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Nature Precedings: Early Access to Scientific Results

Timo Hannay, Nature‘s Director of Web Publishing, sent out the following note in email:

Since you’ve been kind enough to express an interest in Nature web projects
in the past, I thought I’d let you know about our latest baby: Nature
Precedings
.

The traditional way for scientists to share their research results is
through journals. These have the benefit of being peer-reviewed, citable
and archival, but as a communication channel they are also relatively slow
and expensive. As a complement to this, scientists also use more immediate
and informal approaches, such as preprints (i.e., unpublished manuscripts),
conference papers and presentations. The trouble is, these usually aren’t
easy to share in a truly globally way (most repositories are institution- or
funder-specific), and you can’t formally cite them (which is important
because citation underlies the scientific credit system).

Nature Precedings is trying to overcome those limitations by giving
researchers a place to post documents such as preprints and presentations in
a way that makes them globally visible and citable. Submissions are
filtered by a team of curators to weed out obviously inappropriate material,
but there’s no peer-review so accepted contributions appear online very
quickly — usually within a couple of hours. The content is all released
under a Creative Commons Attribution License, and each item is made citable
using a DOI or Handle (the same systems used for peer-reviewed scholarly
papers).

A similar approach has long been the norm in physics, where the the
arXiv.org preprint server at Cornell provides an indispensible source of
up-to-the-minute reports (the main reason that Nature Precedings doesn’t
attempt to cover physics). We’re hoping to catalyse a similar degree of
openness and cooperation among researchers in other disciplines. Because
Nature Precedings isn’t peer-reviewed (to be more accurate, the submissions
are subjected to open review *after* their release, through user comments
and votes), we see it as complementing rather than competing with
traditional journals, just as arXiv.org operates alongside the peer-reviewed journals in physics.

The service is free to authors and readers alike.

We’re going to be sending out some formal announcements today (Monday) and
at that time also revealing some of our long list of academic partners (see
the Nature Precedings home page later today for that info). They have not
only helped us to conceive this service, but will also be supporting it in
other ways, including mirroring the content to ensure it’s long-term
toll-free availability. When I get some time I also plan to post more about
this on the Nascent blog.

P.S. I’m gathering
early coverage (good, bad and indifferent) here [on Connotea].

Kudos to Timo and his team at Nature. They are consistently the boldest and most innovative of publishers — and it’s so rare to see a market leader with Nature’s unparalleled reputation taking such risks. It’s truly inspiring.

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  • http://searchengines.wordpress.com/ SEARCH ENGINES WEB *

    Because Nature Precedings isn’t peer-reviewed (to be more accurate, the submissions are subjected to open review *after* their release, through user comments and votes)

    By
    VOTES, is this going to be a DIGG-like format?

    The only problem with democratizing what inherently is esoteric information, is that the masses are not eruditious enough to cast a vote with any authority.

    Ambitious content creators will sometime ‘dumb-down’ content to make it more mass appealing. You can actually SEE the effect that Digg has had on mass media’s writing style.

    Perhaps there could be TWO categories of voting systems – one for Peer Review and one for laymen readers who want digestible information.

    One extreme is ripe with politics and the other is ripe with commercialization – but combined, they may neutralize each other’s inherent flaws.

  • John Scholes

    When are academics going to wise up and junk journals? It is absolutely absurd to allow the journals to take such a large bite out of academic budgets. It is also outrageous that content created at nil cost to the journals is blocked from free public access.
    It would be essentially trivial technically to get a pan-university site which hosted journal articles without charge for all-comers. If you want to retain peer-review (personally I wouldn’t, I can usually spot rubbish when I read it – anyway someone does, look at some of the arxiv examples) then you can retain it. Academics do it without fee as it is.
    Of course there is a snag which has stopped this so far. People want the kudos of Nature, Science, Phys Rev or whatever. But come off it, it is easy to replicate better kudos mechanisms.
    What we need, and urgently, is an arxiv system for all subjects and an end to the useless journals. They are history – or should be.

  • Michael

    I agree with the above. Journals that require a fee to access simply impede the dissemination of scientific information. An article doesn’t become a classic in a field by the journal it’s in, or by the reviewers’ ultimate comments on it, but on how much it is cited by other scientists over a long period. That validation can be obtained without the sketchy, delayed, and often biased reviews of overly-busy editors. I also think allowing a more open system of publication will encourage collaboration and speed up experimentation. You could even post the entire data set for verification by other researchers. The hosting servers could be paid for by the community as a whole, or by each submitter.

  • Santosh Patnaik

    Nature Precedings needs to have a good rating system for open, community-based review to work well. Currently, submitted articles can be voted for, but that does not tell one how many would have voted against it. Nor does one get to know the negative points unless they go through the whole article themselves. Such negative points may have been mentioned in some comments but they are not easy to spot. Further, one is usually disinclined to write textual comments unless one has a strong interest to do so.

    With open preprint systems, being able to find useful and reliable ideas and data in articles is perhaps more important than being able to submit one. This becomes apparent as the number of articles increase, when searching can return hundreds and thousands of articles. One can’t go through all of them, and a few ‘bad’ articles can easily cause frustration and distrust in the quality of the submissions.

    But if search criteria can include objective measures of article quality, then one can indeed easily find valuable material. Nature Precedings should therefore opt for a point-based rating system where different aspects of articles can be appraised.

    Thus, instead of just letting one vote for an article, one should be allowed to rate its different aspects on, say, a 1-5 scale. Such aspects can include:

    1. clarity
    2. originality
    3. novelty
    4. presence and quality of experimental data
    5. logical procession
    6. depth
    7. proper referencing

    In effect, this would be a proper peer-review system.

    The ratings, both their average and their spread, should be displayed alongside articles.

    A good review/rating system will discourage submission of bad articles, build trust in the usability and reliability of content in Nature Precedings, and encourage quality submissions.

    (similar comments posted elsewhere on the web by me)

  • Doug

    I think the idea is great. Sure, the details may change or morph over time as needed, but the idea is great.

    Now, if we could figure out how to get the U.S. Congress to do something like this for their ideas – AND TO KEEP THEM HONEST….

  • Cameron

    I have been doing materials science research for a personal project though my training leans towards electrical engineering. American and European Results are irrelevant because almost without fail, they are locked up in Journals that have multi-thousand dollar a year subscriptions and aren’t in libraries within several hundred miles of home. Eastern European and Indian Scholarly Research is generally published online in open PDF files and provides the only voice on many topics that I can find.

    I have been so angry at times about journals wanting us to pay 20$ per article that I have considered filing Freedom of Information Act requests against the funding agencies of the researchers to force the disclosure of what is essentially public property being held hostage.

    If enough FOIA requests come in, somebody in the government will decide it’s a nuisance and the rules about public disclosure will come into line with the National Institutes of Medicine policy on the disclosure of all published articles funded by their agency.

    Nature is doing the world a great service with this preprint service and I for one salute them.

  • http://keenpath.com Mark Mathson

    This is an excellent idea. Timo and the Nature team will help the scientific research community work more efficiently.

    Good to have a voting system and profiles for researchers as it will assist in keeping the papers submitted of higher quality.