed. One needs some time for the chicken of the chicken-egg dilemma to grow and start laying eggs.

I am sure that even arXiv, the reputed physics/math preprint system, took some years to get established.

As for why, or why won't, one submit to Nature Precedings, I have expressed some thoughts on the Nature Precedings forum -