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Nature 425, 548 (9 October 2003) | doi:10.1038/425548b

Biologists join physics preprint club

Declan Butler

Biologists join physics preprint club

The ArXiv preprint server — physicists' favourite place for early circulation of their results — has branched out into biology.

Last month, the server's managers created q-bio, an archive for quantitative biology. The move reflects the fact that ArXiv's traditional constituency of physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists is increasingly working on biological problems, says its founder Paul Ginsparg of Cornell University in New York state.

The proportion of biology papers on ArXiv has been growing steadily, reaching 8% of the 4,500 submissions received last year. But until now, these papers have been scattered across various subdisciplines on ArXiv. The new arrangement will regroup existing content, and provide a dedicated area for quantitative biology.

Ginsparg says he hopes that the move will help to "nucleate something for newcomers" from biological disciplines. The big test, he says, will be whether biologists will follow physicists in being comfortable with circulating their 'big' papers on the archive prior to formal publication.

But papers on ArXiv are not peer-reviewed, and there is concern this could create problems if medical papers are accessed by physicians or patients. Ginsparg says he is not really worried by this, adding that the biology papers on the archive are "generally as uncontroversial as for physics".

One of the few existing biomedical preprint servers — the BMJ's Netprints server — features a 'health warning' advising 'casual readers' not to act on its contents. ArXiv has no plans for such a warning, although an advisory panel does screen submissions.

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