NEWS: Biologists Launch Electronic Preprints

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Science  19 Jun 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5371, pp. 1807
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5371.1807b

When it comes to using the Internet for communicating scientific results, physicists are the undisputed front-runners. As of last week, however, human geneticists and molecular biologists can post preprints of their research papers on the Web—just as physicists have done since 1991 at Los Alamos National Lab's well-known e-print archive.

The new service is part of HUM-MOLGEN, a nonprofit Web site and monthly mailing list run by 10 U.S. and European scientist-editors ( After a survey this year of the list's 5000 subscribers showed that 80% of respondents favored a preprint service, the editors put out a call for papers in May. The first three submissions posted last week discuss legal issues surrounding human cloning.

Although Los Alamos served as “an example,” according to Dutch geneticist and list owner Arthur Bergen, the new service likely won't shake up communication among biologists anytime soon. For now, the system handles only text, not images, so only short research notes and review articles can be accepted. Moreover, Bergen says, his highly competitive field doesn't have a tradition of floating preprints around. Contributions will undergo “low-key peer review,” meaning an editor will check the data for reliability, Bergen says. An “unverified” medical article “may do more harm” than a dubious physics report, he says.

Los Alamos physics e-prints founder Paul Ginsparg applauds the project but says the biologists could have simply joined his infrastructure. He added a mathematics archive in January, and computer science will join shortly. Bergen responds, “For the moment, we just want to test if there's any interest at all.”

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