Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s Philanthropy Backs Effort to Change Scientific Publishing
Image: Cori Bargmann, president of science at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, with co-founder Priscilla Chan, M.D. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for The New York Times )
By Matthew Herper
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic investment vehicle created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, M.D., will fund an effort that allows biologists to share drafts of papers before they are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals like Nature or Science. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Cori Bargmann, the president of Chan Zuckerberg’s science efforts, says in a blog post that the effort could “dramatically accelerate the pace of discovery, and, in turn, our understanding of health and disease.”
“I’m absolutely delighted,” says Daniel MacArthur, group leader within the Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit (ATGU) at Massachusetts General Hospital. “This means stable funding for what’s probably the most important current experiment in biomedical publishing.”
The service, called bioRxiv (pronounced “bioarchive”) is run by The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a Long Island nonprofit founded in 1890 that has long been a hub for research in the biological sciences. It was created almost four years ago, and modeled off a similar effort, arXiv (“archive”) that is used by physicists.
Traditionally, scientists share their discoveries at presentations, and then in scientific journals which undergo a process called peer review, in which new findings are not published until they have been rigorously (and usually anonymous) savaged by other researchers. But the peer review process can take months or years, and in some fast-moving fields, like the effort to understand human genes, this can seem ponderously slow.
Richard Sever, the Assistant Director for Cold Spring Laboratory Press, says that bioRxiv was started after a physicist, Mickey Atwal, started working on biological problems at Cold Spring Harbor and complained in passing that he couldn’t share his new findings with his peers immediately, as he was used to doing on arXiv.
The site has been “transformational” in the field of genomics, the systematic study of genes, MacArthur says. Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California, Berkeley, says bioRxiv has been particularly important in fast-moving areas, like the research surrounding CRISPR, a new gene-editing technology.
“This finally moves the locus of publishing in biomedicine away from post-peer review journals to pre-peer review archives,” says Michael Eisen, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, “It’s 20 years later than it should have been, but it’s an important moment in history of science publishing.”
The new funding, in addition to supporting bioRxiv’s continuing operations, will focus on allowing author-submitted files into formats that are machine-readable, and for other software engineering efforts.