EGU Blogs

A letter to the Editor of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

This post is one inspired by the actions of Ethan White and a couple of other ecologists. Spurred on by their actions, I decided to write a letter to the Editor of a major journal in my field, the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. Ethan has performed similar actions too, and this letter draws quite a bit on what he has previously written. The theme revolves around requesting that the Linnean Socciety journals allow submission of manuscripts that have been previously published as a preprint (a non-peer-reviewed version of a manuscript), as the present policy is not supportive of open research and the rapid and free dissemination of research. Anyway, here’s the letter:

Dear Dr Hayward,

I am writing to ask that you support the scientific good by allowing the submission of papers that have been posted beforehand as preprints.

The benefits of preprints are demonstrable and varied:

  1. The rapid and open communication, discussion, and debate of important scientific results;
  2. Improved quality of published research by increasing the scope for more extensive pre-publication peer review;
  3. A more democratic and fair way for establishing who contributes to the peer review process;
  4. A way for early-career researchers to demonstrate productivity and impact on a time scale that matches their need to apply for postdoctoral fellowships and jobs.

I am writing to you as a pending author with the ZJLS (with a single co-authored manuscript in review), and in recognition that the current policy for the ZJLS (as assessed through the Sherpa/Romeo portal): a 12 month embargo period on postprints, and deposition of a preprint only upon publication of the final version of record. As such, the current policy acts to restrict the rapid dissemination of research, to the point of the benefits outlined above, or states that if a preprint has been published then submission to the ZJLS is disqualified.

The standard justification from journals for disallowing the use of preprints is that they comprise a mode of ‘prior publication’. However, preprints are not peer reviewed in the formal manner. They are the digital, and more open, extension of a long-held practice of sending manuscripts to our colleagues for friendly review prior to journal submission. The internet has allowed us to take advantage of this at a hitherto unprecedented scale. In fact, in Physics and Mathematics, such practice has been adopted as part of research culture since 1990, primarily through use of the arXiv (which has a biosciences option).

Furthermore, many journal considered to be ‘leading’ or ‘top’ by researchers all allow the submission of manuscripts to them that have already been deposited online as a preprint, including (but not restricted to) Science, Nature, PNAS, the Ecological Society of America, The Royal Society journals, and numerous titles published by Wiley, Springer and Elsevier.

Additionally, in 2013 a publication by our colleagues developed a strong case for open preprints in Biology, and is worth reading their perspective for a broader range of insight into this topic.

I understand that with the ZJLS, there is the additional dimension to consider of new taxonomic names. Therefore, I suggest that if a preprint policy be developed upon, there should be an explicit opt out policy for manuscripts that deal with novel taxonomic nomenclature, to avoid future confusion.

I ask that you, as the Editor of the ZJLS, take serious consideration of the benefit of preprints to the broader, more open communication of zoological research, as part of an already rich culture of pre-publication discussion of research (e.g., through conferences and open debate with colleagues). With servers such as PeerJ preprints, and the biorXiv, this practice is easy to implement from a researcher’s perspective. If possible, such actions could, and demonstrably should, be extended to other journals managed by the Linnean Society.

Kind regards,

Jonathan Tennant

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Jon began university life as a geologist, followed by a treacherous leap into the life sciences. He is now based at Imperial College London, investigating the extinction and biodiversity patterns of Mesozoic tetrapods – anything with four legs or flippers – to discover whether or not there is evidence for a ‘hidden’ mass extinction 145 million years ago. Alongside this, Jon researches the origins and evolution of ‘dwarf’ crocodiles called atoposaurids. Prior to this, there was a brief interlude were Jon was immersed in the world of science policy and communication, which has greatly shaped his view on the broader role that science can play, and in particular, the current ‘open’ debate. He tweets as @Protohedgehog.