Final October, the pioneering life-sciences journal eLife launched daring modifications to its editorial follow — which some researchers applauded as reimagining the aim of a scientific journal. From 31 January this yr, eLife stated, it could publish each paper it despatched out for peer assessment: authors would by no means once more obtain a rejection after a detrimental assessment. As an alternative, reviewers’ experiences could be revealed alongside the paper, along with a brief editorial evaluation of the work’s significance and rigour. Authors may then resolve whether or not to revise their paper to handle any feedback.
The change adopted an earlier determination by eLife to require that every one submissions be posted as preprints on-line. The cumulative impact was to show eLife right into a producer of public opinions and assessments about on-line analysis. It was “relinquishing the standard journal function of gatekeeper”, editor-in-chief Michael Eisen defined in a press launch, and “selling the analysis of scientists based mostly on what, fairly than the place, they publish”.
The transformation sparked enthusiastic reward — and sharp criticism. Some scientists noticed it as a long-overdue transfer to empower authors. Others, together with a few of eLife’s educational editors (who’re principally senior researchers), weren’t so blissful. They anxious it could diminish the status of a model they’d labored exhausting to construct, and a few wrote privately to Eisen (in letters seen by Nature) to say they’d resign if the plan was absolutely applied. Amid the pushback, the journal postponed switching absolutely to its new course of.
However the dispute solely heightened. On 9 March, 29 eLife editors — together with the journal’s former editor-in-chief, Randy Schekman — wrote to Damian Pattinson, government director of the journal’s non-profit writer, eLife Sciences Publications in Cambridge, UK, asking that Eisen get replaced “instantly”. They added that they’d no confidence in Eisen’s management, as a result of he had dismissed their issues and had not thought-about compromise positions. One of many journal’s 5 deputy editors had already stepped down from that management place, and “vital numbers” of reviewers and senior editors had been “standing able to resign”, they wrote.
Eisen, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator who works on the College of California, Berkeley, fired again publicly on-line, tweeting on 12 March that lecturers had been “lobbying exhausting to get me fired”. He later deleted the tweet, however instructed Nature in an interview that “opposition to eLife’s mannequin is pushed essentially by highly effective scientists not wanting to alter a system that has benefited them and which they’ve sculpted to proceed to reward them”. In response, Schekman and different authors said that Eisen’s feedback had been “not true and don’t replicate our reputable issues with the brand new mannequin at eLife”.
Eisen says he thinks the dissent is small in scale. He and Pattinson say they didn’t dismiss issues, however consulted on modifications over two years with editors. “We see massive swathes of enthusiasm among the many neighborhood,” Pattinson provides.
The row highlights disagreements amongst researchers in regards to the operate of journals and peer assessment — and, doubtlessly, about the way forward for science publishing. Some eLife editors argue that journals ought to use assessment to information filtering and rejection of papers. However supporters of eLife’s modifications see profit in stopping peer assessment from serving as a prestige-gathering operate, through which, by rejecting many of the manuscripts submitted to them, selective journals turn out to be perceived as arbiters of what work issues. “We rely an excessive amount of on journal titles in judging individuals’s work,” Eisen says. “If we need to repair a nasty system, we do have to interrupt some eggs.”
What’s a journal’s function?
When eLife was launched in 2012 with the monetary backing of three highly effective science funders — the Maryland-based HHMI, the UK Wellcome Belief and Germany’s Max Planck Society — it had the intention of being a non-commercial and academic-edited journal that might rival prestigious titles equivalent to Cell, Nature and Science. In addition to being open entry, one other of its key improvements was a collaborative system of peer assessment, the place referees and a dealing with editor focus on feedback collectively. The journal attracted dozens of working scientists as editors who triage submissions, with a whole bunch extra scientists as reviewing editors.
Open-access journal eLife proclaims ‘preprint first’ publishing mannequin
eLife had its eye on greater modifications, nonetheless. In 2021, the journal determined to publish solely papers that had been already preprints. This meant that delays in reviewing wouldn’t maintain up an writer from sharing their work. However even earlier than Eisen and Pattinson joined, the journal had run a trial with greater than 300 manuscripts to check the concept of ditching rejection after assessment. Its intention was to easily publish papers with opinions, writer responses and editorial scores. “The peer-review course of doesn’t want to finish with a binary end result of acceptance or rejection,” the journal wrote in a 2019 evaluation of that work.
It was this concept that eLife instituted for all papers final October, with the addition that editors would additionally append a brief abstract evaluation of the paper — giving readers a fast concept of its high quality and significance. “This places energy again within the fingers of the authors, who can then publish what they’ve, as an alternative of getting to do ever extra experiments to fulfill reviewers,” says Eisen. The journal plans to cost US$2,000 for the method of arranging assessment on submissions; beforehand, its open-access publication price was $3,000.
Some eLife editors are absolutely on board with the brand new system. “It’s the long run, the place science goes,” says senior eLife editor Panayiota Poirazi, a neuroscientist on the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Heraklion, Crete. Among the many journal’s funders, HHMI says it absolutely helps the brand new coverage. Wellcome says that it helps eLife’s publishing course of, and the Max Planck Society instructed Nature it was nonetheless discussing the difficulty.
