The prehistory of biology preprints:
A forgotten experiment from the 1960s
School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
In 1961, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to circulate biological preprints in a for-
gotten experiment called the Information Exchange Groups (IEGs). This system eventually
attracted over 3,600 participants and saw the production of over 2,500 different documents,
but by 1967, it was effectively shut down following the refusal of journals to accept articles
that had been circulated as preprints. This article charts the rise and fall of the IEGs and
explores the parallels with the 1990s and the biomedical preprint movement of today.
Since 1991, physicists and mathematicians have been using the arXiv preprint repository to
circulate articles and ideas, to the envy of many biologists. After a number of failed attempts,
including ClinMed Netprints (1999–2005) and Nature Precedings (2007–2012), 2 biology pre-
print servers were launched in 2013—PeerJ Preprints and bioRxiv (Cold Spring Harbor Labo-
ratory). 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 fel-
lowship applications—some, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, insist that their investiga-
tors deposit their papers as preprints. 
This is widely seen as an example of biology finally catching up with physics [2,3]—it
seems certain that the success of arXiv was influential in finally convincing journals to accept
biology preprints. In fact, biology first adopted large-scale circulation of preprints over half a
century ago, as part of a generalized interest in preprints that spanned much of science. From
1961–1967, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States pioneered a system
known as the Information Exchange Groups (IEGs). The IEGs, forgotten except by a handful
of historians of documentation [4,5,6,7], have been the subject of only 1 investigation, pub-
lished as an unrefereed report in 1971 . The IEGs have not been systematically studied by
science historians—not only is there no IEG archive, there is not even a record of the docu-
ments they produced. The IEGs eventually fell victim to a campaign by journals and learned
societies, who considered the organized circulation of preprints in both biology and physics to
be a threat to their financial interests and to their perceived status as guardians of scientific
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Citation: Cobb M (2017) The prehistory of biology
preprints: A forgotten experiment from the 1960s.
PLoS Biol 15(11): e2003995. https://doi.org/
Published: November 16, 2017
Copyright: ©2017 Matthew Cobb. This is an open
access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original
author and source are credited.
Funding: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory http://
Brenner Research Scholarship. The funder had no
role in study design, data collection and analysis,
decision to publish, or preparation of the
Competing interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
Abbreviations: AAI, American Association of
Immunologists; CERN, European Organization for
Nuclear Research; FASEB, Federation of American
Societies of Experimental Biology; IEGs,
Information Exchange Groups; NIH, National
Institutes of Health; NSF, National Science
Foundation; PIE, Physics Information Exchange;
SLAC, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
This article outlines the rise and fall of the IEGs and tells the cautionary tale of the ability of
scientific publishers and entrenched interests within the academic community to restrict the
sharing of knowledge.
Launching the IEGs
In 1961, Francis Crick received a letter from Errett C. Albritton, a 70-year-old administrator at
the NIH (Figs 1A and 2), inviting him to join an informal network for circulating preprints
called an IEG . Crick gave Albritton the brush-off, saying he was ‘strongly opposed’ to the
scheme , even though he had spent much of the previous 6 years circulating his own infor-
mal papers in such a network called the RNA Tie Club . ‘There is far too much careless
and rapid communication already in every area of this field of study’, Crick replied. ‘The idea
of increasing it even in this semi-public manner fills me with horror’. Albritton’s response was
good humoured (‘If it would not be a service to the area it needs a speedy burial!’ ), but
Crick’s hostility was not widely shared, and there were enough positive responses for the first
IEG to be set up shortly afterwards.
The IEG concept had been dreamt up in January 1961 by Albritton, along with 2 biochem-
ists—David Green (Fig 1B) of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Philip Handler of
Duke University . Albritton later described the IEGs as an ‘experiment’ or a ‘natural his-
tory study’ that would enable researchers working on a tightly focused research area to send
‘any communication whatever’ (preprint, comment, discussion, etc.) to the NIH, where the
‘memo’ would be physically reproduced and then circulated by the postal service to all mem-
bers of the network. All costs were met by the NIH. Although the initial proposal was focused
on a slightly cliquey group of ‘leading investigators’ , IEG membership was soon broad-
ened to anyone ‘above the level of graduate student’, although the IEG chair had the final say
on who could join and become a ‘subscriber’ . Although memos were not supposed to be
cited without permission, they could be taken as evidence of priority. The IEGs were intended
to increase informal communication between scientists and to avoid the delays imposed by
traditional publication methods. Albritton’s conception of the IEG was summarized by a brief
slogan that was included on the front cover of each memo: it was a ‘continuing international
congress by mail’ .
