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Is Nature now a Preprint Server?

I imagine that most people reading this blog are already aware that Nature is staging an online debate about peer review at the moment, and are even running what they are calling a ‘trial’ of open peer review.

The trial will be very interesting as it essentially means that Nature has turned itself into a preprint server for the next 3 months. The sad thing to me about this is that Nature isn’t making any commitment to maintain the papers presented in this preprint form. Indeed if they don’t make the Nature cut “the manuscript and comments on the preprint server will be removed from public access”. In my view that is where the whole thing breaks down. The scientific literature must not be ephemeral it’s a record. Nothing presented in this trial can be cited, or referred to in any way, because it might not be there tomorrow.

Nature are fully aware of the problems this might cause. Replying to comment by Kim Barrett Chair of the Publications Committee of the American Physiological Society, Maxine (Clarke) said: “When considering whether to post their submission on the Nature preprint server, authors would be best advised to think about which journal they would send their manuscript to if declined by Nature,… This, while honest, is hardly an encouragment to authors to take part in the trial.

It would be enlightening to be able to know what gets submitted to Nature and compare it with what they eventually publish. However, I doubt we will get to see this. The trial has so far been runnng for 5 days but it currently presents only four papers while, from personal experience, I’d guess that about 150 manuscripts have been submitted to Nature during the same period. Still it’s early days yet.

When describing PLoS ONE we have frequently been asked whether what we are producing is a pre-print server along the lines that the Nature trial has adopted. The answer is ‘no’. We won’t be publishing papers before peer-review. All submissions will be assessed for their suitability for inclusion in the scientific literature, a decision concentrating on technical and objective questions rather than subjective ones. Once published these papers will be open for discussion and review but they will remain a firm and permanent addition to the scientific record.

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