‘Is it appropriate to make citations to papers published as preprint when writing a research or review article?‘
Preprints have long been a staple in disciplines such as physics, mathematics, economics, philosophy, political science while they’re a relative novelty in biology (and biomedical science), the focus of this answer. Preprints are scientific manuscripts directly posted to preprint servers, side-stepping a key pillar of the modern scientific process,. Note that such side-stepping is for the most part, at least so far, only temporary since analyses suggest peer-reviewed versions of biology preprints eventually end up getting published in mainstream scientific journals anyway.
Nevertheless, courtesy their novelty, preprints remain an unfamiliar entity to many in biology. Biology preprints thus occupy a rapidly changing space in scientific publishing, with the entry of several new players as well as major funders and investors injecting substantial investments in recent years. Journal and grant funder policies with respect to preprints are currently fluid so researchers should actively monitor policy updates.
This answer considers
- Whether scientific publishers accept biology preprints as citations (references) in research articles submitted for peer-review.
- Whether grant funders allow applications to cite biology preprints in their submissions.
Do scientific publishers accept biology preprints as citations (references) in research articles submitted for peer-review with them? Some do, others may not. Check individual journal/publisher policy.
Manuscript submission policies can be vastly different from one scientific publisher to another. For example, NPG () states ( , see below from emphasis mine),
‘Only articles that have been published or accepted by a named publication, or that have been uploaded to a recognized preprint server (for example, arXiv, bioRxiv), should be in the reference list; papers in preparation should be mentioned in the text with a list of authors (or initials if any of the authors are co-authors of the present contribution).
Published conference abstracts, numbered patents, preprints on recognized servers (preprints of accepted papers in the reference list should be submitted with the manuscript) and research datasets that have been assigned a digital object identifier may be included in reference lists, but text, grant details and acknowledgements may not.’
However, other publishers may not allow such citations so authors should check the written manuscript submission policies of the individual journal/publisher.
Next, let’s examine the citation index of a preprint first posted to the preprint server, bioRxiv, on November 25, 2015 ().
Google Scholar shows one version of this preprint being cited 40 times so far (as of January 31, 2018) including by papers published in the peer-reviewed journals, Nature and Lancet Infectious Diseases (see below).
In any case, preprints such as this one which happen to be cited rather robustly offer another way to find out which journals allow preprints to be cited. Simply look them up on bibliographic databases such as Google Scholar (free), Scopus or Web of Science (subscription only) for journal articles that cited them.
Do grant funders allow applications to cite biology preprints in their submissions? Yes, many do.
A recent review in Science magazine calls itself a survival guide for preprints and is well worth the read (see below from),
‘Major research funders have also moved to legitimize preprints. The U.K. Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust in London, as well as NIH and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, now encourage grantees to cite preprints—not just peer-reviewed papers—in grant proposals. CZI [Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative] has even made posting a preprint (at the same time as the paper is submitted to a journal) a requirement for its grantees…Because preprints can be cited, they can help young scientists quickly build a scholarly track record.’
Other articles in the peer-reviewed scientific literature echo the point that preprints can be cited in grants and fellowship applications (see below from),
‘Many journals will now consider an article that has appeared on a preprint server, and grant-awarding bodies on both sides of the Atlantic allow preprints to be cited in grant and fellowship applications‹some, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, insist that their investigators deposit their papers as preprints.’
Another peer-reviewed analysis of biology preprints notes similarly (see below from),
‘A growing number of scientific societies and journals, including ASM [American Society for Microbiology], view preprints as citable and as having a legitimate claim to primacy (1, 20–22); however, it remains to be determined whether the journals will stand by these policies…several funding agencies, including the NIH, Wellcome Trust, and UK Medical Research Council, encourage fellowship applicants to include preprints in their materials.’
2. de Melo Freire, Caio Cesar, et al. “Spread of the pandemic Zika virus lineage is associated with NS1 codon usage adaptation in humans.” BioRxiv (2015): 032839.
3. Kaiser, Jocelyn. “The preprint dilemma.” (2017): 1344-1349.
4. Cobb, Matthew. “The prehistory of biology preprints: a forgotten experiment from the 1960s.” PLoS biology 15.11 (2017): e2003995.
5. Schloss, Patrick D. “Preprinting microbiology.” mBio 8.3 (2017): e00438-17.