Exploring ChemRxiv and the Value of Preprint Servers with Reddit

On October 17, ACS Publication hosted a Reddit AMA with Darla Henderson and Marshall Brennan. The pair manage ChemRxiv, the first preprint server designed for all chemical disciplines. You may remember Henderson’s AMA from January 2016, where she highlighted the ACS open access program to the r/Science community. Brennan is a new addition to the ACS team, and serves as the Publishing Manager for ChemRxiv. Preprint servers such as ChemRxiv are an important part of the publication process, facilitating discussion and feedback within the greater scientific community. As always, Reddit users had a lot of great questions for our hosts.

Check out some highlights from their conversation ChemRxiv and preprint servers:

/u/nate: The physics ArXiv is quite popular for communicating physics work well before it’s published, do you think this chemistry version will take hold as well? What will that mean for traditional chemistry journals?

Marshall Brennan: Quite right, and we do really think that ChemRxiv will take hold! Not only are we seeing submissions across a diverse set of subject areas (we have 16 categories for folks to choose from when submitting, and we’ve had contributions in 14 of them in the ~7 weeks that submissions have been open), but the groups that we would expect to have more of a loyalty to arXiv (computational, physical) are beginning to gravitate to ChemRxiv because we handle raw data and SI much better — one can upload an .xyz file and have a reader download it (and even view its 3D structure right in the browser) rather than having to reconstruct the coordinates from a PDF, which is an error-prone process which, of course, is currently not a possibility. So yes, I think there’s a lot here for chemists specifically, and we’ve seen a strong enough response that I’m quite confident that it will stick around.

Regarding traditional journals, the peer review process remains as important as ever, so they’re not going away. What ChemRxiv does is let authors discuss and hopefully improve on their papers before peer review. With (ideally) higher quality papers making it to editors, we can expect higher quality publications after peer review, and so it really is a symbiotic relationship!

/u/adenovato: Could you talk a bit about why preprint papers are of value to researchers? What’s driving growth in the preprint industry?

Marshall Brennan: Certainly — the short answer is that rapid dissemination leads to rapid evaluation, and that generally improves the pace and quality of research. Too often the peer review process can prevent ideas from permeating the community for up to a year in some cases (remember that, even at a quick-to-publish journal, many papers are rejected and resubmitted, which adds to total review time). In the current system, grant submissions can be impacted, job prospects for students and postdocs can be complicated, and research efforts can be duplicated (imagine if you had recently embarked on a project, and saw a paper that “scoops” it — it had likely been done for a while by the time it was published in a journal, and so if it had been preprinted you could have seen the nascent project and adjusted your focus, or, even better, reached out to collaborate and perhaps have better outcomes than one would have had on their own. We’ve seen countless examples of this by chemists using arXiv and bioRxiv (off the top of my head, I know Jan Jensen has written about this on his blog at Molecular Modeling Basics), so it isn’t a pipe dream: it actually happens!

/u/dschne: Chad Mirkin stated at a recent ACS conference during a ACS Pubs Q&A session that JACS will not accept papers that have been uploaded to ChemRxiv (or any other preprint service) because this counts as a prior publication. 1) Are you aware of any other ACS Publications that will reject papers that uploaded to ChemRxiv? 2) In your opinion will ACS Pubs change this policy in the future, or is it determined by the head editors of the respective journals?

Darla Henderson: When we started this journey and discussion with the community about a year and a half ago, very few ACS journals allowed preprints to be submitted to the journal. At this time, ca. 80% of ACS journals say yes to preprints – noting that not all policy documents are updated, those are in progress as we speak. JACS, Organic Letters, and Journal of Natural Products currently disallow preprints, and Journal of Chemical Education, Chemical Research in Toxicology are on a case by case type of basis (sometimes yes, other times no). Similarly, Chemical Reviews and Accounts of Chemical Research, currently both review-type journals, do not address preprints in their policies – in practice, there’s been no demand from their market to allow preprints.

The beauty of ACS is that when we say “community driven” we mean “community driven”. New journals are brought on by community demand, the Editor in Chief of each journal is a practicing researcher, a leader in the field who is identified, recruited, and recommended by a community “search” committee to the board of directors, the health of the journal editorially and how it is serving the community is evaluated at least every 5 years by a committee of community members. Editors of ACS journals as the representatives of the communities the journals serve, determine the content that is published in their journals. We respect that practice. We are working alongside all the Editors, teams, and journals to provide information and data about preprints, help identify questions outstanding, and advance those for discussion, and dig in to develop best practices around preprints that allow ChemRxiv to meet every chemistry community’s needs.

Learn more about ACS Science Tuesdays on Reddit and view upcoming AMAs.

If you have comments or questions for the author of this post, please e-mail: Axial@acs.org.