Pre-print repositories in sciences experience explosive growth in recent years, while rekindling discussions on peer review standards.
A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.
While the scholarly articles listed by the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) are equally freely accessible, not all Open Access (OA) journals conform to the conventional academic journal model using digital technologies, as some of these journals operate as article databases or repositories confined to a particular scientific discipline or a subject area cluster of topics, such as journal titles published by Public Library of Science (PLoS). In this respect, OA journals and repositories can be converging in both their functions, e.g., the provision of online article storage, and underlying selection procedures, such as the peer review of submitted manuscripts. At the same time, repositories, not always being recognized as publication venues in their own right, may have a wider leeway for the application of innovative article review procedures, such as open peer review, such as the arXiv repository that since 1991 not only stores electronic pre-print versions of articles in exact sciences, e.g., mathematics and physics, but also sometimes serves as a primary venue in which manuscripts are published.
Furthermore, through arXiv does not formally apply peer review to its submissions, the latter are moderated by subject-area specialists that can reject non-scientific papers. Since 2004, arXiv has put into place a peer endorsement system as part of which its existing contributors provide their assessment on whether a paper meets basic scientific publication requirements specific for particular subject areas. While this system is inconsistent, as it is not applied to scholars from recognized academic institutions, and criticized for its gate-keeping role that can restrict access to research results, it de facto functions as a stripped-down peer review system. At the same time, this manuscript screening system sets its scientific quality bar relatively low, which can raise concerns about its effectiveness that is, nevertheless, argued to be sufficiently high in view of the review procedures applied.
Not surprisingly, the number of publications published in the pre-print format has been growing exponentially in recent years, as scientific disciplines, such as biology, and their subfields are increasingly recognizing the necessity of OA for furthering the sharing of recent research results, while minimizing the time gap between empirical research and manuscript availability. Thus, in 2017 the monthly number of pre-prints has reached over 1,400 articles from as little as between 400 and 200 in 2014. This pre-print growth has been fueled by the relaxation of peer review procedures, similar to arXiv. In fact, a parallel initiative in biology is dubbed bioRxiv that not only replicates arXiv’s approach to OA, but also has attracted extensive institutional backing in the form of both preprint publication pledges and financial support from non-profit organizations, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Though pre-print repositories’ review practices diverse from the strict peer review standards of scientific journals, their rapid and decentralized nature may be well fitting the pace of development in established and emergent research fields that are likely to benefit from OA to their findings.
By Pablo Markin
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