preLights: Preprint highlights for biology

Preprints are a growing trend that is pushing the pace of dissemination of scientific information. preLights is a new service that selects and highlights preprints in a wide range of biological fields and can help you keep up to date!

First, what are preprints?

Preprints are unpublished manuscripts that are not peer-reviewed or edited by a journal before being posted online to a public server by the authors.  The largest site doing this for the life sciences is bioRxiv (read as Bio Archive). Although they are posted before peer-review, preprints are still complete scientific works, including an introduction, methods, results, etc. Posting them on public servers makes them open access almost immediately. This gets the data out there before an often lengthy journal review processes that may end up with the results behind a paywall. In fact, most journals support/encourage you to post your preprint before or while you are in the review process (see FAQs on journal policies here), so preprinting your work does not prevent it from being published in a peer-reviewed journal. You can also cite your preprint in your CV instead of listing your work as  “under review” at so-and-so journal. With preprints being open access, hiring committees can actually see and evaluate your work. You can also update your preprint at any time, and the different versions can then be cited independently.

For these reasons, biology preprints were named one of the top science breakthroughs of 2017. Still, have questions? Here is a great short iBiology video entitled, “What are preprints?” There are also whole organizations, like ASAPbio, dedicated to promoting preprints as a way to make science more open and accessible. If you still need some convincing, check out this survival guide for scientists on the issue, published by Science last year, or if you think you are ready to publish your own preprint, doublecheck the “Ten simple rules to consider regarding preprint submission” published by PLOS.

It’s safe to say that preprints is not a trend that is going away anytime soon. Last month (June 2018) alone, 2,338 preprints were posted, and that was another record-breaking month for preprints! With that many new articles to read, how are you ever supposed to keep up with your field? Don’t worry, preLights is here to help.

What are preLights adding?

“With preLights you can hear deeper thoughts about a study or have a conversation about a piece of work before it is published in a journal.” (James Gagnon, preLighter)

preLights is an exciting new initiative by The Company of Biologists launched in February 2018. A preLight is a short summary article or communication that reviews or highlights a recent manuscript published on an open-access preprint server like bioRxiv. These summary articles take many forms, as the preprint covered and the writing style used is selected by individual authors (preLighters) who are largely early-career researchers across a vast variety of disciplines. Each preLighter uses their individual background and interests to choose preprints to highlight what they think would be of interest to others in their field. The goal of the preLight is not only to summarize the work, but to place the advancements covered in the preprint in the context of other relevant work in the field. The blog-post-type form of the preLights website also allows anyone, particularly the preprint authors, to comment on the outstanding questions raised by the preprint.

You can register and sign up for content-specific email alerts.  You can also follow preLights on Twitter @preLights and on Facebook.

Why I think this is cool and you should too

I have really liked the vibe of the preLights community; it is aimed at being a service by the scientific community for the scientific community. Early-career researchers are getting exposure and practicing their science writing while digesting the huge number of preprints coming out every month for you. Let’s face it, everyone struggles with keeping up to date on the articles they should read, and more and more articles come out every year for every field. preLights boil the newest information down and then provide you some context for how this new bit fits with everything else going on in your field.

Also, as I’m sure the shameless self-promoting is obvious, I am a preLighter! I generally cover preprints on cell biology with a particular focus on cell migration, cell to extracellular matrix adhesion, and mechanotransduction. I originally sought to be a preLighter as another opportunity to practice my science writing, a part of my job that I really enjoy. Want to become a preLighter? Be on the lookout for news announcements for calls for new preLighters!

What are other support services out there for preprints?

The biggest group promoting the use of preprints in the life sciences is ASAPbio. They are a not-for-profit group of scientists advocating for the general betterment of science. This includes accelerating the rate of dissemination for scientific findings through preprints, changing the peer review system to be more transparent, and calling for more open access data. They have a great preprint info center and also promote preprint journal clubs. This is where your regular meeting journal club reads preprint articles and summarizes your discussions as a review to send to the authors. This gives you a chance to provide early feedback to the authors when they could potentially implement your ideas. Two separate sites have been set up to facilitate these preprint journal clubs in a public and formal way—PREreview and Academic Karma. They also provide resources, frameworks, and advice for setting up your preprint journal club; you’re not out on your own trying something from scratch.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the views of the author(s) and do not represent the official policy or position of ASCB.

About the Author:

Amanda Haage is a newly minted assistant professor at the University of North Dakota. She previously trained as a postdoctoral fellow in Guy Tanentzapf’s Lab at the University of British Columbia and received her PhD in 2014 from Iowa State University in Ian Schneider’s Lab. She is generally interested in how the microenvironment regulates cellular behavior as well as promoting diversity and inclusion in science. Twitter: @mandy_ridd and Email: