06 August 2007

Would you report on Nature Precedings?

The recent discussion about journals and their love of embargoes looks slightly strange in the light of the development of services such as Nature Precedings. This new web site describes itself as "a place for researchers to share pre-publication research, unpublished manuscripts, presentations, posters, white papers, technical papers, supplementary findings, and other scientific documents".

The description goes on to say that something called their "professional curation team" will screen submissions "for relevance and quality". But there will be no peer review.

The site seems to be a scientific version of "Digg" and the many other social networks that encourage members to vote on submissions. Nature Precedings has a place for "Most popular submissions". When we looked the hot paper, with 32 votes, was Henry Niman's "Swine Influenza A Evolution via Recombination – Genetic Drift Reservoir".

They offer RSS feeds so that you don't have to go and visit the web site to see what is happening. But how should science writers respond to this sort of thing? Are the papers "legit" enough to warrant coverage.

Friends over at AlphaGalileo used to tell me that in most of Europe science writers will not cover anything that has not been peer reviewed. How will they take to such a development when it emanates from a publishing outfit as prestigious as Nature?

The FAQ for the service says that the aim is "to share, archive and cite material that is preliminary or supplementary". You could, they say, use it as a "preprint server". Here they are following the lead of arXiv.org, which has done this sort of thing for years. This is also why Nature does not accept stuff on physics, perhaps fearful that people would see this as the heavy hand of a commercial outfit trying to respond to the open access movement.

The FAQ does not explicitly deal with media coverage, but it does say that "the content may be quoted, copied and disseminated for any purpose, but only if the original source is correctly cited". Maybe this would be an insurmountable barrier for the many newspapers that refuse to provide full details of authorship and publication when they write about papers.

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