Thursday, April 7, 2022

The promise and perils of preprint scouts for journals

 This is a joint post co-written equally by:

Daniel Bolnick (daniel.bolnick@uconn.edu)

David Fisher (david.fisher@abdn.ac.uk)

Maurine Neiman (maurine-neiman@uiowa.edu)


Disclaimer: This essay is not a statement of policy for any journal or organization. 


The preprint era:

Preprints are increasingly used in biology as a means to rapidly disseminate research before peer review and to make scientific research freely and equitably available. The COVID pandemic illustrated the rewards and risks of such a system. Preprints provided a crucial means for rapidly conveying findings that helped shape public policy and medical practice, at a time when we could little afford the delays typical of the scientific review process. However, preprints also have the potential to facilitate the spread of flawed research. The rare examples of truly flawed preprints highlight the importance of following up with traditional peer review. Although peer review as ‘gate-keeping’ has a negative connotation in a lot of conversations on scientific publishing, peer review also has a genuine role to ensure that rigorous science is disseminated while flawed science (or, pseudoscience) is not. Preprints lack the gate-keeping of formal peer review, and so their flaws emphasize the genuine value that is added by traditional peer review, typically conducted by journals (in our experience, voluntary reviews on preprint servers tend to be scarce). 

A reasonable compromise between these perspectives seems to be increasingly accepted: authors go to preprints for rapid dissemination. The scientific community recognizes these preprints but treats them with a grain of salt. Meanwhile, authors submit to journals for the value-added provided by constructive review and formal publication in a recognized journal. In this publishing model, journals remain passive recipients of submissions. Authors choose which journals to submit to, based on their impression of journal prestige, subject area, readership, and fit to their own manuscript. And, we hope that policy and media attention focuses on the peer-reviewed publications.



Preprint Scouts

An interesting alternative is to view preprints as a display case, and journals as proactive ‘shoppers’. As concerns regarding equitable access to scientific publishing become increasingly apparent, Editors are also hoping to increase the diversity of the pool of submitting authors. A journal may also wish to increase the diversity of subjects it receives submissions on, perhaps if the journal wants to expand its remit, or if the Editorial board feels certain subjects among current topics are underrepresented. 

Journal Editors are also concerned with the prestige of the institutions they manage, and seek to publish the best available submissions that will inspire authors to submit other high-quality submissions. As Editors, we frequently feel a twinge of regret when we see a great paper published elsewhere that we wish had come to our journal. All these concerns can motivate Editors to encourage authors to submit promising preprints to their journal. A few journals (e.g., Proceedings B; Evolution Letters) initiated a system of Preprint Scouts (or Preprint Editors) whose job is to watch for newly posted preprints, identify promising preprints that would be a good fit to the journal’s goals, and encourage submission. 

If this preprint scout system sounds radically new, it’s not. It is just a formal version of what has long been an informal process. Throughout the history of modern scientific publishing, Editors and Associate Editors have informally encouraged authors to submit exciting work to their journals. At conferences, Editors may give words of encouragement to a student after a particularly enticing lecture or poster. As a visiting speaker at a university, an Editor might hear about exciting new results in preparation and encourage the author to submit. From a cynical perspective, the preprint scout system simply formalizes what had been an informal networking system, with all of its associated challenges. In other words, it should be pretty obvious that the old informal system would have been riddled with unconscious biases. As Editors, we are more likely to give encouragement to someone working on a topic of particular interest to us, or to someone working in the lab of a close collaborator or friend. This doesn’t mean the bias is ill-intentioned, merely that it is a natural outgrowth of the fact that we inevitably interact socially and intellectually with a non-random subset of the broader scientific community (there are just too many people out there to know them all personally). And, we are more likely to encourage manuscript submission from the people we interact with. The hope is that formalizing this system of Preprint Scouts can reduce these biases by bringing it out from the shadows. Or better still, Preprint Scouts might be a tool for proactively removing biases and consciously diversifying a journal’s authorship or subject matter. The latter prospect is particularly enticing, but requires great care to implement successfully.

