When major biomedical research funders released the open-access journal eLife in 2012, they hoped that it would promote biomedical publishing to make full use of the power of the Internet to share results freely and instantly. In the following years, the open access model became popular. Before being peer reviewed, more and more biologists shared their work on online preprint servers such as bioRxiv and medRxiv.
But for Michael Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the editor-in-chief of the journal since 2019, these changes are not enough. This week, eLife announced that it will only review manuscripts that have been published as preprints. And all peer reviews will be made public, including manuscripts rejected by journals. Eisen said that these changes are the next logical step in the development of preprints.
Answer: We have a publishing system built for printing presses. When every journal you produce costs money, it makes sense to screen before publishing. After the advent of the Internet, this idea no longer makes sense. If we redesign the publication from scratch, you will give scientists the power and process to share science when it is ready, and then conduct peer review, evaluation, planning and organization on this basis.
To a large extent, the changes we are talking about have already taken place. When we looked at the large number of papers that were being reviewed throughout the summer, we realized that about 68% of the content had been released as preprints. What we really want to do is to peer review the published papers. We are making suggestions to the authors on how to improve their work, and they are responding. Ultimately, we will decide whether to impose restrictions on this file.
When the documents are already there, you start to ask yourself, why do we secretly conduct peer reviews? We want to make peer review a vivid and active part of the preprint.
Answer: The real job of writing a review is to read the paper and think. I think many critics will appreciate the fact that not only did you help write a better paper, but your review did not lose history. If your review can not only help authors improve the quality of the paper, but also help readers understand the paper and conduct context analysis to understand its advantages and disadvantages, then it will be more effective.
Q: When making negative comments publicly, do you worry about losing authors who worry about looking stupid?
A: We don’t want comments to drag comments on the Internet like anonymously. We can ensure that the comments are constructive. If the author feels that his work is under attack, then our system will not work properly.
In the ideal future, you will publish the author’s manuscript, which is the published paper as far as the community is concerned. Then review it and make a revised version. People are not afraid that this is an open process, because everyone will experience it. If you can see the development of the paper, then as a consumer of science, it will be faster, more constructive, and helpful.
What we absolutely don’t want is that authors worry that public review and rejection of their papers will hurt their chances of publication elsewhere. By giving us a certain degree of control, they said that if we request revisions to the paper (which in eLife usually means that the paper will be published), these comments will be published. If we reject a paper and the authors believe that our review will affect another journal, then they can postpone its publication until the paper is published. Not forever. We hope this will motivate them to deal with any issues raised in the review.
We are pulling the curtain on what we all know is happening. In peer review, even the best scientific papers receive a lot of criticism and constructive comments.
Answer: If the submitted manuscript has not been published as a preprint, our default setting is to publish it to the author. But in the first 6 or 7 months, we will provide them with the option to opt out, and we will ask why. We want to understand people’s concerns, so we can try to alleviate their concerns. Our goal is not only to be creative, but to understand it and think about how our choices as publishers affect people in the scientific community. There is no doubt that this will mean the continuous development of our system.
Q: Will this shift affect your business model? eLife is currently supported by research funders including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and it also charges $2,500 for publication.
Answer: Currently, we will not change our business model. We pay some fees from the cost of processing the goods, but we also get funds from funders. This allows us to try new things in the release.
A: We are in an exciting position because we have the means, documentation, community, and support to truly achieve this goal, and understand how people use it. The people who fund us realize that the current publishing system is not good for science. Our hope is that we can make such a system work properly, and once it succeeds, it will provide fertile ground for others.
I can imagine that the early scientists of the Royal Society would participate in the creation of the first journal: if they go to 2020, everything in our world will shock and frighten them, but they will find deep comfort in scientific journals. This is a deep condemnation. We are stuck in a pattern. I think what we are doing here is a crucial step in scientific publishing.
*Correction, December 8, 3:10 pm: This story incorrectly stated that Francis Bacon was a scientist at the Royal Society.
Lila Guterman is the associate news editor of “Science” magazine, focusing on biology, chemistry and clinical research.
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Post time: Aug-16-2020