At one level, there was nothing new about circulating unrefereed documents or preprints.
Previous systems were generally linked to specific institutions, such as the MIT Research Labo-
ratory in Electronics that began producing unrefereed technical reports in 1946  or the pre-
prints circulated by the Petroleum Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society from
1921 . Other sets of unrefereed documents were tightly focused on the needs of a particular
research community, such as the Drosophila Information Service , or were collected and
sometimes distributed by institutional libraries, particularly in physics. Albritton’s NIH pro-
posal was far more ambitious. It involved systematically circulating copies of all submitted pre-
prints to a group of subscribers, rather than issuing them on request from an institution .
The scale of this experiment was immense, given the technology of the time: by the end of
1965, 3,663 researchers, from 46 different countries, were involved, and 2,561 different memos
had been physically mailed out, involving millions of pages of paper .
The first IEG was focused on oxidative phosphorylation and terminal electron transport. It
initially had only 32 members but grew to 386 within 4 years . The IEG1 chair, David
Green, underlined the advantages of the system: ‘The exchange makes it possible for all of its
members to be fully informed in record time of all important developments in the field’ .
Other advantages included avoiding the danger of being ‘ambushed by some overzealous or
overopinionated reviewer’, thereby providing ‘an outlet for anyone who feels choked by
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Provenance: Not commissioned; externally peer
editorial intransigence’ . Green insisted that, despite the lack of review, the IEG memos
did not consist of a ‘flood of rubbish’; indeed, it was possible that informal review via the IEG
might lead to a reduction in the number of weaker articles submitted to journals.
In October 1963, Albritton began soliciting suggestions for more IEGs and approached
Sydney Brenner, Jacques Monod, and many others . Like Crick 2 years earlier, Brenner
gave a negative response: ‘the informal contacts that already exist facilitate enough exchange of
information’, he wrote . However, 5 new IEGs were soon created, covering Hemostasis
(IEG2), Computer Simulation of Biological Systems (IEG3), Molecular Basis of Muscle Con-
traction (IEG4), Immunopathology (IEG5), and Interferon (IEG6). IEG7, focused on Nucleic
Acids and the Genetic Code, was launched in early 1966 by Jim Watson and Marshall Niren-
berg. Over 1,100 scientists immediately signed up . Crick’s hostility to the IEG project
diminished, and by October 1965, he was proposing Brenner and others as members of the
future IEG7, although he warned Albritton that having multiple copies of IEG documents
‘pouring into our laboratory is more than we can stomach’ . Among the most significant
memos submitted to IEG7 was Francis Crick’s ‘wobble hypothesis’ explanation of codon–anti-
codon binding [26,27].
Overall, about 80% of the IEG memos were articles. Around one-third of these were circu-
lated after acceptance by a journal but before publication; the remainder were submitted to the
IEG before peer review and would be what we would now classify as preprints. There were also
technical notes and—occasionally—debates. Over one-third of IEG members were from out-
side the US (mainly from the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia), and over 90% of the
Fig 1. (A) Errett C. Albritton, MD (1890–1984), in 1948. Biographical information about Albritton is scant. For
much of his career he was Professor of Physiology at the George Washington University Medical School,
where he specialized in nutrition science. He later joined the NIH, where he worked in the Office of Research
Accomplishments. In 1961, aged 70, he became the cofounder of preprints in the biosciences. Credit:
Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library, George Washington University. (B) David E. Green, PhD (1910–1983),
in 1961. Green was a biochemist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, focusing on oxidative
phosphorylation. This was the topic of the first IEG, which he cocreated and described as ‘one of the most
revolutionary innovations in the history of science communication’ . A biographical memoir described
Green as ‘one of the giants of 20th century biochemistry. . .a complex person who had an extraordinary
personality’. It makes no mention of his support for preprints . Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin–
Madison Archives (ID S14597). IEG, Information Exchange Group; NIH, National Institutes of Health.
