On 29 April, CABI co-hosted an event about preprints with ASAPbio. This open-access webinar considered trends in agriculture and plant science and reviewed aspects of posting preprints, including their benefits, how they fit more broadly into science communication and how they help us tackle collective challenges around climate change and food security. To learn more about each presentation, click on the link to our blog.
Speakers Dr Sridhar Gutam, Dr Samantha Hindle, Dr Stephanie van Wyk and Dr Niklaus Grünwald talked about many different aspects of preprints in agricultural and plant sciences – from personal experiences of posting preprints to processes and trends. A central query that came out of the debate was how do researchers overcome the challenges and complexities of posting preprints?
We look at some of the more challenging issues around posting preprints and look at how our panel of expert speakers suggest addressing them.
The ‘dreaded scoop’
During the debate, the moderators drew attention to a comment made by Dr van Wyk about potential research being ‘scooped’ following the posting of a preprint. Will well-funded labs take and pursue the content of a preprint once a researcher has posted it? Might others potentially ‘scoop’ the work, and should researchers be concerned?
Dr van Wyk commented that there are ways to overcome this challenge, such as sharing the work with a date stamp to show it was published first. If other researchers want to reference that work, they should accredit the knowledge.
Dr Hindle added that posting a preprint is very similar to discussing work at a conference; there are potential risks. However, with a preprint, researchers have a permanent DOI that others can use in a citation. Researchers can protect themselves with the global awareness they receive from posting a preprint because more people in that field will know who made the discovery. Compare that to presenting to a limited number of people at a conference, for example.
Dr Hindle, Content Manager at bioRxiv, also pointed out that they were interested in quantifying this concern, reviewing the fears versus how often this problem happens. In a 2018 survey with authors and readers, a small number of people (0.7%) replied that they had been scooped. So, it appears that while the fear is considerable, the reality of it happening is small, and the benefits of posting a preprint remain substantial. Whether or not to post a preprint is about weighing up the negatives and positives.
When should you not post a preprint?
Later in the discussion, the moderators asked what researchers should bear in mind before they post a preprint? Are there situations when it is not appropriate to post?
Dr Grünwald commented that perhaps the most obvious situation is when researchers potentially want to patent, in which case they should follow the same procedures as if they were submitting a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. Dr Hindle highlighted that when it comes to deciding whether to post, it is important to ensure that all co-authors have agreed to the submission.
What about licensing?
During the debate, attendees raised the issue of licensing. Dr Hindle pointed out that it is handy to review the platform’s policies to check, for example, whether there is a particular version under which they would prefer you to post. The default for most preprint websites is CC BY, but authors might be able to choose a different option under which to make the preprint available.
On the pros and cons of different licences, Dr Hindle believes it is a personal preference. CC BY means that work can be used in unlimited ways but with attribution so people can reuse the work. If more people use and benefit from the work, the researcher should receive more citations, something that has been shown with open access journals in general. If a researcher prefers for their work not to be used commercially, they can select that – there is a whole host of options.
Will posting change my work?
Dr van Wyk said it was helpful to review the initial submission as a preprint and then, afterwards, how it changed during peer review. For her, it was added to; nothing was dramatically changed or taken away. Through posting preprints, researchers will gain insights into their work from others.
As a journal editor, Dr Grünwald commented that researchers should submit to preprint archives and be transparent in their work. They might want to be cautious as an author when submitting because, as researchers, they will want their work to be “matured” as it lives on the internet for such a long time. However, he believes the bottom line is that posting preprints is a huge benefit – the work is more citable, more recognised and easier to share. He said, “I see absolutely no disadvantage.”
To learn more about agriRxiv, go to https://agrirxiv.org
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