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Preprints: recall Nature’s nasty past

University of Manchester, UK.
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I read with pleasure that Nature is now actively promoting the use of preprints, having backed their dissemination since 1997 (see Nature 569, 307; 2019). It is worth remembering that when the first preprints were distributed 50 or so years ago, you frowned on the practice.

Several times in 1966, you railed against preprints, pioneered at the time by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). In July that year, you described them as “offensive” (Nature 211, 333–334; 1966). Preprints, you claimed the following month, were characterized by “inaccessibility, impermanence, illiteracy, uneven quality, and lack of considered judgment” (Nature 211, 897–898; 1966). By November, they were “an offence against scholarship” (Nature 212, 865–866; 1966). The following year, this first iteration of preprints was killed off because journals were boycotting them (see go.nature.com/2wmpbbw).

Your motivation was presumably to protect your financial position, because you felt that the NIH preprint service — and its proposed extension into physics — threatened your status and profits. As you now realize, this is not the case.

Nature 570, 36 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01748-9

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