New site pits 'published' vs. 'posted'

Nature Precedings raises questions over the value of sharing findings before submitting to peer review

By | June 19, 2007

Scientists can now post preliminary, non-peer-reviewed findings on a new Nature Web site, but will doing so help -- or hurt -- their odds of getting published and promoted? Alma Swan, co-founder of Key Perspectives, a scholarly communication consulting firm, said it's still unclear how other scientists will view data published on the new site, called Nature Precedings. If a candidate is being evaluated by a tenure review board and has a high number of citations on Precedings, Swan asked, how much do those citations reflect on the candidate's merit, in comparison to citations in other publications? It's also too soon to tell how other journals will treat data that appeared on Precedings -- for instance, if they will consider Precedings data as published, and consequently hesitate to publish any later iterations of the findings, Diane Lang, Vice President of the Council of Science Editors, told The Scientist. "I'm sure there will be a variety of responses [to the site] because there are a lot of different models of how publications handle submissions," she said. An additional statement from CSE to The Scientist said: "This informal communication mechanism's success will depend on its value to the research community, and time will tell if Nature Precedings will be a worthwhile source for some types of information." Precedings will post preliminary findings by credited researchers, and submissions are now monitored by a part-time staff of seven editors. All data and findings on Precedings are considered "pre-print" and can be cited by other scientists. Any findings that have appeared in another journal, or have a digital object identifier (DOI), will not be posted, Brenda Riley, one of the curators for the new site, told The Scientist. Other criteria for posting include relevance -- ensuring the subject matter is relevant and will be of interest to readers, Riley added. Editors also check the material for copyright violations and verify authors, making sure they're who they say they are and at valid institutions. Clinical trial data are not eligible for posting. Nature Publishing Group considers material appearing in Precedings completely acceptable for later peer-review publication, and Nature has always been open to publishing material that has appeared somewhere else in pre-print, Timo Hannay, director of Web publishing at NPG, told The Scientist. By making the material on Precedings citable, scientists can maintain the intellectual property of their work and get early results out sooner, bypassing the sometimes long process of the peer-review system, he added. Precedings is meant to be complementary to the formal peer-reviewed process of publishing, Hanny said. "We don't pretend that publishing in Precedings is the same as publishing in peer-reviewed journals," he said. "Scientists do have informal documents that they share with one another, at meetings and such. We want to give them an opportunity so that those documents -- the informal literature -- can be archived, made citable, and readily available." Findings posted on Precedings are "certainly not 'published,'" Riley said. "I obviously couldn't speak for other publishing companies but the main thing to remember is that Precedings isn't a journal as such," Riley said. "Submissions don't undergo peer review -- it is purely an archival system so that it shouldn't affect publication afterward." At issue is the Ingelfinger Rule, which states that, as a policy, journals will not consider a manuscript for publication if its findings have been submitted or reported elsewhere. Don Kennedy, editor-in-chief at Science, said in an Email that it's "too early to make any judgment on" whether Science would consider publishing data posted on Nature Precedings. "We've looked at the new Nature Precedings site with interest, and we'll continue to watch it." For now, Hannay and NPG are waiting to see what the response to Precedings will be. As of now, they have just over 60 posted submissions on the site. Last year, NPG conducted a Web experiment that gave authors the chance to post their articles undergoing peer review on a Web site for public review. The four-month trial concluded and, because of low participation by authors, NPG decided not to pursue the project further, Hannay said. The Precedings site is also somewhat of an experiment, he added, both of how much work is submitted, and whether other journals will be open to the idea of publishing data already available on Precedings. "Nature has shown itself to be extremely innovative," Swan said. But the first thing most researchers will say is "'we'll share our data, but for doing that we need some kind of accreditation system, some measurable return.' There isn't a system for that at the moment." Would you consider posting your data on Nature Precedings? Tell us why or why not here. Andrea Gawrylewski Links within this article: Nature Publishing Group Alma Swan Nature Precedings Council of Science Editors A. McCook, "Is peer review broken?" The Scientist, February, 2006. J. Toy, "The Ingelfinger Rule: Franz Ingelfinger at the New England Journal of Medicine, 1967-1977," Science Editor, November-December 2002

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