Preprints and double publication - when is some exposure too much?

Note to all: this is satire... As Marcia McNutt says below, please see Science Magazine's Contributors FAQ for more detailed information.

Recently I had some conversations with Science Magazine about preprints, and when they're counted as double publication (see: Ingelfinger Rule). Now, Science has an enlightened preprint policy:

...we do allow posting of research papers on not-for-profit preprint servers such as Please contact the editors with questions regarding allowable postings.

but details are not provided. Now, on Facebook and elsewhere I've seen people be confused about whether (for example) posting a preprint and then discussing it counts as "distribution" -- here, Science muddies the waters by saying,

Distribution on the Internet may be considered prior publication and may compromise the originality of the paper as a submission to Science, although...

(followed by the previous quote).

So, spurred by some recent questions along this vein that a friend asked on Facebook, I followed up with Science. I asked the editors a broad set of questions about when preprints could be publicized on blogs, via Twitter, or on social media sites such as Facebook. Here is their response, which I think provides a valuable and specific set of guidelines for us.

Dear Dr. Brown,

thank you for your detailed questions. In our role as guardians of the veracity and impact of scientific literature, we have long been concerned about how to minimize pre-publication dissemination of scientific information, and we are happy to communicate our deliberations and decisions for you.

We do allow posting to preprint servers, as explicitly noted in our policy. This is to preserve scholarly communication while making sure that the public are not exposed to research conclusions unvalidated by peer review. However, as the line between journalism and Internet opining continues to blur, we are concerned that non-scientists may occasionally be exposed to incorrect research conclusions through discussion of these preprints on the World Wide Web and social media.

We have therefore developed the following guidelines:

First, any researcher (any member of the team) may discuss their preprint in a blog post, as long as their blog is not read by more than 1,000 unique visitors in any given 30-day period.

Second, researchers may convey these preprints to others via e-mail or Facebook. We have designated an upper limit of dissemination to 25 researchers (via e-mail) or 150 "friends" (via Facebook).

Third, a blog post and/or a link to the preprint may be publicized via Twitter or other social media Web sites, as long as it is not "reblogged" (via retweet) to more than 5,000 total individuals or acknowledged (e.g. "favorited") by more than 150.

We believe that these numbers provide a fair and equitable balance between protecting the scientific literature from undue dissemination of research results, and allowing scientists to discuss their work with friends. We hope you agree.

Please note that we have contracted with the National Security Agency as part of their new Freedom and Liberty Outreach Program to make sure these dissemination limits are observed. We continue to reserve the right to reject any paper with or without consideration for any reason, including when researchers violate these limits.


[ redacted ]

They've said they welcome feedback at, so please go ahead and send them your thoughts.


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