Lifting the lid on preprints: part two

An in-depth interview with two subject-matter experts

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As an academic author, what is important to know about preprints? We have asked two experts to shed some light on the topic: Gregory J. Gordon, President and CEO of SSRN, which joined Elsevier in 2016, and Courtney K. Soderberg, statistician at the Center for Open Science (COS) in Charlottesville, Virginia. COS is interested in all aspects of academic publishing that increase openness, integrity and reproducibility of research, and they are organizing an author survey on the use of preprints.

We encourage you to take part (results will be shared publicly): https://virginia.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3kFU2er17VY5uLP

Below you will find the interviews with Courtney and Gregg, which will hopefully offer you some useful insights on this important topic!  NB you can read part one of the interview here.


Part two: Interview with Gregory J. Gordon

Gregg Gordon photoWhat do preprint servers such as SSRN do to maximize accessibility and reuse of preprints?

“SSRN is unusual in that we’ve been able to invest in a full-time team to process, classify and distribute our early stage research. Most preprint servers are not-for-profits and have limited staff and technology capabilities, and so can’t do much more than create a shared space online for people to submit and access early stage research. We’ve been lucky enough to have the resources to invest in a seventy-person team who curate our content, ensuring that we only post papers that meet appropriate criteria for early stage research.

Every submission is checked by our processing team, and then classified into discipline specific research networks, eJournals, and topics - creating over 3,000 micro communities for researchers to access the research they are interested in with tremendous precision. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Search Engine Optimization: the vast majority of our papers are accessed by researchers looking for a specific paper, author or topic in one of the major Web search engines - our critical mass of content, our classification taxonomy and our site structure mean our content ranks very highly on the major search indexes.

What’s really unique about SSRN - simply no one else does this - is that every year we send over 22 million eJournal newsletters to SSRN subscribers, who receive summaries of the latest research to help them stay up to do date in their field. So we’re not just hosting this stuff – we’re sending it out where it can connect with other researchers, get read, get thought about, and move the conversation forward.”

Do all journals allow preprints to be cited as references? And what happens to my preprint when my manuscript is published?

“Journals have different policies and levels of engagement with working papers and early stage research; some are more open to the idea than others. Over the last decade we’ve seen a hugely increased acceptance of preprints as a viable source of citeable references. There was a big step forward in the early nineties when SSRN, (along with the World Bank, and Woods Hole Oceangraphic) became one of the very first non-journal entities to be granted an ISSN number. This entitled us to become a member of CrossRef and register DOIs for the working papers on SSRN. Since then we’ve seen more and more early stage research work being cited in peer review journals.

It’s important to understand that while all working papers are part of early stage research, not all of them are preprints destined for peer review. Only about 50% of all research papers on SSRN move through the knowledge life cycle to become published in peer reviewed journals. While many of them do make that transition into peer review, the rest represent valid early stage research which is complete on its own terms- they are the "Version of Record" for that idea, and as they have DOIs, can be cited as such. This means that while some preprints can indeed be linked to published articles many others are standalone, separate objects.”

What are the priorities for SSRN going forward?

“We’re tremendously excited to see how much interest there is in open science, early stage research, working paper repositories, and pre-prints in general. We’re seeing a profound change in scholarly communication with people starting to understand that early stage research has a role to play alongside peer reviewed research. The fact that major Elsevier journal families such as The Lancet and Cell Press have partnered with us to provide a platform for early stage work is spectacular, and we’ve now got eight journal partners in our journal First Look program, with many more on the way. We continue to integrate what we do with other parts of Elsevier, and have built links to exchange content with Mendeley, Mendeley Data, Pure, Plum, and we’re exploring content exchange with the Digital Commons platform and the Chinese Academy of Science.

We’re constantly expanding our content focus from our original base in the social sciences across all disciplines, with recent network launches in everything from computer science to space and planetary science. The overall goal is to continue to expand our platform and ensure that SSRN is a trusted component in the knowledge life cycle, both within and outside of Elsevier.”

What should publishers do more of in the context of preprints and preprint servers?

“Like our journal partners Cell Press and The Lancet, publishers need to start experimenting with how what they do should connect with the broader life cycle in which knowledge evolves. Understanding how ideas evolve into knowledge is critically important and publishers are uniquely positioned to help this happen.

SSRN shares everything from brief current ideas that researchers are just starting to work on, all the way through to accepted manuscripts that are in the peer review process: publishers need to experiment with different parts of the early stage research process to understand what makes sense for them, and they should talk to us. We’ve played in every area of this space for a long time and love working with publishers of all sizes to help them create more open, accessible and creative spaces, that researchers can trust to share their ideas and move science and knowledge forward.”

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