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memos were in English . According to David Green, the system enabled researchers outside
the US, including some in communist countries, to be as clued up about recent developments
as their North American colleagues .
The publishers strike back
The 1960s marked a period of substantial growth in scientific publishing, in particular through
the activities of Pergamon Press, set up by the British businessman Robert Maxwell. The
Fig 2. Letter from Albritton to Crick, January 1961 . Credit: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archive.
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number of journal titles published by Pergamon rose from 40 in 1959 to 150 in 1965; while
some were created as money-spinners, others were learned society journals that Pergamon
took over . The financial model that now dominates scientific publishing, with large num-
bers of for-profit journals paid for by institutional library subscriptions, began at this moment
At this time, there were repeated discussions in the scientific community about the slowness
of publication and the need for more informal and automated methods of communication
, including a Ciba Foundation conference on the topic  and a report by the US Presi-
dent’s Scientific Advisory Committee . Historians and librarians explored the conse-
quences of the IEG for collaboration [18,33], while an influential article in the Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists argued that scientists in all fields should set up IEGs . For several years,
the library at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) had collected preprints in high
energy physics from around the world, as had the library at the European Organization for
Nuclear Research (CERN). In 1965, the theoretical physicist Michael Moravcsik proposed for-
malizing these local initiatives, such that in each area of physics a central registry should collate
all preprints and then regularly send out a list of the items that had been received (something
like this was being operated at the Brookhaven National Laboratory) . Within months,
Charles Gottschalk of the US Atomic Energy Commission proposed the creation of a Physics
Information Exchange (PIE). As Moravcsik explained in Physics Today, PIE was not
completely analogous to the IEGs but was close enough that ‘some comfort can be gathered
from the success IEG has encountered among biologists’ . PIE would have a crucial cost-
cutting difference—a single copy of each preprint would be sent to participating libraries,
rather than to each individual member [36-37].
The growth of preprint circulation in all fields of science led some journal publishers—both
commercial companies and learned societies—to feel that their prestige in the scientific com-
munity and their finances could be menaced. The counteroffensive began in April 1966 at a
meeting of the American Association of Immunologists (AAI). Since 1916, the AAI had pub-
lished The Journal of Immunology, and it clearly felt threatened by the creation of IEG5
(Immunopathology) , which had gained over 600 members and had produced over 300
memos in little more than a year . The AAI meeting claimed that the circulation of IEG
memos by the NIH was an ‘improper’ activity for a government agency, while the fact that
memos were in reality ‘complete publications’ meant that they posed ‘a real danger’ to immu-
nological journals and might ‘ultimately supersede them’. By a majority of 56 to 39, the AAI
meeting voted that the publication of articles that had been previously circulated by IEG5
‘should not be continued’ .
The massive growth in IEG membership (Fig 3) and the looming possibility of PIE, coupled
with the hostility of the AAI to the IEGs, prompted Nature to wade into the debate. It was not
that journal’s finest hour. In a series of articles and editorials in July and August 1966, includ-
ing the unapproved reproduction of one of Albritton’s documents , Nature attacked the
growth of the IEGs and the PIE proposal in sometimes sarcastic terms [40,41]. Nature’s first
target was PIE—a proposal the journal considered to be ‘so offensive’ that it hoped it would be
‘stillborn’. The opening of one editorial, particularly condescending and alarmist, revealed the
concern of the commercial publishers: ‘Next to downright villainy, misguided zeal is one of the
most dangerous forces in society,’ they wrote .
Next in Nature’s sights were the IEGs, which a few weeks later were attacked by the journal
as ‘suspect’ and a waste of money, as well as for being ‘in the publication business’ no matter
what the NIH might claim. The defects of preprints, thundered the journal, included ‘inacces-
sibility, impermanence, illiteracy, uneven quality, and lack of considered judgment’ . The
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traditional journal system had by contrast ‘encouraged thoroughness and measured judgment
[and] discouraged triviality and repetitive work’.