However different researchers have been overtly important from the beginning. In November, 47 editors wrote privately to Eisen asking for a rethink or for extra time to experiment — maybe working the brand new system alongside the standard one, or making a second journal through which to publish papers of much less significance. They anxious about hurt to the journal’s collaborative open-reviewing course of, and that the standard of papers on the eLife platform would drop. With no risk of rejection, some authors would possibly select to disregard reviewer feedback or solely superficially deal with them, they wrote — and that data would possibly discourage reviewers from producing detailed critiques. Responding to those issues, Eisen and Pattinson say that they haven’t seen such issues to date, though the venture is in its early days, and that working two techniques would cut back the probabilities of the brand new mannequin’s success.
Editors additionally argued that eradicating rejection-after-review meant extra strain on the gatekeeping step that is still in eLife’s system — the triage level the place editors select whether or not to ship out a paper for assessment. That step had been “opaque and topic to errors in judgment”, their letter said, a problem that might turn out to be extra consequential if later detrimental opinions may now not result in rejection. Editors would possibly react by changing into extra conservative and resolve to not take an opportunity on manuscripts from less-well-known authors. However Eisen says that, within the new system, sending a preprint for assessment shouldn’t talk something about its high quality or significance: the opinions and editorial assessments do this as an alternative. The steering that editors ought to observe when deciding what to ship for assessment is “are you able to generate high-quality and broadly helpful public opinions of this paper?”, he says.
Will the pandemic completely alter scientific publishing?
In some nations, hiring and promotion selections nonetheless rely closely on journal titles in candidates’ publication lists — one thing that’s unlikely to alter rapidly, the editors added of their letter. They anxious that scientists there would cease sending their manuscripts to eLife. Eisen, nonetheless, says that problematic reliance on journal titles will proceed till there’s an alternate system, equivalent to eLife’s.
In an additional personal letter despatched to Eisen in January, 30 editors stated they’d resign as soon as the brand new coverage was absolutely applied.
The total scale of the discontent is unclear. Though Eisen and Pattinson say they’ve had broad help, Axel Brunger, a structural biologist at Stanford College in California, who initiated the primary letter, says he reached out solely to his colleagues in structural biology and neuroscience, and that almost all agreed to enroll. “The issues are widespread,” he says.
One researcher who signed all three letters is neuroscientist Gary Westbrook on the Vollum Institute at Oregon Well being & Science College in Portland. He’s a vocal critic of what he sees because the monopoly that industrial journals have in science publishing, and says he signed “as a result of I didn’t suppose the brand new coverage was life like”. Removed from serving to eLife as a non-profit, high-quality different, he says, he thinks the mannequin will diminish its influence.
The idea of reviewing preprints is catching on within the life sciences. No less than two dozen preprint-refereeing initiatives of varied sizes have been launched previously few years. The biggest (aside from eLife itself) is Overview Commons, launched in December 2019 by the California-based non-profit group ASAPbio and EMBO Press. The latter runs 5 journals and is a part of the European Molecular Biology Group in Heidelberg, Germany. As a review-sharing collaboration between 17 journals from 6 publishers, together with eLife, Overview Commons makes use of EMBO Press editors to pick out referees for submissions. Authors can ask Overview Commons to publish opinions and any additional writer responses on a preprint server, or they’ll submit their paper, with opinions and responses, to any journal. Greater than 2,000 opinions of 540 articles have been run by this method.
The thought of ‘journal agnostic’ reviewing remains to be at proof-of-principle stage, says Bernd Pulverer, EMBO’s head of scientific publications. However he sees advantage in having each peer-reviewed preprints and traditional journals, which, he says, present “actual added worth in condensing and stratifying info”.
That view is shared by Maria Leptin, president of the European Analysis Council. “If I need to find out about a brand new subject that’s not core to my very own, then I desire a reliable supply that filters for common curiosity,” she says. “eLife now does its filtering upstream, in a non-transparent, unaccountable approach.”
The triage stage shouldn’t be seen as this sort of filter, says Eisen. “Persons are used to working in a world the place look in a journal tells you in regards to the high quality, viewers or import of a examine. That is exactly what we are attempting to alter,” he says. He argues that the brief editorial abstract eLife appends to its articles function high quality guides for readers. They grade the importance of the findings (landmark, basic, vital, helpful, helpful) and assess the power of their help (distinctive, compelling, convincing, stable, incomplete, insufficient).
Endocrinologist Mone Zaidi at Icahn College of Medication at Mount Sinai, New York Metropolis, is one in every of eLife’s 4 remaining deputy editors and has been attempting to mediate the difficulty. He admires Eisen’s imaginative and prescient, he says, “however any new, transformative change needs to be finished in a cautious method, with buy-in from the neighborhood”.
Along with a few of his colleagues, he’s attempting to steer Eisen to decelerate, to keep away from mass resignations and to ascertain milestones to evaluate the results the modifications would have on the lives of working scientists. “There needs to be session and risk-mitigation plans,” he says.
The deputy editor who stood down, cell biologist Anna Akhmanova on the College of Utrecht within the Netherlands, shares Zaidi’s view. She says she helped to develop the brand new system, however stepped down as deputy editor as a result of it was being pushed by too quick. “We’d like evolution, not revolution — many small, cautious steps to attempt to transfer the neighborhood in direction of what could be a greater publishing system,” she says.
Eisen says he has already responded to issues by extending — for a short while — the deadline for the common reviewing system. “We anticipate issues to evolve in fascinating methods as individuals begin to see the benefits and alternatives of not making publishing selections.”
“eLife is doing a giant and fascinating experiment, nonetheless it really works out,” says stem-cell biologist Fiona Watt, a former eLife deputy editor who’s now EMBO’s director. “My sense as a scientist is that the publishing panorama is altering once more.”
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