Voice Your Opinion: Editors shopping for preprints is the future

Today I saw a tweet from Manuel Théry (an Associate Ed at Mol Biol Cell). Which said that he heard that the Editor-in-Chief of MBoC, David Drubin shops for interesting preprints on bioRxiv to encourage the authors to submit to MBoC. This is not a surprise to me. I’ve read that authors of preprints on bioRxiv have been approached by journal Editors previously (here and here, there are many more). I’m pleased that David is forward-thinking and that MBoC are doing this actively.

I think this is the future.

Why? If we ignore for a moment the “far future” which may involve the destruction of most journals, leaving a preprint server and a handful of subject-specific websites which hunt down and feature content from the server and co-ordinate discussions and overviews of current trends… I actually think this is a good idea for the “immediate future” of science and science publishing. Two reasons spring to mind.

  1. Journals would be crazy to miss out: The manuscripts that I am seeing on bioRxiv are not stuff that’s been dumped there with no chance of “real publication”. This stuff is high profile. I mean that in the following sense: the work in my field that has been posted is generally interesting, it is from labs that do great science, and it is as good as work in any journal (obviously). For some reason I have found myself following what is being deposited here more closely than at any real journal. Journals would be crazy to miss out on this stuff.
  2. Levelling the playing field: For better-or-worse papers are judged on where they are published. The thing that bothers me most about this is that manuscripts are only submitted to 1 or more journals before “finding their home”. This process is highly noisy and it means that if we accept that there is a journal hierarchy, your paper may or may not be deserving of the kudos it receives in its resting place. If all journals actively scour the preprint server(s), the authors can then pick the “highest bidder”. This would make things fairer in the sense that all journals in the hierarchy had a chance to consider the paper and its resting place may actually reflect its true quality.

I don’t often post opinions here, but I thought this would take more than 140 characters to explain. If you agree or disagree, feel free to leave a comment!

Edit @ 11:46 16-05-26 Pedro Beltrao pointed out that this idea is not new, a post of his from 2007.

Edit 16-05-26 Misattributed the track to Extreme Noise Terror (corrected). Also added some links thanks to Alexis Verger.

The post title comes from “Voice Your Opinion” by Unseen Terror. The version I have is from a Peel sessions compilation “Hardcore Holocaust”.


7 responses

  1. This is undoubtly the future. The risk could be that editors will be overwhelmed by the number of papers to look at and will only watch for recent publications by good old labs. But I can already imagine that editors will develop some softwares to watch at downloading rates on biorXiv to detect the papers that people find interesting. So young PI publishing good science will be seen by cleaver editors.

    1. Re: the good old labs. They currently have an advantage in the publishing game, so I don’t see a change there. But yes, new PIs with good stuff that’s getting downloaded a lot… journals should be scrambling for those papers.

  2. This is undoubtly a very exciting times for scientific publishing. I remember that an Arxiv preprint was discussed in a Nature news http://www.nature.com/news/african-genes-tracked-back-1.13607 so hopefully editors shopping is the next step.

    However I am wondering what percentage of BiorXiv preprints are also submitted to peer-reviewd journals versus percentage of preprints not yet submitted. Any idea ?

    1. I don’t have any idea. I know that many of those posted in the rush after ASAPbio were already submitted to a journal. Following concern that bioRxiv preprints could be covered by Nature news etc. when they are not peer reviewed, bioRxiv started to mark preprints to clearly say that they are not peer reviewed. This was a great move, IMO.

  3. this is sort of how publishing in the academic law field works… you write a paper, and then law review journals go shopping and bid (compete) for your article

  4. This is the way the scientist-publisher power dynamic should be, in my opinion.

    In addition to benefits for authors (speed of not having to chase journals or reformat over and over again), editors can solicit submissions of articles that they may not have had access to. Editors can also select content appropriate for their journal to eliminate the inefficiencies and time delays of “this is not broad enough for our readership” decisions. Sounds like a win-win to me.

    I’m not sure if selecting the “highest” bidder increases the chance of the journal reflecting the paper’s quality since journals can still solicit submission of provocative papers based on the download metrics Manuel suggests, irrespective of their quality.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I see what you mean. The Editor of tomorrow won’t just be able to solicit papers based on download metrics and see how it goes. I think they’ll need to check preprints carefully and figure out if the paper is a good fit for their journal.

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