In recent years, the growing proliferation of preprints — an unpublished working paper or article under review — across many scientific fields is changing the speed and process by which scientific research is disseminated and discussed. The leading preprint server in the psychological sciences is PsyArXiv, which also happens to be Collabra: Psychology’s preferred preprint server, with which it will further integrate over time.
Don Moore, a Professor at the Haas of School Business, UC Berkeley and Senior Editor at Collabra: Psychology, is a member of PsyArXiv’s Steering Committee. We sat down with Don to hear his perspective on the developing role of preprints in psychological science, and in journal publishing at large.
You are on the Steering Committee of PsyArXiv, a preprint archive of psychology research created by the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS) and the Center for Open Science (COS). How have you seen preprint activity — and perceptions — change or develop in recent years?
DM: There is growing awareness of the value of preprints for helping scholars disseminate our work. In the bad old days we relied on publishers to distribute paper copies of journal articles. Those days are long gone. Preprint services allow scholars to enjoy the speed and access advantages afforded by modern technology. Preprint services make it possible to disseminate research more freely and quickly than journals can. Dissemination and broad access are compatible with the scientific goals advocated by SIPS and COS — hence their interest in supporting PsyArXiv.
Do you think preprints have become a standard part of the scholarly publishing life cycle in the psychological sciences?
DM: Not yet. But the value of being able to share one’s work with the world is so enormous that I expect scholars will use preprint services more and more. Other fields have shown the path for how this can work. In economics, dissemination of working papers occurs far ahead of journal publication, through working paper series, such as those sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research. This allows scholars to incorporate feedback and refine their work without slowing the rate of sharing, discovery, and progress. Scholars need not worry about being “scooped” by sharing their early results because every posted draft is identified with a date that unambiguously marks a researcher’s claim. Indeed, researchers hurry to post unpublished results as soon as possible in order to be the first to have identified some important discovery. In physics, the original ArXiv preprint service has largely supplanted journals as the forum where physicists share their results. For physicists, sharing papers on ArXiv is their first priority and getting the paper published in a journal later is secondary.
How are preprints related to open peer review, a practice in which reviewer comments, and sometimes author-reviewer correspondence, appear alongside the published article?
DM: The two are not related, except insofar as the supporters of open science often support both. Both are consistent with the values of openness and broad dissemination. Also, preprint services provide a platform that makes it easy to share, all in one place, various documents such as the manuscript, reviews, data, materials, analysis code, and pre-registrations. But it is easy to imagine that open peer review might be useful for helping provide some sort of quality assessment for articles posted on preprint services, in a way that might help readers find papers.
In a growing body of preprint publications, what are the implications for an article’s version of record?
DM: The “version of record” is usually the final typeset and journal-formatted version, to which the publisher may own the copyright. When authors post a preprint, it will usually not be that version. It may be the most recent manuscript version that is not formatted in the style of a particular journal.
Could/should comments made on PsyArXiv play a (formal) role in a consequent, or concurrent, review process at a journal?
DM: At the moment, PsyArXiv does not accommodate user comments. But I dream of a day when a paper’s reviews are richer and more dynamic than the traditional review process has allowed. It’s easy to imagine a system wherein a paper receives some quality assessment from its reviewers that can be supplemented by comments from other readers and updated over time. One version of this could look like a scholarly Reddit thread, in which a paper’s quality rating depends on the credibility of its readers and raters. But it is still early days and it is hard to know how our systems of peer review will grow to take advantage the power and flexibility enabled by modern technology.
You are also a Senior Editor of Collabra: Psychology. How will preprints at PsyArXiv become better integrated with the journal? Generally speaking, what is the optimal relationship between preprints and publishers? (Especially now that PsyArXiv is the journal’s preferred preprint server.)
DM: Collabra: Psychology is not like the legacy journals run by for-profit publishers. Collabra: Psychology’s goals, like other open access journals, are compatible with the wider dissemination enabled by preprint services. Preprints can help disseminating research findings. That is wonderful because it serves one of the highest goals of science — broad dissemination. Collabra: Psychology seeks to facilitate integration by making it easy to submit a paper posted on PsyArXiv. The relationship between preprint services and journal publishers should be deeply synergistic, in that they both desire to achieve the same end: successful dissemination and broad influence of scholarly work. The value that journals provide is filtering papers based quality and topic relevance. That will always be a valuable service and it is easy to imagine preprint services and journals working together. Journals can provide assessments of quality and “stamps of approval” for papers disseminated through preprint services.
In what ways have you seen preprints change how psychological science is conducted?
DM: Preprints help speed the process scientific discovery by making results discoverable sooner. If scholars are posting their manuscripts online ahead of publication, it can make it easier for them to get feedback from others before they formally submit the paper for journal review. For other scientists, it becomes easier to discover work that has already been done and begin building on it, even before the original paper has completed the sometimes lengthy publication process. Moreover, preprint services can accommodate papers that may otherwise be difficult to disseminate, such as direct replications and null results.
Anything else you’d like to say about the preprint landscape?
DM: I am excited about the possibilities offered by preprint services to move us closer to scientific nirvana in which all research results are available quickly, universally, and costlessly. Technology has already revolutionized the way scientists share their work, but the Internet’s full potential has not yet been realized. Preprint services are an enormously important step in helping us, as a scholarly community, leverage the benefits of technological advancement for the benefit of all.