“Over a decade ago, BioMed Central (BMC) recognized the importance of postpublication discussion. Prepublication review can improve papers and catch errors, but only time and subsequent work of other scientists can truly show which results in a publication are robust and valid. Unlike a print journal (or print as a medium, in general), the Internet permits the readers to comment on published papers over time. So in 2002 BMC developed and enabled commenting on every one of its articles across its suite of journals. Not only does this allow for postpublication review, but it enables readers to easily ask authors and other readers a question, with public responses enriching the original manuscript, clarifying, and helping to improve the comprehension of the work.
This is a terrific idea, but it didn’t really catch on….
Remarkably, despite the creation of arXiv for physicists in 1990 and despite the enthusiastic embrace of preprints by the physics community, it has been assumed this is impossible for biology. The common argument is that biologists are different from physicists and the arXiv success is not informative. What many did find telling is the death of the 2007 preprint initiative from the Nature Publishing Group (NPG). NPG tried preprints with Nature Precedings, but adoption was low and in 2012 NPG pulled the plug on the experiment.3 This triggered some skepticism about the prospects of the bioRxiv preprint effort from Cold Spring Harbor Lab (CSHL) Press.4 Critics told the director of CSHL Press, John Inglis, that a preprint for biologists simply couldn’t work.5
Once again, we must ask the cause of the Nature Precedings failure. Did NPG kill it because biologists wouldn’t behave in the same way as physicists? We know that isn’t the case. Preprints in biology are all the rage today….
In the winter of 2012, Alexei Stoliartchouk and I came up with the idea for protocols.io—a central place where scientists can share and discover science methods. We wanted to create a site where corrections and the constant tweaking of science methods could be shared, even after publication in a journal….
Few people know about bioprotocols.com, but many know about OpenWetWare (OWW) and Nature Protocol Exchange—both open-access community resources for sharing protocols. Both have been mentioned to me countless times as evidence that protocols.io wouldn’t work. As with preprints, the problems that OWW and Protocol Exchange faced seemed to be proof that biologists would not share details of their methods on such a platform. As with bioRxiv, we are in the early days of protocols.io, but judging from the growth in the figure below, it’s hard to argue that biologists don’t need this or that they won’t take the time to publicly share their methods….”