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Forecasting the Growth of Preprints in Biology

Preprints, or complete scientific manuscripts posted online before journal-organized peer review, have been common in subfields of biology for a long time: the quantitative biology section of arXiv.org has been steadily growing for more than a decade. But since the emergence of new services that specifically cater to the life-sciences community (notably PeerJ Preprints and especially BioRxiv), the growth in new preprints posted per month has been marked (Figure 1). Still, 900 preprints posted per month represent just 1% of the approximately 100,000 articles that appear in PubMed during the same time frame. So, does this recent growth represent a bubble, or is this the start of new way for biologists to communicate? The answer will depend on four factors. 1. Cultural change In early 2016, Ron Vale, Harold Varmus, Daniel Colón-Ramos, and I organized a meeting at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to discuss the role preprints could play in accelerating communication in the life sciences. Called ASAPbio, the conference brought together junior and senior scientists, publishers, funders, and other stakeholders for a day and a half of discussion. Toward the end of the meeting, we asked attendees to state whether they would, in theory, support statements about the use of preprints. We were surprised to find the responses were overwhelmingly positive. Given the readiness to consider new ways of communicating scientific information we saw at this meeting, we decided to move forward to actively promote the productive use of preprints in the life sciences. We do this […]

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