The remainder of this blog post aims to articulate the aspirations of Preprint Scout arrangements, the risks associated with the approach, and strategies to mitigate those risks. We provide specific recommendations for how journals might implement Preprint Scout systems, and how not to do so. We wish to emphasize that this document is written by us personally and does not represent a statement of institutional policy by any journal or university that we are affiliated with. Another useful reference that covers distinct but related issues can be found in Neiman et al. (2021)



Goals:

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness: The primary goal of most journals is to publish the best science they can (rigorous, clear, innovative, impactful), in the field(s) that they address. In doing so, they hope to (1) increase knowledge of the world (a service to their readership), and (2) promote the careers of the authors who contribute excellent papers. In the interests of equity, fairness, and social justice, journals have a moral obligation to promote the careers of diverse authors (by nationality, ethnicity, gender, or other aspects of identity). An inclusive and diverse set of authors isn’t just a political statement. The variety of lived experiences and perspectives provides a richer view of the scientific topics that concern us and can make our scientific insights deeper and more varied. A key goal of Preprint Scouts, therefore, should be to advance the globalization and diversification of science. STEM fields are plagued by myriad inequalities affecting who can conduct research and who can publish in top journals; inequalities arising from cultural biases, geography, socioeconomic inequality (both personal and research funding), racism, and sexism. Preprint Scouts represent an interesting opportunity to proactively mitigate these inequalities, though they also have the potential to entrench inequalities if not done with care.


Subject Matter: As Editors, we are keenly aware that our journals are only able to publish the papers that get submitted to us. This limits our ability to diversify our authorship or the set of scientific topics that we wish to publish. Authors have impressions of what our journals do, or do not, publish. Authors have impressions about journal’s openness (or lack thereof) to submissions from authors in the global south, or student authors, or authors from groups that are historically underrepresented or marginalized. While biases surely exist (we do not contest this), there is often a mismatch between authors’ perceptions of what a journal will publish, and what the Editors actually are interested in. Author misconceptions about Editor expectations lead to an author-generated bias in what papers get submitted to a given journal. For instance, the journal title “The American Naturalist” implies to some that the journal prioritizes research by American authors (it does not), or natural history (it is often a theory or conceptually focused journal). As a result, authors from the Global South, or Asia, might be less likely to submit, generating a bias in our submissions that the Editors don’t even know exists. (as an aside: the journal name is a 150-year-old legacy that Editors have been hesitant to abandon, despite occasional conversations on the topic). 

Or, when it comes to subject matter, Editors often feel helpless to steer the journal into a new subject area when we receive few or no submissions on the topic. For example, The American Naturalist receives relatively few submissions using genomics or transcriptomics, and few submissions in ecosystem ecology, or neurobiology, or ecophysiology: these are topics that the Editors truly value and wish to promote, but as long as authors believe the Editors don’t want submissions in the topic, they won’t submit. The result is a feedback loop: authors don’t submit papers on a given topic to a particular journal, so the journal doesn’t publish on that topic and so authors perceive that the journal does not desire submissions on that topic. This problem is heightened by the reality that a journal that does not publish very often on a particular topic will also often feature Associate Editors with that topical expertise, meaning that even when papers that address this topic are submitted, they are often perceived as out of scope. 

This feedback loop can be broken by Preprint Scouts, whose proactive solicitation of submissions conveys interest to authors, and who can even identify new topical areas that a journal should consider broadening to include. The experiences of existing Preprint Editors emphasize this point: both David Fisher and Maurine Neiman note that when they have encouraged submissions they frequently get replies stating “Oh, I didn’t know Evolution Letters {or, Proceedings B} published in this area”! Even if a given preprint has already been submitted to another journal, the solicitation conveys to authors that the journal is open to publishing in that subject area, and so they may be more inclined to plan a future submission. 


Risks and solutions

An informal and unscientific poll (screenshot below) suggests that there is cautious interest by the scientific community in Preprint Scouts, but also a great deal of concern over the potential for exacerbating biases.



Preprint Scouts are only a good choice for journals if they effectively achieve the goals listed above. If Preprint Scouts simply provide a means for journals to compete over already high-profile authors or sustain or exacerbate inequalities in access to top journals, then they should not be adopted. Here, we examine some potential concerns, paired with some potential solutions.


