Recently, there has been a great deal of heated debate surrounding the subject of bioscience preprints.
Preprints are the nearly-immediate release of scientific findings through online platforms, rather than through traditional scientific journals, such as Science, Nature, or Cell.
Indeed, there has not just been conversation, but an entire movement that has grown to support the trend toward rapid release of bioscience papers in digital form.
The rallying cry of this movement has become “ASAPbio,” with the website ASAPbio.org launched October 30, 2015, as a “focal point for engaging the biology community in a discussion about the role that preprints could play in communicating results in the life sciences.”
According to the ASAPbio organizers, the group aimed to “gather major stakeholders (junior and senior scientists, academic chairs/administrators, scientific societies, publishers, and private and public funders) at HHMI Headquarters outside Washington DC on February 16-17, 2016” to discuss this growing topic. However, due to both high demand for participation and difficulties associated with travel, the meeting content was subsequently made available through a live stream with the recorded footage now available online.
ASAPbio.org also released the video below on YouTube on February 13, 2016, just days before the event. Titled “What are Preprints,” the four-minute video defines preprints and explores the role of rapid information dissemination. Interestingly, the video has received 6,898 views at the time that this article was released, a strong performance for a being accessible for only 47 days, as that correlates with an average of approximately 150 views per day.
The Great Scientific Preprint Debate – Across History, Technology and Speed Always Win
Admittedly, there are risks with the early release scientific papers, such as unvetted science, potential fraud, the release of low-importance work, and other concerns. However, in all areas, the question is not “is there risk associated with preprints?” but “what is the risk to reward ratio?” If risk alone could keep technology from entering the marketplace, then we would not have cars, ovens, or even iPhones or the Internet (think fraud, porn, ID theft, and more).
As we well know from history, there is frequently resistance to change, but technology and speed always win over time. It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable. Efficiency and modernization are the reason we are no longer using a horse-and-buggy to travel, a fire pit to cook food, or hand-stitching clothes.
Also, the ASAPbio movement has gained major media attention over the past few weeks, with news articles released about ASAPbio in “Wired (February 22, 2016), The New York Times (March 15, 2016) and The Economist (March 17, 2016).”
With this impressive level of media coverage, it is not surprising that mention of these articles is the headline sentence posted to the ASAPbio website.
Titled “Handful of Biologists Went Rogue and Published Directly to Internet,” the New York Times article raises one of the most important points in this entire debate, which is that with the explosive spread of Zika virus “several journals signed a statement promising that scientists would not be penalized for immediately releasing their findings, given the potential benefit for human health.”
It is fascinating that when a major human health risk is a play, there is relatively widespread support for efficient digital release of scientific papers, allowing efficient sharing of the scientific breakthrough and widespread progress across the scientific community. If Zika virus is worthy of efficient information dissemination, then are other infectious diseases, such as Ebola, enterovirus, and drug resistant threats that the CDC has labelled as “high-risk” also worthy?
Similarly, why not allow it for research pertaining to major human killers, such as the 10 leading causes of death in the world, as identified by the World Health Organization (WHO)? Currently, the top five global killer are ischaemic heart disease, stroke, COPD, lower respiratory infection, and trachea bronchus, which would suggest to make these conditions may also worthy of a “special exception permit” alongside the Zika virus.
Interestingly, ASAPbio is not only a website and an organizing group, but it has grown into a rallying cry, with the hashtag “#ASAPbio” now trending on Twitter.
See the embedded Twitter feed below to view the recent #ASAPbio tweets.
— Cynthia Wolberger (@CWolberger) March 30, 2016
Therefore, in not surprising that a Hashtag map of the “breakout terms” related to #ASAPbio on Twitter reveals #RainbowUnicorn as one of the top 10 related terms.
Pioneering the Way as Leading Preprint Server
Another very important participant in this movement is the preprint server bioRxiv.org, one of the most popular sites on which to release scientific preprints. Supported by the not-for-profit research and educational institution Cold Spring Habor Laboratory, bioRxiv is a “free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences” that allows authors to “make their findings immediately available to the scientific community and receive feedback on draft manuscripts before they are submitted to journals.”
According to bioRxiv, “Articles are not peer-reviewed, edited, or typeset before being posted online. However, all articles undergo a basic screening process for offensive and/or non-scientific content and are checked for plagiarism.”
bioRxiv.org also has an impressive Advisory Board, supported by leaders from Google, Stanford, Harvard, and more.
To learn more about the role of bioRxi in the preprint movement, view their one minute video below.
Where do I think this movement is headed?
Honestly, I think that both pre-prints and traditional journals will be valuable. They provide different levels of access, rigor, and accountability to the scientific community.
Within the social media world, you are allowed to use Twitter and LinkedIn as a news sources, as well as read major newspapers, like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Huffington Post. Shouldn’t it be the same within the scientific community?
BioInformant is the first and only market research firm to specialize exclusively in the stem cell industry. BioInformant research has been cited by major news outlets that include the Wall Street Journal, Nature Biotechnology, Medical Ethics, Vogue Magazine, and more. Serving Fortune 500 leaders that include GE Healthcare, Pfizer, and Goldman Sachs, BioInformant is your global leader in stem cell industry data.