Hello there bloggies! Hope you are all having a great weekend so far, and welcome to Science Sunday!

Publishing scientific findings in journals is a vital part of research. It’s the primary way the scientific community communicate results to each other and the rest of the world. And for better or worse, the number of publications and their impact on the field are major components in the evaluation of academic researchers.

However, the publication process can prove to be inefficient and lengthy from the initial submission to the ultimate publication. Editors are overwhelmed. Peer reviewers are forgetful and hard to please. Even new experiments may need to be completed (…and optimized). Months and even years can pass before the final version of the paper is published for the community to read and evaluate.

But the traditional journal publication is now not the only way for researchers to make their findings accessible. Mechanisms now exist to distribute unpublished pre-prints of research articles.

One of these is call bioRxiv (pronounced ‘bio-archive’ although I always find a way to mispronounce and misspell it), run out of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Here is a link to their site http://biorxiv.org.

To some, making these pre-prints freely accessible to the entire research community is crazy. Won’t someone scoop you? You still haven’t gotten the publication to add to your CV! The articles haven’t gone through peer review! What if there are errors?

Some of these points are fair and should be kept in the back of authors’ and readers’ minds. But here are some plusses I see of using bioRxiv.

Rapid, real-time communication of results

Even in the best of circumstances, the publication process causes a bottleneck of science and results in a massive delay of reporting research. The papers published reflect experiments and analyses from over 6 months ago. Science and technology are rapidly evolving fields. Delays of months or years can substantially hinder progress.

BioRxiv provides an opportunity to quickly upload findings as papers undergo peer review at journals. That way the rest of the field can gain a better sense of where the field actually is currently, rather than where it was months ago.

More direct feedback!

In the standard publication process, a handful (usually 2-4) of anonymous reviewers evaluate papers in addition to the editorial staff of the journal. This small group of people are tasked with evaluating the merit of the research and whether it appeals to the journal’s readership. Even with the highly qualified people performing these tasks, the complexity of modern research makes it a daunting process to say the least.

BioRxiv gives the readership the opportunity to comment on pre-prints. Instead of a small group of individuals giving input, the entire readership has the chance to offer their comments and suggestions. Plus, these reviewers have names and aren’t the vague evil reviewer #3. More researchers with nuanced experience can offer their thoughts on certain experiments or analyses. These comments can make the final product substantially better and more well-rounded than the original. Heck, new collaborations may even start.

Beta-testing new tools

Many times, pre-prints on BioRxiv describe new analytical tools or scripts. By posting these tools before publication, other researchers across the world can test your tools and scripts to make sure others can readily use them. These beta-testers can help detect bugs in software/scripts, illogical data flow issues, and other things that are only noticed after outside use.

BioRxiv is an interesting resource that helps the fast communication of scientific research within the research community. There are many reasons to use forums like BioRxiv for your research. However, as long as publication numbers and impact remain one of the primary measures of scientific productivity, it will be important for researchers (particularly younger ones) to make sure that pre-print articles result in strong publications as well. BioRxiv, if used effectively, could help in that endeavor.

Thank you for stopping by Science Sunday! What do you think of BioRxiv? Would you post your work there? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.

See you on Tuesday!

-Dr. F

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