On June 20, four foundations announced their support for ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology), a scientist-driven effort with a mission to promote the use of preprints in the life sciences. The combined total provisional funding — from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Simons Foundation — is $400,000 for work to be conducted over the next 18 months.
The hope is that use of preprints will catalyze scientific discovery, facilitate career advancement and improve the culture of communication within the biology community.
Preprints have been used extensively and successfully in the math and physics communities for over 25 years, through arXiv.org. But their adoption has been much slower in the life sciences. “Currently, many biologists have either never heard of preprints or have incomplete or inaccurate information,” says Ron Vale of the University of California, San Francisco, one of the founders of ASAPbio.
This funding will enable ASAPbio to hire a director to work with Vale and the other ASAPbio founders — James Fraser of UCSF, Daniel Colón-Ramos of the Yale School of Medicine, Jessica Polka of Harvard Medical School and Harold Varmus of Weill Cornell Medical College. The director will engage journal publishers, funding agencies, scientific societies, academic institutions and other stakeholders to discuss the adoption of policies consistent with the mission of ASAPbio. The director will also help the stakeholders develop appropriate and effective material and maintain the ASAPbio website as a core information hub. “A well-organized ‘command post’ is needed to disseminate accurate information on preprints and act as a catalyst to get different parts of the scientific enterprise to work together to effect changes in policy and culture,” Vale says.
“The increased use of preprints would help to make results, including ‘negative’ results, available to the research community without the significant delay — typically many months or longer — that almost always comes with publishing in a peer-reviewed journal,” says John Spiro, the deputy scientific director of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. He notes that SFARI encourages investigators to post preprints to recognized servers and to list such postings on their biographical sketches.
Gerald D. Fischbach, chief scientist of the Simons Foundation, calls ASAPbio an important initiative for bringing out experimental results in a more timely fashion. “Secrecy, intentional or unintentional, has been one of the major drawbacks to rapid advances in biomedical science,” he says. With increased use of preprints, “good work will emerge more quickly, and hypotheses will be tested in a more open and equitable manner. We will all benefit.”
ASAPbio began in 2015 with the goal of speeding the dissemination of research results and bringing rigor to biology preprints. The decision to fund came after two successful international meetings organized by ASAPbio that brought together scientists, publishers and funders earlier this year. The many constituents at the ASAPbio meetings voiced strong support for a robust preprint mechanism in biology. Summaries of the meetings can be found at ASAPbio.org and in an article for the May 20 issue of Science.