A farewell to Nature Precedings
April 2, 2012
The story so far …
Nature Precedings is, or was, a preprint server, somewhat in the spirit of an arXiv for biology. It describes, or described, itself as “a permanent, citable archive for pre-publication research and preliminary findings”.
This is a very useful thing. In our recentish paper on how sauropod necks were not sexually selected (Taylor et al. 2011), we wanted to mention in passing (as part of a much more involved argument about sauropod feeding ecology) that the DinoMorph results should not be taken as face value because “assumptions about the mobility of intervertebral joints are probably incorrect”. The obvious thing to cite for this is an old SV-POW! post (Taylor 2009) and so we did. (It’s gratifying to see an SV-POW! post sitting cheerfully in the bibliography of a conventionally published paper. There have been a few of these now.)
But what happens if SV-POW! goes away? What if Matt, Darren and I are all simultaneously run over by buses, and WordPress cancel the blog after a period of inactivity? For that matter, what if WordPress goes bust and shuts down its servers, or starts charging for hosting so that we decided to go elsewhere? Anyone trying to follow the reference in our necks-for-sex paper would by stymied. It seemed to me that the professional thing to do was to post a copy somewhere more permanent.
The answer is, or was, Nature Precedings. So a couple of months ago I made up an PDF containing the same text and images as the blog post, and submitted it to Precedings, where it can be found now (Taylor 2012). Matt and I were talking about doing the same for all the SV-POW! posts we know of that have been cited in formal literature, and perhaps getting into the habit of repositing PDFs of all such articles whenever we want to cite them, and then citing the Precedings version instead.
Not so fast!
I got an email three days ago from Precedings:
Subject: Nature Precedings change in service
As you are an active user of Nature Precedings, we want to let you know about some upcoming changes to this service. As of April 3rd 2012, we will cease to accept submissions to Nature Precedings. Submitted documents will be processed as usual and hosted provided they are uploaded by midnight on April 3rd. Nature Precedings will then be archived, and the archive will be maintained by NPG, while all hosted content will remain freely accessible to all.
Be assured that Nature and the Nature research journals continue to permit the posting of preprints and there is no change to this policy, which is detailed here.
Nature Precedings was launched in 2007 as NPG’s preprint server, primarily for the Life Science community. Since that date, we have learned a great deal from you about what types of content are valued as preprints, and which segments of the research community most embrace this form of publication. While a great experiment, technological advances and the needs of the research community have evolved since 2007 to the extent that the Nature Precedings site is unsustainable as it was originally conceived.
Looking forward, NPG remains committed to exploring ways to help researchers, funders, and institutions manage data and best practices in data management, and we plan to introduce new services in this area. We have truly valued your contributions as authors and users to Nature Precedings and hope that you will actively participate in this research and development with us.
Nature Publishing Group
Well, let’s pick this apart.
- “Change in service” means “end of service”. A really pointless and insulting euphemism. Come on, NPG, give it to us straight! We can take it!
- We have a promise that “the archive will be maintained by NPG, while all hosted content will remain freely accessible to all”.
- The reason given for shutting down is that “technological advances and the needs of the research community have evolved since 2007 to the extent that the Nature Precedings site is unsustainable as it was originally conceived”. I can’t start to understand what, if anything, that means.
- What to make of “we plan to introduce new services in this area”? What kind of new service can there be in this area that isn’t a preprint server?
Now I don’t want to be too harsh here, just because NPG have withdrawn a service that was free in the first place. They were under no obligation to keep providing it, of course. And the most important thing is that the papers already reposited there will live on.
But it’s just sad that this is going away. We need it, or something like it.
The number one question is, will the archived documents really stay around? I want to trust that they will, but it’s harder to keep trusting a no-longer-live system than one that has blood circulating. It would be ironic indeed if the original SV-POW! post turns out to be more durable than the Precedings version!
But going forward, the question is where to reposit future citation-worthy SV-POW! posts? What are the alternative services to Precedings?
It’s at times like these that we biologists suffer from Physics envy. They have arXiv, which does this right and has been doing it right since forever. We really need an arXiv for biology. Or better still, we need arXiv to expand to cover our field.
Taylor, Michael P. 2009. Range of motion in intervertebral joints: why we don’t trust DinoMorph. Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, 30 May 2009. Available at http://svpow.wordpress.com/2009/05/30/range-of-motion-in-intervertebral-joints-why-we-dont-trust-dinomorph/
Taylor, Michael P., David W. E. Hone, Mathew J. Wedel and Darren Naish. 2011. The long necks of sauropods did not evolve primarily through sexual selection. Journal of Zoology 285:150-161. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00824.x