Publishing on preprint servers… do you do it?

In following up the arsenic in DNA story for The Economist, Rosie Redfield has brought some interesting issues to light. Dr Redfield, who blogs on this network, has recently published a paper in Science showing that NASA’s claims about finding an organism that has arsenic instead of phosphorus in its DNA weren’t true. Interestingly, her paper was available on arXiv, a preprint server, since February this year.

Before making it available on arXiv, she got in touch with Science to know if she can do this. Of course, physicists do it all the time. But Rosie figured that if Science publishes physics, then it must allow it too. To that end she asked and got this answer:

Posting of a paper on the Internet may be considered prior publication that could compromise the originality of the Science submission, although we do allow posting on not-for-profit preprint servers in many cases. Please contact the editors for advice about specific cases. We provide a free electronic reprint service to authors that allows visitors to the authors’ web site free access to the published version of the Science paper on Science Online immediately after publication.

Interestingly, Nature says the same thing but with more clarity than Science:

Nature journals do not wish to hinder communication between scientists. For that reason, different embargo guidelines apply to work that has been discussed at a conference or displayed on a preprint server and picked up by the media as a result. (Neither conference presentations nor posting on recognized preprint servers constitute prior publication.)

Our guidelines for authors and potential authors in such circumstances are clear-cut in principle: communicate with other researchers as much as you wish, whether on a recognised community preprint server, by discussion at scientific meetings (publication of abstracts in conference proceedings is allowed), in an academic thesis, or by online collaborative sites such as wikis; but do not encourage premature publication by discussion with the press (beyond a formal presentation, if at a conference).

How many people in the biological and chemical sciences really know about this? How many actually practice it? The only example I am aware of is Rosie’s. Do you know of others?

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