Citing "Alternative" Sources for Microbiology Resource Announcements

Oct. 12, 2018

What is a legitimate source to cite in a manuscript? Does that source have to be publicly available? On one end of the spectrum, we have all read “data not shown,” “personal communication” or citations to a thesis behind a firewall. On the other end of the spectrum are non-peer-reviewed web-only platforms for research, such as preprint servers and blogs. The recent rise in the posting and citation of preprints adds to this conversation.  

In a recent MRA submission some preliminary data to justify the sequencing effort was provided in the form of cited posters with publicly available digital object identifier (DOI) numbers. In addition, the authors cited a manuscript currently in review that contains the same data. We decided to allow the use of these references in this case, but this exchange raised some questions regarding the nature and scope of referencing alternative sources. Beyond posters, there are preprints, GitHub pages and other non-peer-reviewed repositories for information. We posed the following questions to our Senior Editors: 
  • What constitutes an acceptable data/results source? 
  • What is the range of sources that are acceptable? 
  • Does it matter in which parts of the manuscript the source is referenced?
While some were of the opinion that any data or resources with a permanent, publicly available DOI were fair game, others were more conservative, particularly when it came to using non-peer-reviewed information to advance such things as taxonomic designations and/or other standards that would benefit from a thorough discussion among reviewers and the community that those standards will impact. Regardless, among those MRA editors who participated in this conversation, we had general consensus that citing alternative sources for materials and methods, when identified as such and where a permanent public DOI exists, should be acceptable.

This is particularly relevant in the cases of providing scripts, primer sequences, and other small pieces of data. At MRA, our philosophy is to support the microbiology community and we therefore want to promote policies that maximize inclusiveness. The scope of data inclusivity in the context of scholarly writing practices will be an ongoing discussion.  

The above was written by Irene Newton and J. Cameron Thrash on behalf of the Senior Editorial Board of Microbial Resource Announcements.

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Author: ASM Communications

ASM Communications
ASM Communications staff.