Tuesday, 4 June 2019

'Making the case for embracing microPublications: Are they a way forward for scholarly publishing?'

Albert Einstein said: “An academic career, in which a person is forced to produce scientific writings in great amounts, creates a danger of intellectual superficiality”. 

Researchers have been working with the pressures of ‘Publish or Perish’ for decades. The default response is to question the value of microPublications that are produced as a result. But what about when microPublications are carefully defined; peer review is stringently completed; and they enable publishers to more efficiently produce the ‘longer story’ research articles with pre-validated research outputs? Are there largely unknown opportunities and values to be gained quickly? Can microPublications enable synthesizing and distilling of information and integrate this information in established repositories to create a more meaningful and greater corpus of knowledge - dare we say, global knowledgebase?

In this blog we hear from scientific curators with new roles as editors of a microPublication, and from a publisher who encourages this new publishing genre.

Chair: Heather Staines, Head of Partnerships, MIT Knowledge Futures Group.


  • Daniela Raciti, Scientific Curator for Wormbase and Managing Editor, microPublication Biology
  • Karen Yook, Scientific Curator for Wormbase and Managing Editor, microPublication Biology
  • Tracey DePellegrin, Executive Director, Genetics Society of America

Heather Staines: As an historian and former acquiring editor for books, I’ve long thought of articles as short-form publications and have struggled with the ‘less is more’ school of thought. When I started to hear about microPublications a few years back, I was intrigued. I wondered how researchers would define the scope of these postings, how they would be viewed within their respective disciplines, and how they would fit within the larger scholarly communications infrastructure. I was thrilled to be asked to moderate the ALPSP webinar, to get to hear directly from the folks at microPublication Biology and at the Genetics Society of America. Here is a bit of what I’ve learned in preparation for the session.

Question 1: How would you define a microPublication?

microPublication Biology: A microPublication is a peer-reviewed report of findings from a single experiment. A microPublication typically has a single figure and/or results table, the text is brief, but has sufficient relevant background to give the scientific community an understanding of the experiment and the findings, and there is sufficient methodological & reagent information and references that the experiment can be replicated by others.

Genetics Society of America (GSA): I’ve got to agree with my colleagues on this one. I think one key here is that the findings in microPublication Biology are in fact peer-reviewed. They’re also discoverable, so they’re not lost in the literature. And I love the idea that these are compact yet powerful components scientists can build upon.

Question 2: What was the driving force behind the decision to move forward with microPublications?

microPublication Biology: There are two driving forces. The first is to increase the entry of research finding into the public domain. These findings are of value to the scientific community, they give the authors credit for their work, and publication fulfils the agreement researchers make with funding agencies (and taxpayers) to disseminate their findings. The second is to efficiently incorporate new data into scientific databases, such as WormBase. Scientific databases organize, aggregate and display data in ways that have tremendous value for researchers, greatly facilitating experimentation (increasing efficiency, decreasing cost). Databases are most useful when they are comprehensive; the microPublication platform allows efficient and economical incorporation of information into databases. We hope that in the long term, other scientific publishers will come on board to directly deposit data from publications into the authoritative databases.

GSA: GSA is supportive of microPublications for several reasons. First, incorporating new data into scientific databases is critical. Researchers in our fields depend on model organism databases like WormBase, FlyBase, Saccharomyces Genome Database (SGD), the Zebrafish Information Network (zfin), and others, many of which are supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and included in the Alliance of Genome Resources. These databases are critical in understanding the genetic and genomic basis of human biology, health, and disease, and are curated by experts in the field. The microPublication platform helps authors by incorporating their findings into these databases in a way that’s seamless and painless for busy scientists. Second, microPublication Biology reduces the barrier of entry for scientists hoping to freely share their peer-reviewed research in a credible venue. Also, it’s terrific that microPublication provides the opportunity to publish a negative result. Negative results are important, yet too few journals publish them. The bottom line is that microPublication Biology addresses a need in scholarly publishing, serving authors and readers alike by filling a gap existing journals don’t serve.

Question 3: How does the peer review process differ, if at all, from the peer review of longer articles?

microPublication Biology: The peer-review process is similar to other journals, with a few distinguishing features. First, since the publication is limited in scope and length, it is simple and quick to review. Second, the publication criteria are straightforward – is the work experimentally sound? - does the data support the conclusion? – is there sufficient information to allow replication? – and, are the findings of use to the community? The last point goes along with the categorical assignment of the microPublication as a New finding, Finding not previously shown (unpublished result in a prior publication), Negative result, Replication – successful, Replication – unsuccessful, and Commodity validation.

GSA: Because I’m not an editor at microPublication Biology, I can only generalize here. But I will use this opportunity to underscore the importance of high-quality peer review as well as editors who are well-respected leaders in the field. One glance at the editorial board of microPublication Biology shows that these scientists are in a position to guide the careful review and decision on submitted data in their respective fields. I also find the categorial assignments interesting – especially the idea of a successful (or unsuccessful) replication.

Question 4: What do you see as the future for microPublications?

microPublication Biology: Huge! This publishing model will help change how researchers communicate with one another, how a researcher’s accomplishments are evaluated and tracked, and provide an earlier step for budding researchers to be introduced to scholarly communication. The microPublication vehicle easily lends itself to expansion into entirely new fields. However, such expansions need to be driven by the field’s scientific community (the group that will submit manuscripts, peer review the manuscripts, and maintain community standards).

GSA: The sky’s the limit. I agree with everything (above). In times where we’re trying to encourage grant review panels and others to evaluate scientists by the data they’re publishing (rather than the impact factor of the journal in which the article appears), such venues as microPublication Biology provide a chance for researchers to get credit for contributions that might not otherwise be recognized. And that’s progress!


Heather Staines: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our panellists for taking the time to weigh in on these questions. I hope you will now agree with me that microPublications provide an interesting and useful twist on the traditional journal publication model.

To learn more, please register for the ALPSP webinar: 'Making the case for embracing microPublications: Are they a way forward for scholarly publishing?'

Wednesday 26 June.
16:00-17:00 BST, 11.00-12:00 EDT, 17:00-18:00 CEST, 08:00-09:00 PDT.

The webinar is ideal for: publishing executives, editors, librarians, funders and researchers.