I mentioned in a previous post that it would be interesting to separate the registration, which allows claims of precedence for a scholarly finding (the submission of a manuscript) from the certification, which establishes the validity of a registered scholarly claim (the peer review process).
This can only happen if journals accept that a manuscript submitted to a preprint server is different from a peer-review article and therefore it should not be considered as prior publication. So what do the journals currently say about preprint servers ? I looked around the different policies, sent some emails and compiled a this list:
Nature: yes but ...
Nature allows prior publication on recognised community preprint servers for review by other scientists in the field before formal submission to a journal. The details of the preprint server concerned and any accession numbers should be included in the cover letter accompanying submission of the manuscript to Nature. This policy does not extend to preprints available to the media or that are otherwise publicised before or during the submission and consideration process at Nature.
I enquired about this last part of their policy on the peer review forum and this was the response:
"We are aware that preprint servers such as ArXiv are available to the media, but as things stand we consider for publication, and publish, many papers that have been posted on it, and on other community preprint servers.As long as the authors have not actively sought out media coverage before submission and publication in Nature, we are happy to consider their work."
Nature Genetics/Nature Biotechnology: yes
(...)the presentation of results at scientific meetings (including the publication of abstracts) is acceptable, as is the deposition of unrefereed preprints in electronic archives.
"Preprints have a long and notable history in science, and it has been PNAS policy that they do not constitute prior publication. This is true whether an author hands copies of a manuscript to a few trusted colleagues or puts it on a publicly accessible web site for everyone to read, as is common now in parts of the physics community. The medium of distribution is not germane. A preprint is not considered a publication because it has not yet been formally reviewed and it is often not the final form of the paper. Indeed, a benefit of preprints is that feedback usually leads to an improved published paper or to no publication because of a revealed flaw. "
BMC Bioinformatics/BMC Biology/BMC Evolutionary Biology/BMC Genomics/BMC Genetics/Genome Biology: Yes
"Any manuscript or substantial parts of it submitted to the journal must not be under consideration by any other journal although it may have been deposited on a preprint server."
Molecular Systems Biology: Do you feel lucky ?
"Molecular Systems Biology reserves the right not to publish material that has already been pre-published (either in electronic or other media)."
Genome Research: No
"Submitted manuscripts must not be posted on any web site and are subject to press embargo."
Science: Do you feel lucky ?
"We will not consider any paper or component of a paper that has been published or is under consideration for publication elsewhere. Distribution on the Internet may be considered prior publication and may compromise the originality of the paper or submission. Please contact the editors with questions regarding allowable postings under this policy."
Cell: No ?
"Manuscripts are considered with the understanding that no part of the work has been published previously in print or electronic format and the paper is not under consideration by another publication or electronic medium."
PLoS - No clear policy information on the site about this but according to an email I got from PLoS they do consider for publication papers that have been submited in preprint servers. I hope they could make this clear in the policies they have available online.
Bioinformatics,Molecular Biology and Evolution - ??
"Authors wishing to deposit their paper in public or institutional repositories may deposit a link that provides free access to the paper, but must stipulate that public availability be delayed until 12 months after first online publication in the journal"
I sent emails to both journals but I only had an answer from MBE directing me to this policy common to the journals of the Oxford University Press.
In summary most journals I checked will consider papers that have been previously submited to preprint servers, so I might consider in the future to submit my own work to preprint servers before looking for a journal. Very few journals clearly refuse manuscripts that might be available in electronic form but a good number either have no clear policy or reserve the right to reject papers that are available online.