Twenty‐five years ago, in August 1991, I spent a couple of afternoons at Los Alamos National Laboratory writing some simple software that enabled a small group of physicists to share drafts of their articles via automated email transactions with a central repository. Within a few years, the site migrated to the nascent WorldWideWeb as arXiv.org, and experienced both expansion in coverage and heavy growth in usage that continues to this day. In 1998, I gave a talk to a group of biologists—including David Lipman, Pat Brown, and Michael Eisen—at a meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) to describe the sharing of articles “pre‐publication” by physicists. The talk was met with some enthusiasm and prompted the “e‐biomed” proposal in the following spring by then NIH director Harold Varmus. He encouraged the creation of an NIH‐run electronic archive for all biomedical research articles, including both a preprint server and an archive of published peer‐reviewed articles, which generated significant discussion.
I agreed to write a commentary (Ginsparg, 1999) on Varmus’ proposal that summer, in part to “comment on some of the attempts in the past half year to isolate physicists, or rather to distinguish their research practices from the rest of the scientific community, in an attempt to assert that what has been so successful and continues to grow ‘couldn't possibly’ work in say the biological or life sciences.”
As I did in my talk at CSHL, I described how arXiv.org had “become a major forum for dissemination of results in physics and mathematics, and suggested some of what we foresee as the advantages of a unified global archive for research in these fields”. I also pointed out how it was “entirely scientist driven, and flexible enough either to co‐exist with the pre‐existing publication system, or help it evolve to something better optimized …
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