Change Is on the Way


Preprints are coming to the biological sciences. For decades, scientists would write research papers outlining recently completed experiments and send the paper to a scientific journal for review by a group of peers and, hopefully, publication. More recently authors have been able to submit their papers to journals and have them reviewed completely electronically. And now, thanks to the growing power of the internet, a new revolution in publishing is taking place. Instead of waiting months for a manuscript to be reviewed and published by a journal, it is now possible, using preprints, to upload a completed manuscript, including data and methods, to a public server and receive feedback from peers.

A “preprint” manuscript is, essentially, a draft version of a published paper. Like a published paper, preprints can include all the data and images found in a final, published paper. Unlike published papers, preprints have not been submitted to the rigorous peer review process that is the hallmark of the scientific process and do not have the imprimatur of a scientific journal.

Preprints DO allow scientists to alert their scientific community to cutting-edge discoveries and receive feedback from colleagues. This is particularly important for early career investigators, who are anxious to start their careers.

What role should these non-peer reviewed papers play in both the scientific process and in career development? Should they be eligible to be cited in NIH grant applications and progress reports?

The ASCB leadership, after careful consideration, believes preprints should be able to be included in grant applications and referenced in NIH progress reports, with the proper references so they are not confused with peer reviewed published papers. In short, the pace of science is too fast and the process of publication too slow to ignore preprints.

The ASCB does believe that anything submitted for preprint publication should verify that it meets basic but critical research standards, including certification that the research meets necessary IRB and IACUC approval.

ASAPbio, an initiative led by prominent members of our community, including several ASCB members, is leading the charge in support of the use of preprints.

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: