Previous history of biology preprints: A forgotten experiment from the 1960s

This [attached] article is an intriguing bit of history about scientific “preprint” publications. Since 1991, physicists and mathematicians have been using the arXiv preprint repository to circulate articles and ideas, to the envy of many biologists. After a number of failed attempts, including ClinMed Netprints (1999–2oo5) and Nature Precedings (2oo7–2o12), two biology preprint servers were launched in 2013 –– PeerJ Preprints and bioRxiv (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory). Many journals will now consider an article that has appeared on a preprint server, and grant-awarding bodies on both sides of the Atlantic allow preprints to be cited in grant and fellowship applications ––some, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, insist that their investigators deposit their papers as preprints.

This is widely seen as “an example of biology finally catching up with physics” –– i.e. it seems certain that the success of arXiv was influential in finally convincing journals to accept biology preprints. However, in fact, biology first adopted large-scale circulation of preprints more than 50 years ago, as part of a generalized interest in preprints that spanned much of science. From 1961–1967, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States pioneered a system known as the Information Exchange Groups (IEGs). This system eventually attracted >3,600 participants and saw the production of >2,500 different documents, but by 1967, it was effectively shut down –– following the refusal of journals to accept articles that had been circulated as preprints. This [attached] article describes the rise and fall of the IEGs and explores the parallels with the 1990s and the biomedical preprint movement of today. 🙂

PloS Biol Nov 2o17; 15: e2003995

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