Over two thirds of researchers have released the results of at least one study they authored before the findings were formally published. That is according to a survey of more than 7000 researchers across nine disciplines carried out by Jerry Thursby from Harvard University’s Laboratory for Innovation Science and colleagues. The researchers found that social scientists, mathematicians, biological scientists and those working in agriculture have the highest disclosure rates, with around 75% sharing the results of work before final publication. The figure for physical scientists is slightly less, at 67%.
The survey found that most academics who share their work early – either at conferences, in preprint papers or during earlier conceptual stages – do so to get feedback from peers. Other reasons include receiving credit for their work early, attracting potential collaborators and deterring competition. Researchers who share the least, meanwhile, are the most worried about being scooped by their peers.
Overall, only around 6% of scholars disclose early conceptual ideas before they are sure the results are valid. This reluctance comes despite the rise of publications that publish such preliminary snippets of information such as The Journal of Brief Ideas, The Research Outcomes and Ideas Journal and Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society.
The authors say that why some academics share earlier than others depends on the norms within their field, the amount of competition and how commercial their field is. This could explain why only around 40% of computer scientists and 55% of engineers report sharing their results before final publication – much lower than in purer areas of work.
“Discipline norms are also reflected in embargoes or regulations by major publishers within a discipline that prohibit early sharing of results,” notes Carol Tenopir, an information scientist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “Willingness to disclose may not be possible according to rules governing the major publication outlets in their field.”
Peer review’s value
Bernd Pulverer, head of scientific publications at the European Molecular Biology Organization in Heidelberg, Germany, is surprised by the amount of prepublication sharing in biology. “I share the preconception with many others in the field that the biological sciences have, up to now, been relatively circumspect in relation to prepublication disclosure at conferences or on preprints,” he says. “The study here suggests that this is not the case.”
Pulverer is impressed with the number of researchers in the survey. “It would be very useful to follow up with the same questionnaire in about five years when fields like biology have had time to embrace preprints more and when regions like Europe have had time to develop their open-access mandates,” he adds.