Preprint servers have recently become big news in the scholarly publishing field, but what exactly are they? How do they work? What kind of value do they add to the STEM community?
Preprint servers are online archives, or repositories, containing works or data associated with various scholarly papers that are not yet peer reviewed or accepted by traditional academic journals. Papers offered on these kinds of repositories undergo basic screening and are checked for plagiarism (papers are not edited or formatted before being posted online). Most preprint servers ask that only papers not yet accepted by traditional academic journals be posted. Authors can submit revised versions of their papers to the preprint server at any time. Once posted, articles are typically citable and cannot be removed. Readers can explore these newly posted “preprint papers” and upload comments. Preprint servers are therefore a great way for researchers to share and receive feedback on scholarly works in progress.
Why are they used? Some researchers may feel that the traditional academic journal peer review process is a lengthy, drawn-out procedure (sometimes lasting for several months) that can potentially delay the dissemination of important research findings. These types of preprint servers are a great way for researchers to quickly post their findings and obtain feedback from other scholars in their field, thus circumventing protracted journal peer review requirements.
Some popular preprint servers currently in use are the following:
- BioRxiv pronounced “"bio-archive” is a preprint repository for the biological sciences, founded in 2013, and operated by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. The bioRxiv website states “By posting preprints on bioRxiv, authors are able to make their findings immediately available to the scientific community and receive feedback on draft manuscripts before they are submitted to journals.”
- arXiv is an open access effort operated by Cornell University offering 1,377,332 e-prints (as of 2018) in physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics.
- Chemrxiv is the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) new preprint server effort (currently in progress).
- The Winnower. The Winnower is an open access online scholarly publishing platform that offers an open post-publication peer review forum.
- PsyArXiv is a somewhat new preprint server offering for the field of psychology, launched in 2016 by Cornell University.
- PrePubMed indexes preprints from PeerJ Preprints, Figshare, bioRxiv, and F1000Research (other preprint servers).
Members of the scholarly community, both researchers and editorial staff, should be aware that there are pros and cons to these types of preprint servers, and the debate about their usefulness, and ultimate role, is still ongoing.