Publishing their papers in journals, such as these lining a library's shelves, is still the goal of most biologists, but more and more are depositing early versions, or preprints, in online repositories.


Debate erupts over plan to create another online destination for biology preprints

A plan to create a new repository for biomedical and biology preprints has earned the endorsement of nearly a dozen major science funders, including government agencies, major foundations, and research charities. But it also has sparked a debate about whether an existing preprint repository,, should be the natural home for such material.

Although it has no confirmed funding for the effort, the nonprofit group ASAPbio today announced a request for applications to build what it calls a “Central Service” for preprints (papers that have not yet been accepted by a journal or undergone peer review).  Together with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the European Research Council, the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Wellcome Trust research charities, and other science funders, ASAPbio released a consensus set of principles and requirements for the proposed repository. For example, the repository must have a scientist-led independent governing board, the groups say, and be free for those submitting and reading preprints.

The Central Service is meant to be an aggregator from the different preprint sites that have arisen over the past few years. For example, some biology preprints get submitted to, the long-established site that caters more to the physical sciences, whereas others go to sites such as PeerJ. And ASAPbio notes that many prominent publishers are considering their own preprint sites. “Preprint entities in biology are more likely to expand rather than collapse into one source,” it concludes in a blog post about the potential benefits of an aggregator such as the Central Service.

Yet, launched in 2013 with backing from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, has grown considerably in popularity and many of its fans took to Twitter to question the purpose of the proposed Central Service.

Jessica Polka, director of ASAPbio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that last suggestion could ultimately be the decision if bioRxiv's founders respond to the call for applications. “bioRxiv is providing a great service to the scientific community,” she wrote in an email to ScienceInsider. “bioRxiv could either respond individually or as part of a consortium to potentially become the central service.”

One goal of the new repository is to have preprints in a more easily read, and searchable, format than the typical PDF submitted to and its competitors. Polka envisions creating a software program that would convert standard word-processing program files into more computer-friendly online content. That’s a laudable plan, if a recent twitter survey is any indication. Two-thirds of the 266 respondents said they wanted preprints in a non-PDF format more easily readable on a phone.

DOI: 10.1126/science.aal0748

John Travis

John Travis is the News Managing Editor at Science and also plans and edits news coverage of biology and biomedical topics.

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