This claim that journals act as guarantors of scientific quality was a key part of Nature’s crit-
icism, as was the issue of priority. Nature was particularly irked by the fact that IEG members
agreed to treat the memos as priority-laden. As Albritton put it: ‘a paper sent through the IEG
is better protected than one published without prior circulation through the IEG’ . Inevita-
bly, financial considerations were also to the fore. A fraction of the money lavished on circulat-
ing preprints, argued Nature, should be devoted to ‘helping the journals become more
efficient’. The for-profit journal was suggesting that the NIH should keep out of ‘the publica-
tion business’ and instead use that money to help commercial journals. The editorial closed
with the same tone it had used throughout its coverage: ‘If the National Institutes of Health are
as well-disposed towards the cause of effective publication as they seem to be, they could do a
lot to help. The energy they choose to dissipate in Dr Allbritton’s print shop will be a lot less
A similarly aggressive attitude was adopted by the editor of Science. Philip H. Abelson sug-
gested the products of the IEGs could be seen as ‘government-subsidised shoddy merchandise’
and concluded that, while there was an understandable frustration with ‘the inefficiency of
many publications’, the IEGs also revealed ‘a desire on the part of some scientists to avoid a
discipline essential to the integrity of science’ .
The fate of the IEGs was sealed not by the leading gatekeepers of scientific publishing but
by a group of specialist journal editors. In September 1966, editors of leading biochemical jour-
nals met in Vienna to discuss the widespread circulation of preprints by the IEGs. There were
13 journals represented at the meeting, including the Journal of Chemical Biology and the Jour-
nal of Molecular Biology . Like the AAI, this group decided—mostly without consulting
their societies or editorial boards —that no article that had been circulated as an IEG memo
Fig 3. Growth of IEG1 1961–1965, as reported by Albritton . Credit: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Archive. IEG, Information Exchange Group.
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would be accepted for publication. It is striking that these journals and those published by the
AAI overlapped with the 2 IEG areas that had the largest memberships: immunopathology
and molecular biology, which together represented nearly 2,000 researchers.
This decision was soon leaked to Nature—an editorial crowed ‘Preprints made outlaws’ and
praised the ‘firm. . .lethal steps’ the Vienna meeting of journal editors had taken against the
IEG system . The editorialist was right: no one would submit a preprint to an IEG under
these conditions. Faced with the inevitable, the NIH caved in, and in November 1966, the head
of the NIH Division of Research Grants, Eugene Confrey, announced that the IEGs would be
closed the following March . Albritton accepted that the IEGs were not financially viable
without external funding , and growth in the number of preprints meant the IEGs were
stretching the NIH’s financial and physical resources. Each copy of a memo cost $0.10–$0.50;
by 1967, the IEGs were projected to cost the NIH $400,000 per annum, or over $3 million in
today’s values [8,45].
Meanwhile, the letters pages of Science  and Nature [47,48] began to bulge with posi-
tions for and against IEGs. In Science, Philip Siekevitz, a cell biologist at Rockefeller University,
claimed that the IEGs were ‘a dangerous nuisance’, while Nature pointed out in a note that
although it had received 7 letters in support of the IEGs and only 1 against, Theodore Spaet,
the Chair of IEG2, had encouraged its members to write in.
After the IEGs had been killed off, Nature produced a slightly more considered editorial
entitled ‘Secret colleges end’ . The journal recognized that there were problems of slowness
and rigidity in the traditional journal format but insisted that, if successful, the IEGs ‘would
have been an offence against scholarship’. The New England Journal of Medicine followed suit,
going so far as to praise the ‘morally sensitive scientists’ who had opposed the IEGs before fin-
ishing on a contradictory note by calling for the IEG idea to be taken up again once the lessons
had been learned . The journal’s real position on preprints was made clear 2 years later,
when it stated it would not accept any articles that had been previously published, including by
‘controlled-circulation journals’ . Strict application of this principle, known as the Ingelfin-
ger Rule after the journal’s editor and initially focused on preprints and media coverage, was
subsequently extended to prevent the journal from publishing material that had appeared on
any kind of website .
The PIE proposals met a similar fate. They were vigorously opposed by Simon Pasternack,
the editor of The Physical Review, who described the project as ‘a great disservice’ . Paster-
nack denied that PIE would be any quicker than traditional publication routes and predicted it
would ‘dilute orderly communication and add confusion’. Going into rhetorical overdrive,
Pasternack claimed PIE threatened physics research communication with ‘obscurity, incom-
pleteness, polemics, inadequate references, discursiveness and irresponsibility’. Samuel Gouds-
mit, the editor of Physical Review Letters, joined in, producing a series of editorials in which he
described a centralized register of preprints as ‘highly undesirable, as it would raise the unrefer-
eed and unedited preprint to virtually the same status as a formal publication’ , emphasised
the value provided by journals and peer review , and argued against citing preprints .
