The Center for Open Science (COS) has announced today that six new preprint services have launched using COS’ preprints platform, taking the number of such services to 14.
The announcement comes at a time when we are seeing a rising tide of preprint servers being launched, both by for-profit and non-profit organisations – a development all the more remarkable given scholarly publishers’ historic opposition to preprint servers. Indeed, so antagonistic to such services have publishers been that until recently they were often able to stop them in their tracks.
In 1999, for instance, fierce opposition to the E-BIOMED proposal mooted by the then director of the US National Institutes of Health Harold Varmus caused it to be stillborn.
Publisher opposition also managed to bring to a halt an earlier initiative spearheaded by NIH administrator Errett Albritton. In the early 1960s, Albritton set up a series of Information Exchange Groups in different research areas to allow “memos” (documents) to be mutually shared. Many of these memos were preprints of papers later published in journals.
Albritton’s project was greeted with angry complaints and editorials from publishers – including one from Nature decrying what it called the “inaccessibility, impermanence, illiteracy, uneven equality [quality?], and lack of considered judgment” of the documents being shared via “Dr Allbritton’s print shop”. The death knell came in late 1966 when 13 biochemistry journals barred submissions of papers that had been shared as IEG memos.
Seen in this light, the physics preprint server arXiv, created in 1991 and now hugely popular, would appear to be an outlier.
The year the tide turned
But over the last five years or so, something significant seems to have changed. And the year the tide really turned was surely 2013. In February of that year, for instance, for-profit PeerJ launched a preprint service called PeerJ Preprints.
And later that year, non-profit Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) launched a preprint server for the biological sciences called bioRxiv. Rather than opposing bioRxiv, a number of biology journals responded by changing their policies on preprints, indicating that they do not now consider preprints to be a “prior publication”, and thus not subject to the Ingelfinger rule (which states that findings previously published elsewhere, in other media or in other journals, cannot be accepted). Elsewhere, a growing number of funders are changing their policies on the use of preprints, and now encouraging their use.
This has allowed bioRxiv to go from strength to strength. As of today, over 14,000 papers have been accepted by the preprint server, and growth appears to be exponential: the number of monthly submissions grew from more than 810 this March to more than 1,000 in July.
But perhaps the most interesting development of 2013 was the founding of the non-profit Center for Open Science. With funding from, amongst others, the philanthropic organisations The Laura and John Arnold Foundation and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, COS is building a range of services designed “to increase openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scientific research”.