1.Biases in who posts on preprint servers

Not everyone is comfortable posting preprints. Authors may feel it is wise to “put your best foot forward”, presenting your colleagues with only the most polished product possible. Getting reviews from journals is a means to get (hopefully constructive) feedback that improves the clarity of your writing and graphics, and perhaps catches errors in logic or analyses. Review and revision provides a means to minimize the risk of later embarrassment by letting a small number of anonymous peers confidentially check for profound flaws before the big reveal to everyone. So, preprints might be used more often by people with strong scientific networks of colleagues who can give them feedback before posting on a preprint server, giving more confidence that the work is solid before posting online.

It is our impression that career stage has a strong impact on one’s willingness to use preprint servers. Our older colleagues generally seem more skeptical than our students. In this sense, preprint scouts are more likely to invite submissions from junior scientists, which we see as a generally positive bias.

We expect that there may be geographic biases (e.g., nationality) in who posts on preprints, but are not aware of data on this issue. Cultural differences in how preprints are evaluated may incentivize (or disincentivize) preprint use. Challenges with publishing in a second (or third, or fourth) language means that some authors may be more comfortable working directly through a journal to get Editorial and copyediting help before making their work public. The lack of fees associated with preprints, which give an open access version of a manuscript, may be attractive for those working in countries or at institutions without the funds to pay the substantial open access fees at many journals. Any disparities in what nationalities use preprints will generate biases in what preprints are available for Preprint Scouts to evaluate. Such biases are not necessarily a bad thing: if the Global South is over-represented in preprints, for instance, then Preprint Scouts will tend to promote submissions from areas that may be under-represented in traditional author-initiated submissions. We require data to determine whether geographic biases exist in preprint use, to determine whether Scouts would therefore exacerbate or ameliorate geographic biases in submissions. 

Solutions to the above biases lie at a community level, by trying to even the playing field of who submits preprints, and are largely out of the hands of journals. However, if many journals initiate a Preprint Scout system, it may create incentives for using preprints that alter the landscape of who is choosing to post preprints (as well as increasing the number of authors that chose to post preprints overall).


2. Biases in which preprints come to a scout’s attention

Preprint Scouts are tasked with the job of scanning weekly lists of new preprints. Given the volume of preprint submissions, this necessarily requires some winnowing before the Scouts can look at abstracts and manuscripts. The winnowing takes place by carefully choosing which preprint servers to monitor and what keywords to use. Both choices will tend to define what sets of papers a Scout will see. Different disciplines tend to gravitate to different preprint servers - for example, BioRxiv, ARxiv, PCI, or EcoEvoRxiv. Preprint Scouts that focus on particular servers will entrench biases towards the subfields that prefer a given server. Keyword searches further narrow the set of visible papers. Within a given discipline there may be cultural variation in semantics, definitions, or even spelling, so that a keyword that an American Preprint Scout might choose could be a term less often in use by authors in Europe. Terms may also have a directionality to them (e.g., “assortative mating” might fail to reveal papers on “disassortative mating” or papers giving negative results implying random mate choice). Such directional terms can exaggerate the “file drawer” effect where journals preferentially publish results that are statistically significant (and perhaps in a particular direction that corroborates standard views).

The solutions to this problem are within reach. Journals using Preprint Scouts should have a diverse team (by discipline, nationality, etc), and carefully discuss a set of systematic key words, or abandon key words to focus on all submissions in a discipline. Preprint Scouts should use search engine and auto-alert tools rather than Twitter or other social networking tools. Many of us do use Twitter or other social networks. Indeed, this is how the three authors of this document connected to draft this blog, and one of us (Neiman) has used social media, including Twitter, to recruit new members for her Preprint Editorial team at Proceedings B. There’s a good chance you are reading this because you (or someone you know) saw it posted on Twitter. One of the benefits of social networks is that it draws our attention to brand new scientific publications (including preprints) that are of interest to us. This has great benefits but also is likely to entrench biases because we are more likely to see the papers by the people we choose to follow on social media (and, who on social media tends to post about their preprints, or not). Therefore, preprint scouts should be discouraged from using their personal Twitter (or equivalent) feed as the primary means for finding preprints to invite.