PIE was not stillborn as Pasternack and Nature wished, but it was instead launched for a
trial year, functioning primarily as an announcement service of new preprints and discussion
documents that was circulated to a mailing list; anyone interested had to request the document
directly from the author.
After the IEGs
After minor pushback  and some policy discussion of the significance of the experiment
, most of the IEGs immediately folded. Albritton had hoped that because many IEG
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members—and even some IEG Chairs—were also Editors or Associate Editors of journals
(including the Journal of Molecular Biology and the Journal of Biological Chemistry), peaceful
coexistence with traditional journals would be possible . This turned out to be naive. The
power of the Vienna editors’ meeting and of the AAI, coupled with the hostility of Science and
Nature and the financial strain on the NIH, stopped the IEGs in their tracks. Only IEG6
decided to keep going, after a 93% positive vote of its members. The 250-strong group contin-
ued to circulate material until at least the late 1970s under the title Interferon Scientific Memo-
randum. To reduce costs, their memos were restricted to 8 pages and distributed as reduced-
size photos, with the support of the American Institute of Biological Sciences .
The perception of the IEGs by those who had been involved was overwhelmingly positive.
Professor Michael Woodruff of the University of Edinburgh chided Nature for its ‘timid’ atti-
tude; he found his membership of IEG5 to be of ‘enormous value’ and was ‘most delighted’
with reading and writing memos . Surveys of IEG members showed 94% of the respon-
dents said reading a memo had positively influenced a research decision, while 68% considered
that the memos had saved time and money . However, in most cases, the key memos were
articles that eventually appeared in print; although the IEGs increased the rapidity and effi-
ciency of communication, there was no evidence that it led to greater debate, one of the Albrit-
ton’s key objectives. In this respect, the IEGs failed.
Unbowed, Albritton’s colleagues at the NIH continued to emphasize the value of preprints
. In an understandably embittered article reviewing the rise and fall of the IEGs, David
Green, the chair of IEG1 and cocreator of the scheme, decried the ‘strangulation’ of what he
considered to be ‘one of the most revolutionary innovations in the history of science commu-
nication’ . After dismissing the 3 criticisms leveled at the IEGs by the Vienna meeting and
by Science and Nature (duplication, copyright infringement, and potential misunderstandings
from lack of review), Green explained why the IEGs had really been killed off:
It is my opinion that the stated reasons are not the real reason. Rather, the stated reasons
merely hide the fact that the editors were apprehensive that the status and prestige of the
journals would be downgraded if another agency (IEG) were distributing to its members,
from 6 months to a year earlier than the journals, the very papers which would eventually
appear in the journals, though not necessarily in the same final form.
Nature’s final statement on the affair, made in February 1967, suggested that preprints
should be renamed ‘impersonal communication’ or ‘postal circular’ and reiterated the ‘offense’
the IEGs had given to the established journals because of the claimed potential of duplicate
publications. However, the editorialist was also keen to turn his article into an advert, reassur-
ing his readers that the rapid circulation that was so attractive a feature of the IEGs would soon
be found at Nature, which in a few months would ‘be operating consistently with a time lag of
a few weeks’. The aim was for Nature to ‘beat the IEG at their own game’ .
Debate about how to enable more rapid communication of scientific discoveries in all fields
continued into the 1970s [61,62]. The solution was finally found in physics, which already had
established and successful local networks for collecting and distributing preprints. In January
1969, a new service, Preprints in Particles and Fields, was run out of SLAC. It built on the pre-
print services run by Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley and the SLAC library and
drew lessons from the fate of PIE and the IEGs . Within a year, there were around 1,600
subscribers, showing the appetite for preprint circulation.
