Preprints are papers that are shared, discussed or available prior to peer review publication. This may sound new, or odd but in reality this happens in closed doors all the time. People write papers, share them with trusted colleagues and then submit them to journals for peer review. This would work fine, but for many reasons, papers often take a very long time to get published. This means that we can’t build on, or apply that work unless we are one of the trusted colleagues, or until it is published. This concept has been described in detail in Science, in a PLOS One article, and many other places.
Other fields, physics and math especially, work differently. They post paper before, or simultaneous to peer review on preprint servers (mainly arXiv), for discussion and review by a wider audience than just the small number of peer reviewers chosen by the journal. Biology has been historically resistant to this idea, but recent services such as bioRxiv and Peer J Preprints have provided a platform for posting preprints.
The Problem with the Solution…
My sense is, right now there is insufficient engagement, commenting and advertisement of preprints, especially in the areas that I am interested in. My group has started posting our manuscripts to bioRxiv (I discussed that rationale here) for comments, and has received much more detailed comments and suggestions in detailed peer-review than anything that came from these preprints. I suspect that my experience is not atypical. Even if preprints are being read, and considered, I think that right now there is not sufficient public discussion on these preprints, and if they are going to be useful, they need to be discussed.
What I Hope to Accomplish
I plan to use this blog as a forum to read and make some comments on pre-prints that I come accross that are in my area. My goal is to advertise them better, provide some (hopefully) useful feedback to the authors and to force myself to consider this route of discourse. Basically, I am stealing this idea from Haldane’s Sieve, a blog that discusses preprints in the area of population and evolutionary genetics. Also, if you would like to contribute, and have something to say about a pre-print, let me know.
Desjardins-Proulx, P., White, E., Adamson, J., Ram, K., Poisot, T., & Gravel, D. (2013). The Case for Open Preprints in Biology PLoS Biology, 11 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001563