3. Biases in which preprints a scout chooses to encourage submission

Preprint Scouts, being human, naturally have their own preferences (and dislikes). We all have subject areas or organisms that we find especially fascinating, and other topics that just have never excited us. Inevitably, these personality quirks will influence what articles a Preprint Scout finds exciting enough to send out an invitation. Then there is the potential for personal network biases: will a preprint scout be more likely to send an invitation to a close personal friend, or close collaborator? Or to the student of a friend/collaborator? Would a scout be more (or less) likely to send an invitation to a prominent author? That big name may be intimidating to reach out to, or may be someone the scout wishes to curry favor with. This in some ways mimics the potential for bias in the decisions an Editor makes over which articles submitted to a journal to send out for review. Additionally, preprint servers may indicate the number of downloads or amount of Twitter attention a preprint has received. Preprints Scouts trying to decide if a candidate is “interesting” enough to be worth an invitation might use downloads or Twitter retweets as a guide (captured by Altmetric scores). While there is surely information in this online attention, allowing it to influence decisions risks biasing submissions towards authors with large social media networks, papers with particularly engaging titles, or flawed work that attracts attention for the wrong reasons.

Several solutions present themselves. First, having a large and diverse team of preprint scouts allows a journal to ‘average over’ the variation among individuals. This team should span nationalities, career stages, and subject matter to provide greater awareness of cultural differences and minimize the effect of personal biases in subject, study organism, or personalities. Second, preprint scouts should be encouraged to ignore the author list, and go straight to the title, abstract, and main body of the work (this may be easier said than done). Third, journals may wish to institute a tiered system where a team of Preprint Scouts make recommendations to a Preprint Editor who makes a final decision for a set of invitations for the week. Given the Preprint Editor is likely to be more experienced than the Scouts, this allows a more experienced head to make the final call on what should be invited, and what will not be. This tiered system also allows the Preprint Editor to keep an eye on the overall diversity (nationality, gender, etc) of invited authors. And, it separates the step of identifying candidate papers, from the person issuing the invitation, reducing the Preprint Scout’s temptation to curry favor with prominent authors. Finally, avoiding a reliance on altmetrics such as downloads or retweets when selecting which preprints to invite is a must.


4. Other potential drawbacks

If preprint scouts become pervasive, authors may begin to ‘expect’ invitations and get offended by the lack of an invitation. This strikes us as a relatively unlikely scenario.

If journals interested in similar topic areas implement Preprint Scout systems, then there will be significant duplicated effort. Each journal would have a team scanning an overlapping set of preprints, and perhaps issuing competing invitations to mutually appealing papers. Given how limited all of our time can be, duplicate effort perhaps should be avoided. The alternative is a system like PCI, or the now-defunct Axios, where a single team (PCI Editors) examines submissions and makes recommendations to authors as to which journal(s) might be a good fit. This, however, removes the crucial ability for journal Editors to use Preprint Scouts to move their journal into new subject areas (that an unaffiliated set of reviewers might not be aware of).

It can happen that Preprint Scouts invite a paper for submission, only to have that paper declined. In general, authors are more likely to react poorly to such a decline, because they have received mixed messages. This is particularly true when the Editor declines to even send an invited submission out for review (as has happened to at least one of us writing this essay). Part of the reason for such mixed messages is that different individuals issue the invitation, and evaluate submissions, and they may have different visions for the journal’s goals. For instance, an Editor might wish to use preprint invitations to proactively move the journal into publishing an emerging subject area that it has not previously featured. But an Associate Editor (or, reviewers) examining the submission may not know this intent and decide that the paper is not a good match to the journal. So, if a journal Editor seeks to use preprint scouting to shift the journal in a new direction, that direction must be clearly conveyed to all Associate Editors to avoid mixed expectations. And, reviewer comments based on misconceptions about the journal’s subject matter need to then be discounted. A more radical option (not likely to be popular among many journal Editors) is that a preprint scout invitation to submit comes with a guarantee that the paper would, at a minimum, not be desk rejected without review.

If particular Preprint Editors (or, Editors, Associate Editors, etc) do not buy into the broader agenda of increasing subject matter diversity or author representation, then preprint solicitations will fail to achieve their goals. Open and transparent discussions with all Editorial Board members are required to articulate the goals and values of the journal, including training regarding implicit/explicit bias. Journals may need to consider bringing in new Associate Editors, or formally establishing new subject matter areas, to emphasize policy goals. A good example of this strategy is provided by the establishment of the new Biological Science Practices section at Proceedings B. This new paper type, focused on papers that analyze the way in which science is conducted within biology, and especially how these scientific practices influence research quality, scientific community health, and the public understanding of science, was instituted at Proceedings B  as a direct consequence of a gap between desired scope, perceived scope, and Editorial board composition.