Over the next 2 decades, publishing was transformed as rapid progress in information tech-
nology enabled the development of increasingly rich and cost-effective schemes for circulating
information. In 1991, Paul Ginsparg at the Los Alamos National Laboratory created an
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automated email server for distributing preprints, a system that eventually became known as
arXiv . In subsequent years, the impact of the World Wide Web, which was launched at
virtually the same time as arXiv, transformed global communication and publishing, including
the circulation of preprints. Initially set up for high energy physics, arXiv gradually extended
into other fields and was soon partly supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) funding
[3,4]. The concerns of a number of scientific societies and publishers were placated by the
gradual growth of the system and the evident fact that it did not damage journal prestige or
Life science researchers, who had either forgotten the IEG affair or never knew of it, could
not help but notice the growth of arXiv. In 1999, Harold Varmus, in his final months as head
of the NIH, became what he later described as a ‘radical proponent’ of new ways of circulating
scientific information . After informal discussions with leading biomedical scientists, Var-
mus proposed the creation of e-Biomed, an electronic repository of preprints that was clearly
modelled on arXiv [52,65]. Varmus opened a consultation on his proposal and received over-
whelming support from the individual scientists who responded to his call, but the journal
publishers were deeply hostile and lobbied extensively against his scheme .
An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine warned of ‘a potential threat to the
evaluation and orderly dissemination of new clinical studies’—the journal was concerned that
potentially incorrect clinical papers would gain the imprimatur of the NIH’s authority and
could have significant negative consequences for patient health and well-being (this remains a
worry for medical preprints) . But the journal also revealed that one of its major concerns
was the ‘probably disastrous effects’ on the paid circulation of journals. The Federation of
American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB), a powerful umbrella group of learned
societies, even threatened to use their lobbying power in Congress to affect the NIH budget
should the e-Biomed proposal go ahead .
Within 4 months, the project was dead in the water. Varmus accepted that his vision could
not be fully realized in the face of such opposition and focused instead on open access provi-
sion of accepted manuscripts through PubMed Central. This development, together with the
legacy of the e-Biomed initiative, played a role in the development of the open access move-
ment and the launching of PLOS by Varmus, Pat Brown, and Michael Eisen . Nevertheless,
it would be another decade and a half before biologists, their funders, and their editors
accepted what had become commonplace in most parts of physics.
A third attempt in over 50 years to introduce preprints into biology occurred in 2013 with
the launch of PeerJ Preprints and bioRxiv, following a series of initiatives by Ron Vale and oth-
ers [1,2]. This time around, there appears to have been a shift in opinion amongst funders and
publishers of biomedical research—there has not been the kind of hostility that appeared in
the 1960s and 1990s.
This apparent change in attitude has yet to be systematically analysed, but here are some
potential explanations, which are not mutually exclusive:
• The interval from submission to the first journal to final publication (perhaps in another
journal) can be of the order of many months, similar to that in the 1960s. Coupled with the
short duration of postdoctoral posts and the increasingly rapid development of technology,
this has led to growing frustration with the ‘glacial pace’ of publication and a determination
on the part of researchers to find a better solution .
• The new biological preprint servers have made clear that they are not encroaching on journal
territory or finances but simply decoupling first dissemination of knowledge from the ‘certi-
fication’ that is represented by peer review.
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• The widespread adoption of open access publishing and the free circulation of data and
ideas may make opposing preprints simply look churlish in the age of the Internet and the
success of arXiv.
• Finally, despite initiatives such as the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment
, many key decisions affecting the lives of scientists—recruitment, promotion, and fund-
ing—continue to be based on the titles of the journals we publish in, rather than a direct esti-
mation of the quality of the research we produce. In such a world, the journal will not go
extinct—indeed, journals can make money by charging for open access, and can scout out
promising papers on the preprint servers.
Whatever the case, on the third attempt, it appears that a culture of preprints has been
established in the biosciences, although not yet in medicine. The fate of the IEGs should warn
us of the power of commercial publishers and of vested academic interests to restrict the free
circulation of knowledge.
The digital culture we now live in is far beyond the dreams of Errett C. Albritton and his
printed and stapled IEG memos, individually sent out in the mail to eager subscribers. But he
envisioned the importance of the open circulation of knowledge and debate over half a century
ago. His name and his ambitions may have been forgotten, but he would recognize our world.
Stephen Curry and Leslie Vosshall are thanked for their comments and encouragement. The
manuscript initially appeared as a preprint on PeerJ.com. The preprint was featured in a Sci-
ence article by Jocelyn Kaiser ; this provoked some helpful criticisms from Paul Ginsparg,
which led to the sections on physics being nuanced and much improved. Comparison of the
preprint and the published version reveals the virtues of peer review.
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