Japan launches preprint server — but will scientists use it?

Tokyo: Japan has become the latest country to open an online preprint repository, in a bid to boost international exposure to the country’s research. But so far, researchers haven’t rushed to post on Jxiv — fewer than 40 papers have been uploaded since it launched in March — and some researchers say the platform isn’t necessary.

Jxiv’s supporters, however, think the platform will increase in popularity, with some suggesting researchers will warm to it because it’s backed by the government. “If the government is hosting this, then it’s going to stay for sure,” says Guojun Sheng, an embryologist at Kumamoto University in Japan.

Japan’s output of published research papers is among the highest in the world. But researchers in Japan don’t often share early versions of their manuscripts on preprint servers, says Soichi Kubota, who works at the department of information infrastructure at the government-run Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) in Tokyo.

Kubota says the JST wants to change that. It set up Jxiv to fill a gap in existing platforms, which don’t accommodate all research fields — including popular ones in Japan, such as history, business and management, linguistics and interdisciplinary sciences. Vast numbers of papers that are published in Japanese are in those fields. Researchers can post manuscripts on Jxiv in English and Japanese.

India, Russia, China, Indonesia and Africa have their own dedicated repositories. Similar services that host research conducted in France and the Arab world were discontinued in 2020. Some of the most popular repositories are subject-specific, such as the original preprint server, arXiv, for physical-science and mathematics manuscripts.

A long-running criticism of preprint servers is that, because papers are posted without standard editing or peer review, there is no process to weed out low-quality research.

Kubota acknowledges that some low-quality preprints are posted to preprint servers, but he argues that the benefits of a Japanese preprint server outweigh any downsides. The platform can help to disseminate Japanese science to a wider international audience because manuscripts are free to read. And he hopes that the Jxiv will boost collaborations between Japanese scientists and international peers.

Kubota notes that researchers often post early manuscripts on preprint servers to garner comments from peers, which acts as an informal peer review, before submitting the manuscript to a journal. This process can also reduce the workload on journal peer reviewers, he says.

But Thomas Russell, a polymer scientist with joint appointments at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Tohoku University in Sendai, worries that encouraging researchers in Japan to use preprint servers will mean their manuscripts won’t attract adequate scrutiny online. “I think the Japanese are more reserved than Western cultures” when it comes to being critical in a public forum, he says.

Russell thinks that preprint servers aren’t necessary to disseminate research quickly. “If it’s good science, it will go through the review process and get out expeditiously,” he says.

But Sheng thinks Jxiv will catch on, especially if funding agencies start requiring researchers whose work they fund to use it in the future.