Preprint scouts need to be sufficiently familiar with the journal they are serving, to have a realistic view of what kinds of manuscripts stand a good chance at publication. Otherwise, there is a risk that scouts will tend to encourage authors to submit manuscripts that do not have a good chance at publication because of scientific flaws that will be critiqued in review or poor fit to the journal’s standards of novelty, clarity, or subject matter. Over-enthusiastic invitations to papers that stand little chance of publication risk wasting everyone’s time and generating substantial ill-will. Scouts should therefore have substantial familiarity with the journal as a reader, a reviewer, an author, or some combination of these, as well as having clear instructions from the Editor. 

An obvious difficulty with preprint scouts is that many authors post preprints more or less simultaneously with submission to a journal. This appears to be the most frequent situation. Chances are, the authors have prepared the manuscript with that journal in mind for some time in advance. Might Preprint Scouts thus be a waste of time and not yield submissions? We certainly have found that scouting can yield submissions, so it clearly is not a complete waste of time. First, some authors do post preprints first, and wait for feedback, before submitting. While these are a minority, they represent an opportunity for journals.  Second, if papers get declined from their first journal submission, the authors have a backup plan in place with an invitation. The most common response that Evolution Letters preprint scouts get is along the lines of “the paper is currently in review, but we will think of Evolution Letters in the future.”  Third, even if the paper in question is not submitted, the invitation raises awareness of the journal, particularly when an Editor seeks to publish more on an emerging topic.



Strategies for Implementing Preprint Scout Systems


1. Who gets invited to be a preprint scout

Given the central importance of diversity to science and the need to pay particular attention to bias generated by limited diversity, we believe that focusing first and foremost on bringing a diverse set of scientists to the table to serve as these Preprint Scouts is critical. With this in mind, we suggest using a simple application procedure that explicitly focuses on evaluating how the applicant can contribute distinct but relevant perspectives. A statement of motivation for joining the team is also helpful. At least one of us has taken on the philosophy of trying to accommodate most if not all early-career scientists interested in joining a Preprint Scout team, with the caveat that not all journals have the breadth or bandwidth to include a large group of scouts. 

Where seniority might be helpful is when it comes to the person actually issuing the invitation: to maximize the likelihood that the solicitation will be taken seriously and not viewed as spam, it is ideal if the email comes from an individual, institution, and/or journal with good potential for name recognition or a professional online presence that is readily findable via Internet search. 


2. Training

Training needs to cover three core pillars. First, Preprints Scouts must be trained to do the job fairly. This means avoiding existing biases in how preprints are found and which are invited as described above. Unconscious bias training is a useful tool here for making people aware of their own existing biases, while highlighting existing biases in the field at large is also key. While many more senior academics may have received such training (even multiple times) as part of their existing roles, younger colleagues may not. There exist myriad articles, videos, and interactive tools for teaching Associate Editors and Preprint Scouts about unconscious bias and how to mitigate it (see, for instance, a curated list of UB training tools posted by Elsevier).

Second, scouts need training in how to do the job efficiently. There are enormous numbers of preprints within the biological sciences posted daily, and therefore a huge number of articles to look at and as many decisions to make about whether the preprint is relevant and interesting enough to be worth an invitation. There is considerable potential for this process to use up a great deal of time, especially when any preprint scouting team is small and/or the journal remit is broad. Key-word alerts can make the process much more efficient by taking much of the searching out of the scouts’ hands, meaning they only need to peruse the generated lists of relevant preprints every few days or once a week. However, key-words can (as noted above) be spelled differently, or be culturally biased, so a broader approach may be advisable. If the scouts also are writing the invitation, a template can be used (more details below), requiring only the addition of the email, name, and title of paper, which can be automatically added from spreadsheets if relevant preprint information is collated there, while perhaps the specific reasons for the invitation will still need to be added manually.

Finally, scouts will need guidance on how to do the job to best achieve the goals of the journal. If the mission is primarily to diversify the submissions, then the methods described above may be sufficient. If the journal also wishes to target specific subject areas, then training may be required in how to find those preprints and approach those authors. As the goals of a journal may be diverse, prescribing the appropriate training is difficult, but we wish to highlight to interested Editors the need to make sure their Preprint Scouts have the tools necessary to achieve the journal’s goals.  


