Public Goods Infrastructure for Preprints and Innovation in Scholarly Communication

April 19th, 2017,

Judy Luther offered an insightful birds-eye view of the burgeoning preprints landscape at Scholarly Kitchen yesterday. As she mentioned, the Center for Open Science is contributing to preprints with a free, open infrastructure to support preprint services across scholarly communities.  Here’s a brief summary of where we are, where we are heading, and what it all means.

Where We Are

OSF Preprints is an interface built on the Open Science Framework--a scholarly commons supporting the documentation, archiving, and sharing of data, materials, and outcomes of the research lifecycle. OSF Preprints has three defining features:

  • Aggregated.  Powered by SHARE, OSF Preprints aggregates search across preprint services.  Eleven are integrated so far, including arXiv, bioRxiv, PeerJ, and RePEc, representing access to over 2 million preprints.
  • Brandable. Any group that wants to offer a preprint service can launch and manage a fully functional service for their community.
  • Open-source.  OSF Preprints and the OSF supporting it are public goods infrastructure, with a public roadmap.

OSF Preprints is available as a general preprint service that accepts submissions from any domain of scholarship. However, the real power of the public infrastructure is in supporting branded services run by communities themselves.  So far, five branded services are in production: SocArXiv for the social sciences, PsyArXiv for psychology, engrXiv for engineering, and the new AgriXiv for the agricultural sciences and BITSS for social sciences research methodology.  Across these new services, more than 2,000 preprints are posted already and growth is accelerating.

preprint partners

Where We are Heading

In the coming weeks, more preprint services will be released with partners from other scholarly domains.  The new partners include research funding organizations, research-focused non-profits, library consortia, and communities of researchers. Examples:

OSF Preprints is a new interface on the OSF. A public document for the requirements and roadmap facilitates comment and contribution from the community.  The code is open-source at the COS GitHub repo for work in production and on the active development roadmap, and at COS Labs for work that is in research and development.   

The next major release for OSF Preprints will be a moderation-review service layer.  Preprint communities will define their own moderation and review standards.  Some services may offer light-weight moderation standards like arXiv and bioRxiv do; others may offer more rigorous review similar to a journal.  Some may offer pre-publication moderation and review only; others may offer post-publication commenting or review.  Some may keep the moderation and review process private; others may experiment with different forms of transparency in the review process. The goal is flexibility to facilitate control and self-direction by service operators.  As David Crotty’s “When is a Preprint Server Not a Preprint Server?” post in Scholarly Kitchen today makes clear, this will encourage direct engagement with terminology and foster concrete experimentation and re-evaluation of the entire scholarly communication pipeline.

What it All Means

OSF Preprints supports COS’s mission to increase openness, integrity, and reproducibility of scholarly research.  A public good preprints infrastructure provides substantial benefits for the scholarly community:

  • Deduplication. As a modular, open source project, there is no need for redundant development of infrastructures. New capabilities developed for one use case create instant benefits for the entire community of users.  
  • Economy of scale. Reusable, shared infrastructure is less expensive to run and maintain--potentially by orders of magnitude.   
  • Deployment of expertise. With a modular, layered service, experts focus on their expertise and benefit from the expertise of others.  Developers focus on the deployment of secure, robust, scalable, enterprise infrastructure.  Scholarly communication experts focus on the workflows and process of scholarly communication that preprints should support.  Preprint service operators focus on the substance of the research and serving their community.  
  • Innovation. An open infrastructure facilitates innovation by lowering the barrier to entry.  Self-branding and governance gives groups the freedom to experiment with scholarly communication practices while leveraging robust infrastructure that supports “traditional” models.  

OSF Preprints can support hundreds of groups in addition to the dozen early adopters.  Broad adoption will foster a marketplace for innovation in scholarly communication practices. Effective models of publication and peer review will disseminate rapidly across scholarly communities.

We welcome developers of similar or related services to explore opportunities for complementary or co-development.  We appreciate feedback and collaboration with scholarly communications experts to support the variety of use cases for preprints, peer review, and publication practices.  And, of course, if you would like to launch a preprint service for your community, please be in touch!

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