Is being scooped the flip-side of a pre-print !?! It wasn’t for us with PLoS

Update 01/14, 11 PM, (Late night update while single dad…): The previous title of this blog-post read “Is being scooped the flip-side of a pre-print !?! It was for us.”. However the last night email from PLoS, while I was talking with my co-first author in Israel where it is already morning, made me change the title. To my surprise and with loads of awe and respect PLoS reconsidered their call of rejecting our manuscript based on the novelty issue caused by the publication of a competing manuscript (see details below). Now instead of considering novelty the editors gave us the opportunity to address the remaining reviewers comments within 60 days. AWESOME and OUTSTANDING. We will forge ahead and do so in the weeks to come and resubmit in due time. It is great to see PLoS taking this important issue seriously. Looking forward to read their updated editorial policies on their website soon so in future there won’t be any confusion about pre-prints and being scooped during the review process. Today PLoS improved the publishing landscape once again. That’s what I *love* about PLoS. Way to Go!

Go Pre-Print Go!

Update: A better title might have been -> Posting a preprint before a paper is in press puts you at risk for being scooped.

Update #2, January 07, 2014 ~ 5PM PST: PLoS got in touch and will have a ‘second’ look at the case. That is absolutely something I appreciate about PLoS actually listening to its community. I hope the major outcome of all this is that PLoS openly declares its editorial standards on preprints and (independently) on being ‘scooped’ during the review process. This is especially important for papers that got submitted after the initial PLoS submission date, because no one really knows where papers get passed around.

Let me get this straight right away. I love open science, open access, the idea of pre-prints and doing good reproducible science. Ever since I heard about the concept of pre-prints I started to put my articles on pre-print server, as much as possible, for everyone to enjoy while the manuscript is under review see here, here and here. This means people can actually read the science well before publication, which is often more than 6 months earlier. Also I really like the idea of and PLoS itself having worked with them on open access topics several time. I am also know to be more critical with fiends I like ;).

Here is the story so far in brief.

June 11, 2014 Submission of manuscript to a PLoS journal and deposition on biorxiv.

July 16, 2014 Rejection of manuscript after full review at this particular PLoS journal.

July 25, 2014 Re-submission of manuscript to another PLoS journal. Back to back with another paper of collaborators showing something similar in another plants species. This gets accepted December 4, 2014, also after major revisions.

September 10, 2014 Preliminary acceptance with major revisions within 60 days.

November 16, 2014 Re-submission of majorly revised version. Submission letter indicated that alternative study was published in another journal. (Initial submission August 12, 2014 and acceptance October 28, 2014. Author declare on pubmed that they missed our pre-print study and will add citation in the final print version (here).

December 19, 2014 Rejection of our manuscript based on novelty and one specific experimental request, which we could have addressed within 2-3 weeks if possible (more details below if wanted).

December 20, 2014 Rebuttal of decision. Citing that we had pre-print out and that authors of other competing study omitted our pre-print at time of submission of their paper.

January 07, 2015 Rejection of our rebuttal due to the following editorial practice. I will cite this here straight, because we looked for editorial guidance in regards of pre-prints and competing publications during the review process on the PLoS webpage. Without success!

‘From an editorial perspective, a work would not be considered novel if a similar paper is published before the work is fully accepted for publication. Although we fully understand this is a difficult situation for you and your co-authors, we could not neglect the fact that Lu and associates reported a similar story in a highly regarded, peer-reviewed scientific journal, which reduced both the significance and novelty of your work. We realized that the situation might be a bit tricky with the deposition of your manuscript onto an online pre-print server before the submission of the paper by Lu et al. While PLOS journals are “pre-print friendly”, we do not have a specific policy regarding scooping. Nonetheless, we can assure you that none of the authors in the published paper served as a reviewer for this manuscript and there is no conflict-of-interest issues during the handling of your manuscript by PLOS xxxxxx.’

I am fine with having my paper rejected because reviewers are not satisfied and it is not deemed novel enough at the initial stage of reviewing. That is simply part of the game. Problem here is the missing transparency. PLoS is ‘pre-print friendly’ (here and here) however does not honor submission date*. Of course putting a manuscript on a pre-print server at the point of initial submission exposes you to the risk of being scooped by other folks scrambling to publish their data in time while you in review and revising. Especially in a culture that for now does not ‘honor’ and cite pre-prints.In this case being ‘friendly’ doesn’t really support pre-prints. You can be scooped during the review process anyway.

Will deposit my manuscripts on pre-print servers at time of submission? YES, as much as possible!! I think these are exciting times for biology.

Will I submit to PLoS ‘higher tire’ journals at the same time? NO!! Not without a straight editorial policy on pre-prints and being scooped during the review process.

Update 01/14, 11 PM: Yes with the new and hopefully clear cut editorial policy on pre-prints and being scooped in the review process I will always again submit my paper to PLoS and a pre-print server at the same time. Way to Go!

Update after short twitter discussion. It is not clear if author’s of the competing paper knew about our pre-print. This is only speculative. Main point is #1 they MIGHT have rushed for publication having heard of pre-print or manuscript another way.  #2 journals like PLoS need to get their editorial policies straight about pre-prints and getting scooped during the review process. Honoring submission date will become more important with more pre-prints out.

*Even though only ONE specific additional second round experiment was request. This confirmatory experiment could have been addressed easily. I am willing to post the whole review process and communication without names up here if folks of PLoS don’t mind so you can judge for themselves.





7 thoughts on “Is being scooped the flip-side of a pre-print !?! It wasn’t for us with PLoS

  1. Hello, thanks for sharing this. I think that PLOS are sending a really negative message here. Just a couple of quick comments.

    The PLOS editor states that having a concurrent study by others published elsewhere before yours “reduced both the significance and novelty of your work”. This is obviously incorrect: the significance of your study is actually increased by the fact that another lab independently found (I assume) similar results.

    I would totally encourage you to post the complete review process, inasmuch as it wouldn’t hurt your chances of getting your work published eventually. I really don’t think you should be considerate of whether PLOS wants you to publicize the reviews or not. You could also provide this first set of reviews to the next journal you send your work to–some journals recommend doing that and it might expedite further review.

    • Please have a look at the update I just posted. PLoS actually had the courage to reconsider their decision. They actually invited us to revise the manuscript and are still interested to publish it if all goes according to plan. Great POSITIVE message by PLoS.

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  4. Hi,
    Just a couple of thoughts.
    It does not occur to you that maybe these guys could have scooped you 6 months earlier with their own pre-print, had they played with the set of rules you are trying to enforce on them?

    It’s a nice time for pre-print advocates, since they can both screw their competitors with preliminary reports (not in your case obviously but seriously it’s often hard to tell: ideas are cheap in biology, demonstrations are hard, and a lot of people are taking advantage of this burgeoning trend to claim paternity on ideas they grabbed who knows where) and at the same time play the victim when the trick does not work easy (and, preprints are really not easy to find sometimes when one does not search for them specifically). And the funny thing is that the argument is kind of never-ending: even with bad reviews, one may always complain that his preprint was first and claim to be victimized because of lack of respect by authors/referees/editors. Science for some people is becoming a lot about bragging because of a date on a blog or on a tweet post (media planning is now part of submission for some labs, apparently, kind of pathetic).

    Anyway, good luck with PLoS.

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