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Posting preprints: ‘There is no reason not to’

Leiden University publishes the highest percentage of preprints in the Netherlands. Why is that and why post your article online before it has been peer reviewed? Professor of Quantitative Science Studies and keen preprint poster Ludo Waltman explains.

Publishing an article in a journal is often a slow, lengthy and sometimes downright disappointing process, especially if it ends up not being published after all. This can be because peers find the language unclear or feel that the research has not been conducted properly. ‘But it can also be that a study is out of step with the latest trends,’ says Waltman. ‘That’s a real blow. Preprints offer a solution to all of this.’

Faster way to share scientific knowledge

A preprint is a version of an academic article that has not yet been peer reviewed. Researchers can post such articles themselves on special online platforms. ‘It doesn’t cost anything and your article is usually online within a day’, says Waltman. ‘You can always send it to a journal for formal peer review afterwards. But everyone can already read the article while that process is underway. People can talk about it on social media, journalists can write about it and policymakers can start thinking about what they can do with these new findings.’

Forerunner in the Netherlands

Waltman conducted research at the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) on the publication of preprints at all the Dutch universities. He looked at how many articles that appeared in scientific journals had first been published as preprints. Leiden University proved to have the most preprints (22.9%), followed by Radboud University (18.1%) and Eindhoven University of Technology (14.6%).

This did not include publications by teaching hospitals. ‘Preprint production is very low there because they often think there are risks to people’s health if articles are published without peer review’, says Waltman. ‘Personally, I disagree, but it’s an ongoing discussion.’

Huge missed opportunity

It is not easy to say why Leiden University posts the most preprints in the Netherlands, says Waltman. ‘What helps is that preprinting is well established in the natural sciences and that many researchers at our university work in that field. We also have a very active open-science community. This means people talk about preprinting and inspire others to do it too.’

‘The discussions I have on the back of preprints are more valuable than the time I invest in journals.’

Waltman thinks Leiden should be proud that it is doing well in preprints in the Netherlands but that it shouldn’t become complacent. ‘That 22.9% preprint rate is relatively high, but at the same time, it’s a huge missed opportunity that over 75% of our articles are not published as preprints. There is no reason not to post a preprint. For those who don’t yet have experience in preprints, there is a practical guide to help you get started. And the staff from the University Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship (CDS) can also offer advice.’

No more journal publishing

Waltman posts all of his work as preprints. ‘After I post it on a preprint server, I announce this in an active community I’m in on Mastodon. The resulting discussions with policymakers and fellow researchers are really valuable − more valuable than investing loads of time in journals.’ He is therefore considering stopping publishing in journals altogether.

If you do that, aren’t you missing out on people outside your own network? ‘We have to remember that many journals are really niche. Is that really the main audience you want to reach? And, I think we’re moving away from the idea that you have to read articles because they are in a particular journal. Nowadays, for example, you can go to Google Scholar and easily search through all the journals, and following the right people on social media is an efficient way to get information about interesting new articles.’

‘We should take advantage of new technological opportunities wherever possible’

Another question many people will have is whether you don’t need publications for your academic career. That’s putting it too simply says Waltman. ‘It’s true that researchers are sometimes judged on journal publications, but this is changing in the Netherlands, under the influence of the national Recognition & Rewards programme. I am also proud that our university working hard on this as part of its Academia in Motion initiative.

Hiding behind traditions

Waltman believes all researchers have a responsibility to think about preprints. ‘Instead of hiding behind various traditions in academic publishing, we should take advantage of new technological opportunities whenever possible. I see that as part of our moral duty as researchers to share the knowledge we produce as widely as possible.’

International Open Access Week

Want to learn more about preprints and other Open Access topics? As a university, our aim is for all our research to be publicly available. We are working to achieve this in our Academia in Motion programme.

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