• Thu. Mar 30th, 2023

inside a journal’s quest to upend science publishing


Mar 17, 2023

Final October, the pioneering life-sciences journal eLife introduced bold modifications to its editorial practice — which some researchers applauded as reimagining the goal of a scientific journal. From 31 January this year, eLife stated, it would publish each paper it sent out for peer critique: authors would under no circumstances once more get a rejection soon after a unfavorable critique. Rather, reviewers’ reports would be published alongside the paper, collectively with a quick editorial assessment of the work’s significance and rigour. Authors could then make a decision whether or not to revise their paper to address any comments.

The alter followed an earlier selection by eLife to demand that all submissions be posted as preprints on-line. The cumulative impact was to turn eLife into a producer of public critiques and assessments about on-line study. It was “relinquishing the conventional journal part of gatekeeper”, editor-in-chief Michael Eisen explained in a press release, and “promoting the evaluation of scientists primarily based on what, rather than exactly where, they publish”.

Michael Eisen, eLife’s editor-in-chief.Credit: HHMI

The transformation sparked enthusiastic praise — and sharp criticism. Some scientists saw it as a lengthy-overdue move to empower authors. Other people, which includes some of eLife’s academic editors (who are mainly senior researchers), weren’t so pleased. They worried it would diminish the prestige of a brand they’d worked tough to construct, and some wrote privately to Eisen (in letters noticed by Nature) to say they would resign if the strategy was totally implemented. Amid the pushback, the journal postponed switching totally to its new method.

But the dispute only heightened. On 9 March, 29 eLife editors — which includes the journal’s former editor-in-chief, Randy Schekman — wrote to Damian Pattinson, executive director of the journal’s non-profit publisher, eLife Sciences Publications in Cambridge, UK, asking that Eisen be replaced “immediately”. They added that they had no self-confidence in Eisen’s leadership, since he had dismissed their issues and had not deemed compromise positions. 1 of the journal’s 5 deputy editors had currently stepped down from that leadership position, and “significant numbers” of reviewers and senior editors had been “standing prepared to resign”, they wrote.

Eisen, a Howard Hughes Health-related Institute (HHMI) investigator who performs at the University of California, Berkeley, fired back publicly on-line, tweeting on 12 March that academics had been “lobbying tough to get me fired”. He later deleted the tweet, but told Nature in an interview that “opposition to eLife’s model is driven fundamentally by potent scientists not wanting to alter a method that has benefited them and which they have sculpted to continue to reward them”. In response, Schekman and other authors stated that Eisen’s comments had been “not correct and do not reflect our reputable issues with the new model at eLife”.

Eisen says he thinks the dissent is smaller in scale. He and Pattinson say they did not dismiss issues, but consulted on modifications more than two years with editors. “We see major swathes of enthusiasm amongst the neighborhood,” Pattinson adds.

The row highlights disagreements amongst researchers about the function of journals and peer critique — and, potentially, about the future of science publishing. Some eLife editors argue that journals should really use critique to guide filtering and rejection of papers. But supporters of eLife’s modifications see advantage in stopping peer critique from serving as a prestige-gathering function, in which, by rejecting most of the manuscripts submitted to them, selective journals develop into perceived as arbiters of what perform matters. “We rely also a lot on journal titles in judging people’s perform,” Eisen says. “If we want to repair a poor method, we do have to break some eggs.”

What is a journal’s goal?

When eLife was launched in 2012 with the monetary backing of 3 potent science funders — the Maryland-primarily based HHMI, the UK Wellcome Trust and Germany’s Max Planck Society — it had the aim of becoming a non-industrial and academic-edited journal that would rival prestigious titles such as Cell, Nature and Science. In addition to becoming open access, an additional of its important innovations was a collaborative method of peer critique, exactly where referees and a handling editor go over comments collectively. The journal attracted dozens of operating scientists as editors who triage submissions, with hundreds extra scientists as reviewing editors.

eLife had its eye on larger modifications, having said that. In 2021, the journal decided to publish only papers that had been currently preprints. This meant that delays in reviewing wouldn’t hold up an author from sharing their perform. But even prior to Eisen and Pattinson joined, the journal had run a trial with extra than 300 manuscripts to test the concept of ditching rejection soon after critique. Its aim was to basically publish papers with critiques, author responses and editorial ratings. “The peer-critique method does not require to finish with a binary outcome of acceptance or rejection,” the journal wrote in a 2019 evaluation of that perform.

It was this concept that eLife instituted for all papers final October, with the addition that editors would also append a quick summary assessment of the paper — providing readers a speedy concept of its high quality and significance. “This puts energy back in the hands of the authors, who can then publish what they have, alternatively of getting to do ever extra experiments to satisfy reviewers,” says Eisen. The journal plans to charge US$two,000 for the method of arranging critique on submissions previously, its open-access publication charge was $three,000.

