Preprints in Applications – a plea to the ARC!

I was astonished to discover (via this article) that the Australian Research Council has placed a ban on preprints veing cited in funding applications, and that many applicants have had applications rejected solely on the basis that they referred to preprints in them.

It beggars belief that anyone who actually understands modern scientific practice could come up with such a stupid idea. I can only surmise that the people who run the Australian Research Council are so out of touch with actual research that they don’t understand not only the silliness of this rule but also the damage being caused by it.

I have been on grants panels in the UK many times, and have reviewed many applications for other agencies too, and I can’t think of any that didn’t refer to preprints. It can take a year or more for a paper to appear in a traditional journal and in many fields research moves so quickly that citing results ahead of (formal) publication is the only way to present a true picture of ongoing research. Any author who doesn’t cite other authors’ preprints is either out of touch with ongoing research or presented an unbalanced view of the literature. I would further argue that, at least in astrophysics, any applicant who doesn’t have a clutch of preprints on the topic of the application can’t be sufficiently active to justify grant funding.

Results made available in preprints may not have been refereed but that is no reason to ban them altogether. Any experienced reviewer will know how to treat them. And don’t forget there are plenty of wrong results in the refereed literature too. I’d prefer a policy that banned applicants whose papers were not published in an Open Access form…

There is a petition here urging the Australian Research Council to revise its preprint policies. I urge you to sign it (as I have done). Be quick, though, as the deadline is 31st August 2021.

And in case you think this is a matter for Australians only, I disagree. Science is collaborative and many of the collaborations span many different countries. It is in all our interests to ensure that our Australian cousins don’t get held back by inane policies like this.

UPDATE: Nature has now covered this story.

4 Responses to “Preprints in Applications – a plea to the ARC!”

  1. Done. Seems ridiculous. If the reasoning is that preprints have not been peer-reviewed, this is specious as the grant reviewer can make their own assessment of the paper. As you note it can take some time for work to be published (I believe in Mathematics can take up to a couple of years). One can summarise the results in a proposal but generally speaking you have very little space to do so, given strict page limits, and it is then vital to be able to reference a paper for further details.

    I would disagree about expecting people to have a ‘clutch of preprints’ on a topic – depends on the field. If its experimental physics or instrument development, the applicants may have perhaps one paper that has taken years to produce.

  2. By the way when I saw the headline of ARC I thought at first it was about my group!

  3. I think it’s also further evidence that the sort of one-size-fits-all approach taken by funding bodies often takes no account of the vast differences in practice across different fields of study. It’s very frustrating.
    Judging by some feedback I recently received from a promotion panel, all of my recent publications (either in press or on the ArXiv) were simply discounted.

  4. In physics this is ridiculous and counterproductive. Some recent medical preprints have been rather damaging (covid), and we have had the recent problem of factory-produced fake papers (see e.g. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00733-5), but this does not seem the best way to solve that problem either.

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