3. Procedures for finding prospective articles

When the preprint server covers a wider remit than the journal is interested in featuring, topic and keyword alerts allow the range of papers to be quickly reduced to the most relevant. For example, bioRxiv allows both “Subject Collection” alerts, where the title, author list, and a link for any preprint posted in subjects (author identified) such as “Developmental Biology” and “Zoology” is then sent to an email address, and “Relevant paper” alerts, where preprints are identified based on key words matched in titles, abstracts, or author lists. Alternatively, scouts can search the relevant repositories with defined key words, or in defined subject areas, each time they wish to find new preprints to invite. The OSF have made a guide for such an approach here

4. Criteria for choosing which articles to invite

The journal goals for preprint solicitation should be always kept in mind when deciding which papers to invite, whether these goals be about broadening participation or scope or simply ensuring that the journal is soliciting preprints likely to also be solicited by competitor journals. The Preprint Editor should discuss with other members of the Editorial board regarding the extent to which solicited papers should meet, or come close to meeting, formatting requirements for submission such as length, section representation, etc. In our experience, it is frustrating to authors to receive a solicitation for a preprint that must be extensively reformatted prior to submission. 


5. Invitation procedures

We have found that it is critical to personalize (e.g., author name, paper title) invitation emails to preprint authors to reduce the risk that these emails will be perceived as spam. While this risk is not entirely eliminated by such personalization, correctly identifying authors, papers, etc. will likely increase the likelihood that the email will be taken seriously. How to achieve this personalization will depend on the number of solicitations. At Proceedings B, dozens of solicitations go out per month, requiring the Preprint Editor to use a custom-build Python script that scrapes a Google sheet for paper titles and names. A smaller-scale endeavor, say for a journal with a more narrow remit, however, could potentially be centered on individual emails written for each solicited preprint. 

Regardless of approach, it seems important to ensure that all corresponding authors are included in the solicitation. As a mechanism to broaden participation by early-career researchers and to possibly increase the rate at which solicited preprints are submitted, one might also consider adding first authors (who are often early in their careers) to the solicitation. A template letter is provided at the end of this post.


6. Procedures for submission and post-submission evaluation:

Two key considerations present themselves here. First, should scouted papers be flagged as such upon submission to a journal? This would signal to the handling Editor that the submission had been given a green-light by a Preprint Scout as likely appropriate for the journal. This would presumably make an Editorial “desk rejection” (without review) less likely. The closely related question is whether a journal treats such flagged papers differently as a matter of policy. Specifically, does an invitation convey a guarantee that the paper would at least be sent to an Associate Editor for detailed evaluation? A guarantee the paper would go to review? The specifics here are likely to vary among journals, and even among Editors. But, if scouted papers are just as likely as regular submissions to receive desk rejections, over time this may lead to disgruntled authors and ultimately devalue the notion of a Preprint Scout invitation. 


Conclusion.

We believe that Preprint Scouts, if deployed with appropriate training, policies, and deliberation, may be a valuable tool. They may help journals reverse historical and current biases in who publishes. They may help Editors steer journals into publishing subjects where they previously did not get as many submissions as desired. These opportunities can only be realized, however, with a diverse and well trained staff of Preprint Scouts. However, this system is not without costs - personnel time, most notably. And, if many journals begin adopting this type of system, other journals may feel obliged to do the same.








Sample Invitation letter


Dear Dr. (author last name here),


My name is Maurine Neiman, and I am the Preprint Editor for the Proceedings of the Royal Society B ("Proc B"). Proc B is the Royal Society of London’s primary biological journal accepting original articles of outstanding scientific interest. Proc B's scope covers the breadth of biology and is described more fully at http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/about.


My Preprint Editorial Team and I have used a survey of the papers published in bioRxiv over the last month to identify your manuscript, "manuscript title here", as one that we consider a potentially good fit for Proc B, pending, of course, formal Editorial consideration and peer review. You can learn more about our team and our process in our recently published paper (https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1248). I am now writing to encourage you to submit your manuscript to Proc B via our online submission system (https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/prsb). 


This invitation in no way assures selection for peer review. Indeed, one possible outcome is rejection without review. My invitation to you does indicate that we think that your paper could be appropriate for publication in Proc B. While you are not obligated to respond to this email, it will be very helpful for us going forward to know whether you (1) have interest in submitting to Proc B, (2) do end up submitting to Proc B, and (3), if (2), the outcome of the review process. 


