By Adriana Bankston, Ph.D.
On Wednesday, the American Chemical Society, an organization with over 150,000 members and whose mission is to “disseminate indispensable chemistry-related information worldwide,” announced its intention to establish the ChemRxiv preprint server for the chemistry community. This server will follow the established models of arXiv and bioRxiv. In a statement, Thomas Connelly Jr., ACS Executive Director and chief executive officer, said the creation of ChemRxiv “aligns with key aspects of our Society’s mission and goals, notably the advancement of science through the dissemination of indispensable chemistry-related information worldwide.”
“The development of a preprint system for chemistry, being spearheaded by the ACS, is very exciting,” said Ron Vale, professor at the University of California, San Francisco and founding member of ASAPbio, a group dedicated to encouraging preprints in the life sciences. “Having robust mechanisms for scientists to share new research findings and methodologies in physics, chemistry and biology could revolutionize the natural sciences.”
Preprint servers may aid scientific advancements, but the proliferation of such servers also presents some problems. As identified in a recent editorial by Leslie Loew, editor-in-chief of Biophysical Journal, peer review, media coverage, safeguarding human research subjects and other issues present significant challenges for expanded use of preprints. “I hope that communities can eventually reach some consensus on these issues, and thoughtful commentary like [Loew’s] is essential to make progress,” said Jessica Polka, director of ASAPbio. “ASAPbio is committed to engaging the community in these conversations and finding common ground.”
Another problem is the sheer number of preprint servers. Multiple servers may make it difficult to match papers with the correct preprint server to achieve the most appropriate readership, in particular if a publication spans scientific disciplines. Additionally, having too many servers may impede the readers’ ability to find the preprints most relevant to their work. One solution proposed by ASAPbio is to create a central service that would aggregate preprint content from multiple servers.
Accelerating scientific progress can be achieved by rapid and trusted publication. Preprints are a way to achieve rapid dissemination of scientific discoveries, making research available to the world within a few days of submission. The fact that scientific societies such as the ACS are beginning to embrace preprints is a very encouraging practice that may significantly advance the dissemination of science at a faster pace. But uncertainty of publishing a report prior to peer review and other concerns have slowed the adoption of preprints in the life science and chemistry communities. A centralized system to track the activities of preprint servers and aggregate preprints could be an important focal point for developing cohesive preprint policies regarding peer review and other issues across a variety of scientific fields.
Adriana Bankston has a strong interest in advocating for biomedical scientists and improving the biomedical research enterprise as well as educational programming, outreach and science communication. Bankston received her Ph.D. from Emory University and is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Louisville and member of the National Postdoctoral Association’s Advocacy Committee. She can be reached via email (email@example.com) or on Twitter (@AdrianaBankston).
The RBR Writing Program is a new program to help graduate students and postdocs receive policy writing experience. For more information, contact RBR Director Chris Pickett.