Handful of Biologists Went Rogue and Published Directly to Internet

Mar 19, 2016

Photo credit: Credit Asapbio.org/Yourekascience.org

By Amy Harmon

On Feb. 29, Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University became the third Nobel Prize laureate biologist in a month to do something long considered taboo among biomedical researchers: She posted a report of her recent discoveries to a publicly accessible website, bioRxiv, before submitting it to a scholarly journal to review for “official’’ publication.

It was a small act of information age defiance, and perhaps also a bit of a throwback, somewhat analogous to Stephen King’s 2000 self-publishing an e-book or Radiohead’s 2007 release of a download-only record without a label. To commemorate it, she tweeted the website’s confirmation under the hashtag #ASAPbio, a newly coined rallying cry of a cadre of biologists who say they want to speed science by making a key change in the way it is published.

Such postings are known as “preprints’’ to signify their early-stage status, and the 2,048 deposited on three-year-old bioRxiv over the last year represent a barely detectable fraction of the million or so research papers published annually in traditional biomedical journals.

But after several dozen biologists vowed to rally around preprints at an “ASAPbio’’ meeting last month, the site has had a small surge, and not just from scientists whose august stature protects them from risk. On Twitter, preprint insurgents are celebrating one another’s postings and jockeying for revolutionary credibility. (These two are from a molecular biologist at the University of California, Berkeley and a Cold Spring Harbor neuroscientist.)

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/16/science/asap-bio-biologists-published-to-the-internet.html

6 comments on “Handful of Biologists Went Rogue and Published Directly to Internet

  • So long as these are properly labelled, I don’t see a problem. It is giving hints to others working in the same field.
    It is not that different from informal conversations or talks about research in progress.

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  • Why is this such a big deal for biologists ? I was guessing that maybe biology journals don’t accept submissions if they have been distributed as preprints. But apparently that is not the case


    So is it just a case of “not the done thing” ?

    Electronic distribution of preprints has been going on in mathematics and physics for decades.


    Most of us don’t bother reading the final version in the journal. If we want to look at a published paper to check a result we just grab the arXiv version.

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  • Worth reading the whole article.


    It explains the difference between the cultures of the biologists and the mathematicians and physicists. I’m one of the latter and we have been using preprints for decades at


    This is so common that if I want to check a result of some kind I’ll usually just go and grab the arXiv version. If I use that result later I’ll find the journal article and check it wasn’t changed but for day to day use the arXiv is the go to place.

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  • It seems to me that what should be formally published are reviews, not merely peer reviewed articles. These latter should just go out as pre-prints.

    Reviews would become the value to sell. There might need to be a formal process of identifying acceptibility. There may even be a market for reviews of unacceptable papers.

    Elsewhere I proposed that academic institutions formally license their academics for the role of review and require free short reviews (tick boxing/brief commenting for aspects of the paper) for every long review they sell for publication.

    Peer review was a huge innovation brought about in Science by the Royal Society. Maybe its time to kick it up a notch?

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