In any event, if you do submit to Proc B, we do request that you mention that you were solicited via the Proceedings B Preprint Editorial Team in your cover letter. We also make the submission process very easy for you through automated transfer from bioRxiv, though you can also submit through the traditional route on the Proc B page listed above. If you choose to submit via bioRxiv, you can submit your manuscript to Proc B by selecting the journal from a drop-down list available in the bioRxiv author interface. You will then receive an automated email from Proc B with instructions on how to complete your submission. Once your submission is complete, your paper is treated at Proc B as a regular submission. The bioRxiv number remains on the submission so we will know that the paper was transferred via this route. One of our goals of this preprint solicitation endeavor is to broaden the scope of submissions to our journal. If you do choose to submit, please also ensure that you briefly explain in your cover letter why you believe the paper is a good fit for Proceedings B. You will need to format your manuscript and associated elements to meet the requirements for submission to Proc B (http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/author-information).


Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like additional information.


Sincerely,


Maurine Neiman, Ph.D.

Professor

Department of Biology

Department of Gender, Woman's and Sexuality Studies

Provost Faculty Fellow for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

University of Iowa

Editor and Preprint Editor, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B

maurine-neiman@uiowa.edu

http://bioweb.biology.uiowa.edu/neiman/

Twitter: @mneiman


4 comments:

  1. " it is frustrating to authors to receive a solicitation for a preprint that must be extensively reformatted prior to submission. "

    I would be livid if I were invited to submit a specific paper only to be told that I must rewrite/reformat it. In my opinion, journals often emphasize the wrong formatting at the wrong stage. The first stage of review should be strictly about the science, who cares if you didn't format your sections properly. The second step, peer review, I would argue should simply remove any identifying information; _maybe_ insist on small formatting changes (like choice of font).

    Now, I understand the counterargument: that certain authors might format in certain ways and therefore compromise the anonymity, but chances are, if you are so familiar with a field of work that you are being asked to review a paper, you are probably familiar with the research groups in the field and what they study. I can't imagine someone would recognize a specific group based on the formatting of their preprints alone. If a preprint is already publicly available, then the chances of anonymity being compromised is already high.

    I may be a bit biased as I recently submitted a paper, and a journal made me:
    1. Trim 3 pages
    2. Convert all images to grey scale
    3. Move all figures and tables to a separate document
    4. Move the bibliography to a separate document
    5. Change the overall layout (two-column, add line numbers, specified margin, and font etc.)

    And after all that, they decided it wasn't appropriate topic for the journal and rejected it without sending it for review.

    As for whether to "flag" an invited paper, I think this would be mandatory, for exactly the reasons stated, but also because if a scout is inviting the wrong sort of papers, there should be a mechanism that the editors can have to try to evaluate why/how this paper was submitted. Flagging the paper also gives the scout an opportunity to clarify why the paper was invited. Whether or not reviewers should be able to see the flag: I would lean towards no, as it might bias their opinion.

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    1. The post above sounds like a rant (and it is, a bit), but I do generally like the idea of scouting, I just think the idea (and publishing in general) could make use of some more sensible policies.

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  2. I'd be happy to elaborate more on this, but I was involved in launching a product for journal editors which took the heavy lifting out of this procedure. We indexed preprints from publicly available servers, did some concept extraction on each one, and used these concepts to match preprints to journals (each journal had its own semantic fingerprint based on concepts from manuscripts it has published in the last 3 years). We even evaluated language and reference recency to help further refine this - and editors simply picked the preprints they wanted to invite to submit to their journal. We even allowed automated sending of email invitations somewhat following the example in this blog post.
    However, we had seriously underestimated the number or proportion of preprints which had already been submitted to a journal by the time they are available on the preprint server. it seems the explosion in popularity of preprints is at least partially down to the fact that people are happier submitting to a journal and preprint server *at the same time*. This is different to how preprints were envisioned to be used when arXiv was set up.
    This problem needs to be fixed before preprints can be thought to be a serious source of submissions for journals. Happy to hear any thoughts on how this could be done.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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Not by vaults and locks: To archive code, or not?

  The cases for and against archiving code by, Bob Montgomerie (Queen’s University) Data Editor—The American Naturalist As of the beginn...