Welcome to Haldane’s sieve

The ease of communication facilitated by the Internet has dramatically affected the process of scientific communication in many fields. Most notably, many physics, math, and economics communities have adopted a system in which new research papers are immediately distributed throughout the world prior to formal evaluation in the form of peer review. This system allows for rapid distribution of “bleeding edge” results among all the experts in a field, allowing them to see and build upon the most recent advances.

This practice has historically been uncommon in biology, where instead results are generally made available to the community (including many people qualified to judge them) only after a delay of generally around six months to a year, during which a paper is reviewed, formatted, and published. We believe this is unfortunate. However, there is growing pressure in some parts of biology (in particular our fields of evolutionary and population genetics) to follow physics and math in posting papers to preprint servers ahead of formal publication.

Some authors have a variety of reasonable concerns about posting their papers to preprint servers. In particular, one worry is that, in a morass of online content, their work will not reach the relevant audience. Others see no benefit in posting their papers prior to review if they will not receive useful feedback. The goal of Haldane’s Sieve is to partially remedy these issues. We aim to provide a simple feed of preprints in the fields of evolutionary and population genetics (though we may later expand to other fields). Thus, instead of checking arXiv, PeerJ, or Figshare for relevant preprints, readers in these fields could simply check Haldane’s Sieve.

What to expect

As described above, most posts to Haldane’s Sieve will be basic descriptions of relevant preprints, with little to no commentary. All posts will have comment sections where discussion of the papers will be welcome. A second type of post will be detailed comments on a preprint of particular interest to a contributor. These posts could take the style of a journal review, or may simply be some brief comments. We hope they will provide useful feedback to the authors of the preprint. Finally, there will be posts by authors of preprints in which they describe their work and place it in broader context.

We ask the commenters to remember that by submitting articles to preprint servers the authors (often biologists) are taking a somewhat unusual step. Therefore, comments should be phrased in a constructive manner to aid the authors.

Authors: Our choice of what to post reflects our interests and knowledge, so we will only post a biased subset of evolutionary, population, and statistical genetics preprints that attract our interest. We will endeavor to be somewhat thorough but we will doubtless miss some interesting preprints, e.g. especially if they are not in the quantitative biology arXiv subfield. If you want us to link to your preprint please drop us a line, our emails can easily be found via our University sites. Alternatively send a tweet to @Haldanessieve.

Why “Haldane’s Sieve”?

A brief description of the name of this site is perhaps in order. When a new beneficial allele arises in a population, the probability that it eventually reaches fixation is influenced by a number of factors. One of these is the dominance coefficient of the allele. The reason the dominance coefficient matters is because early in the life of the allele, while it is at low frequency, it is almost always present in the population in heterozygous form. Therefore all else being equal, dominant beneficial alleles can increase in frequency due to selection faster than recessive alleles, increasing their probability of eventual fixation (or establishment in the population). This effect was noted by Haldane (Haldane 1924,1927) and has become known as “Haldane’s sieve” (Turner 1981; Charlesworth 1992). Analogously, we seek to increase the exposure of interesting papers early in their lifespan, hopefully increasing the probability that they reach their target audience.

A nameless wit has pointed out to us that preprints would really count as standing variation in this analogy and might therefore not be subject to Haldane’s sieve (see Orr and Betancourt Genetics 2001 ). We leave it to the reader to decide whether the analogy holds.


The image of Haldane is from wikipedia.
The image of sieve is from fdctsevilla who kindly uses the creative commons 2.0. It’s surprisingly difficult to find a usable picture of a sieve.

Graham Coop and Joe Pickrell


15 thoughts on “About

  1. The Orr and Betancourt model assumes the allele was deleterious and segregating at equilibrium under mutation/selection balance. There was then a change in the selection pressures such that the previously deleterious allele became beneficial. Are you implying that your blog is turning previously bad papers into good ones?

  2. Ha Rich, good point. However, nearly all popgen models of adaptation assume that adaptive alleles were previously deleterious, otherwise they’d have fixed infinitely long ago. As you know, standing var. occurs when the allele is not too deleterious. Don’t know how this fits into the analogy. Perhaps putting them on the preprint server is the environmental change?

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  5. An unrecognised paper in one generation (slightly deterious) could easily become a classic in another and spread like wild fire.

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