Chemistry preprint servers (revisited).

This week the ACS announced its intention to establish a “ChemRxiv preprint server to promote early research sharing“. This was first tried quite a few years ago, following the example of especially the physicists. As I recollect the experiment lasted about a year, attracted few submissions and even fewer of high quality. Will the concept succeed this time, in particular as promoted by a commercial publisher rather than a community of scientists (as was the original physicists model)?

The RSC (itself a highly successful commercial publisher) has picked up on this and run its own commentary. You will find quotes from yours truly there, along with Peter Murray-Rust, a long time ardent promoter of community driven open science. One interesting aspect is that the ACS runs around 50 journals, and the decision on whether each will accept preprints for publication will (shortly = next few weeks) be made by the individual editors. I wonder if the eventual list of those supporting the project will bring any surprises (bets on J. Am. Chem. Soc. preprints anyone)?

But I want to pick up on the declared aspiration “to promote early research sharing“. Here I couple research sharing with data sharing. If you share your research, you should also share the data resulting from that research. We are now entering a new era of data sharing (in part as a result of mandation by various funding bodies) and so one has to ask whether a pre-print server will encourage people to create and share FAIR data (data which is findable, accessible, inter-operable and re-usable) as a model to replace the current one of “supporting information” held in enormous PDF files (mostly unFAIR on at least three counts). This question is indeed posed in the RSC commentary. What I would like to see happen are projects such as that described here, which create what were described as “first class research objects”, and which I think amply fulfil the criteria of being FAIR. So, will ChemRxiv preprint servers help promote such FAIR data sharing as part of early research sharing? We will find out soon.

The ACS supports OA (Open Access) sharing of articles, provided the authors pay (or arrange payment of) the appropriate APC or article processing charge. These charges are complex, being subject to various discounts (for example if you as an author are an ACS member or not) but are generally not insignificant (> $1000). I wondered whether preprints might be subject to an APC, and so I asked the ACS. The response was “we don’t anticipate any submission or usages fees at this time“. I think that means free at point of submission, and free at point of readership “at this time“.

Finally, let me now summarise as I understand the current family of “research publications”:

  1. The preprint
  2. The final author version as submitted to a journal
  3. The “version of record” (VoR) as published by the journal
  4. Any FAIR published data associated with the article

All four of these are attempts at “research sharing”. Each may be located in a different location, and each may have its own DOI. And of course we cannot easily know how much overlap there is between each of them. Thus, how might 1-3 differ in terms of the story or “narrative” of scientific claims? Does 4 agree or support 1-3? Does 4 agree with perhaps data subsets contained in 1-3? If keeping abreast of the current research literature is a challenge, imagine having to cope with/reconcile up to four versions of each “publication”! 

Lots of food for thought here. We have not heard the last of these themes. 


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One Response to “Chemistry preprint servers (revisited).”

  1. Hello, is running from September. Cheers, Ulf.

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