Amicus curiae and allowing the posting of preprints

The Journal of Ecology along with the other British Ecological Society journals will now allow submission of manuscripts that have been previously posted on recognized preprint archives such as arXiv and PeerJ PrePrints and the new bioRχiv. We still won’t publish work that’s already been published, you have to tell us where a manuscript has been previously posted, and, if we publish your paper, we want you to provide a link to the final manuscript to accompany the original preprint. Full details of the preprint policy are provided in the Journal’s Author Guidelines.


This new policy on behalf of the BES reflects the changing face of publications, and the desire to make the results of science available as soon as possible. The finally accepted journal article will remain the version of record, but preprints allow exciting discoveries to be shared in a preliminary fashion. Another benefit of preprint posting is the opportunity for the scientific community to offer feedback and comment on the work and the manuscript. In past times, it was common to send our draft manuscripts to colleagues for “friend of the court” review. Some unscrupulous individuals would even send out draft manuscripts to colleagues in order to put their name in the acknowledgments to avoid them being chosen as reviewers in the formal peer-review process! Of course, I’ve never dreamed of doing that myself, I’m just saying that I’ve heard that it happened! In fact, as a young post-graduate I recall cringing when I overheard a very famous ecologist reprimanding a not quite so famous ecologist for doing exactly that!


Regardless, I’m hoping that allowing this opportunity for feedback to authors prior to submission to the Journal will result in improved manuscripts. There is even the idea floating around that comments on preprints and authors responses could be included as part of the official manuscript submission to help move the review process along. But, that’s just an idea. Let’s see how this new policy works out first.


David Gibson

Executive Editor, Journal of Ecology

4 thoughts on “Amicus curiae and allowing the posting of preprints

  1. Thanks for the update David. This is indeed great news. However, some of us are concerned about the specific wording of the policy ( and I wonder if you might provide some clarification.

    Specifically the language states that articles with preprints will be considered “providing that upon acceptance of their article for publication the author is still able to grant the BES an exclusive licence to publish the article, or agree to the terms of an OnlineOpen agreement and pay the associated fee.”

    It is unclear whether or not the author of a preprint with a Creative Commons license (which includes most preprints) can sign an “exclusive license to publish” since they have already licensed the work in a way that is explicitly not exclusive. In other words the language of the exclusive license seems to be quite important and it is unclear based on the current statement whether or not articles with preprints with open licenses would be required to pay a $3000 gold open access fee.

    Another way of phrasing this is that the policy states that authors must be able to sign an agreement that is written by the journal (well, by the journal’s publisher probably). Since it is the journal/publisher’s agreement presumably the journal/publisher should know whether or not it is OK for an author of a standardly licensed preprint to sign the agreement. If it is OK, then this statement is unnecessarily scary, if it is not OK then it arguable provides an incorrect impression of the journal’s openness to preprints.

    Clarification of this point both here and in the official policy would be greatly appreciated. To reiterate, I think it’s absolutely wonderful to see BES moving in the right direction on this front, I just want to make sure that the details of the policy are clear to everyone and ideally do not impede the use of preprints in unanticipated ways.

  2. On behalf of the 99.99% of people who don’t have access to research that is behind a paywall – I sincerely thank you for allowing publicly-posted preprints. Science as it should be. Many people will likely benefit from this positive change.

  3. Pingback: British Ecological Society journals now allow preprints | Jabberwocky Ecology | Weecology's Blog

  4. As I mentioned on Twitter in response to BES’s statement that CC-BY preprints are OK (, I still don’t think that the updated language is clear enough. I would recommend modifying the policy to read something like:

    “BES journals do not consider for publication articles that have already been published in substantial part or in full within a scientific journal, book or similar entity. However, posting an article on the author’s personal website or in an institutional repository is not viewed as prior publication and such articles can therefore be submitted. Manuscripts that have been posted in a recognized preprint archive (such as arXiv and PeerJ PrePrints) are also allowed. Preprints with open licences (e.g., CC-BY) are allowed, as long as the preprints are not updated in response to the BES journal peer review. Following submission and peer review organized by the journal, posting of revised versions of the article on a preprint server with a CC-BY licence might affect an author’s ability to sign an Exclusive Licence to publish in a BES journal.”

    This clearly states the policy laid out in the tweet with out all of the scary legal language that implies that maybe it might not actually be OK. The goal here should be clear communication of your rules so that authors can decided whether or not them like them when choosing journals to submit to. This is not what you currently have.

    Since we’re talking language specifics, I’m not a big fan of this:

    “It is the responsibility of authors to inform the journal at the time of submission if and where their article has been previously posted”

    If you specifically give permission for certain kinds of posting, then why do you need to be informed about them at the time of submission. This is either meaningless or risks leading to differential treatment of papers that have been posted, which you are specifically stating shouldn’t happen.

    To be clear, I’m super excited about what the BES journals have done here, and I’ve just put up a very pro-BES post on this ( I just think that you need to do a better job of clearly communicating the rules under which prepints are allowed and avoid any unintentional language that might indicate to readers of the policy that they are not as well supported as you intend.

    P.S. The language on the Journal of Ecology site has not been updated to match the new BES language.

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