Some eLife editors are totally on board with the new method. “It’s the future, exactly where science is going,” says senior eLife editor Panayiota Poirazi, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Heraklion, Crete. Amongst the journal’s funders, HHMI says it totally supports the new policy. Wellcome says that it supports eLife’s publishing method, and the Max Planck Society told Nature it was nevertheless discussing the concern.

But other researchers have been openly vital from the get started. In November, 47 editors wrote privately to Eisen asking for a rethink or for extra time to experiment — probably operating the new method alongside the traditional one particular, or making a second journal in which to publish papers of much less significance. They worried about harm to the journal’s collaborative open-reviewing method, and that the high quality of papers on the eLife platform would drop. With no possibility of rejection, some authors may possibly pick to ignore reviewer comments or only superficially address them, they wrote — and that information may possibly discourage reviewers from creating detailed critiques. Responding to these issues, Eisen and Pattinson say that they haven’t noticed such challenges so far, though the project is in its early days, and that operating two systems would lower the probabilities of the new model’s good results.

Editors also argued that removing rejection-soon after-critique meant extra stress on the gatekeeping step that remains in eLife’s method — the triage point exactly where editors pick whether or not to send out a paper for critique. That step had been “opaque and topic to errors in judgment”, their letter stated, an concern that would develop into extra consequential if later unfavorable critiques could no longer lead to rejection. Editors may possibly react by becoming extra conservative and make a decision not to take a opportunity on manuscripts from much less-effectively-recognized authors. But Eisen says that, in the new method, sending a preprint for critique shouldn’t communicate something about its high quality or significance: the critiques and editorial assessments do that alternatively. The guidance that editors should really stick to when deciding what to send for critique is “can you create higher-high quality and broadly helpful public critiques of this paper?”, he says.

In some nations, hiring and promotion choices nevertheless rely heavily on journal titles in candidates’ publication lists — one thing that is unlikely to alter rapidly, the editors added in their letter. They worried that scientists there would quit sending their manuscripts to eLife. Eisen, having said that, says that problematic reliance on journal titles will continue till there is an option method, such as eLife’s.

In a additional private letter sent to Eisen in January, 30 editors stated they would resign as soon as the new policy was totally implemented.

The complete scale of the discontent is unclear. Though Eisen and Pattinson say they’ve had broad help, Axel Brunger, a structural biologist at Stanford University in California, who initiated the initial letter, says he reached out only to his colleagues in structural biology and neuroscience, and that almost all agreed to sign up. “The issues are widespread,” he says.

1 researcher who signed all 3 letters is neuroscientist Gary Westbrook at the Vollum Institute at Oregon Wellness &amp Science University in Portland. He is a vocal critic of what he sees as the monopoly that industrial journals have in science publishing, and says he signed “because I didn’t assume the new policy was realistic”. Far from assisting eLife as a non-profit, higher-high quality option, he says, he thinks the model will diminish its influence.

Reviewing preprints

The notion of reviewing preprints is catching on in the life sciences. At least two dozen preprint-refereeing initiatives of numerous sizes have been launched in the previous handful of years. The biggest (apart from eLife itself) is Evaluation Commons, launched in December 2019 by the California-primarily based non-profit organization ASAPbio and EMBO Press. The latter runs 5 journals and is aspect of the European Molecular Biology Organization in Heidelberg, Germany. As a critique-sharing collaboration involving 17 journals from six publishers, which includes eLife, Evaluation Commons utilizes EMBO Press editors to pick referees for submissions. Authors can ask Evaluation Commons to post critiques and any additional author responses on a preprint server, or they can submit their paper, with critiques and responses, to any journal. Extra than two,000 critiques of 540 articles have been run via this method.

The concept of ‘journal agnostic’ reviewing is nevertheless at proof-of-principle stage, says Bernd Pulverer, EMBO’s head of scientific publications. But he sees merit in getting each peer-reviewed preprints and traditional journals, which, he says, present “real added worth in condensing and stratifying information”.

That view is shared by Maria Leptin, president of the European Analysis Council. “If I want to find out about a new field that is not core to my personal, then I want a trustworthy supply that filters for common interest,” she says. “eLife now does its filtering upstream, in a non-transparent, unaccountable way.”

The triage stage shouldn’t be noticed as this type of filter, says Eisen. “People are employed to operating in a globe exactly where look in a journal tells you about the high quality, audience or import of a study. This is precisely what we are attempting to alter,” he says. He argues that the quick editorial summary eLife appends to its articles serve as high quality guides for readers. They grade the significance of the findings (landmark, basic, critical, beneficial, helpful) and assess the strength of their help (exceptional, compelling, convincing, strong, incomplete, inadequate).

Extra consultation?

Endocrinologist Mone Zaidi at Icahn College of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, is one particular of eLife’s 4 remaining deputy editors and has been attempting to mediate the concern. He admires Eisen’s vision, he says, “but any new, transformative alter has to be accomplished in a cautious manner, with obtain-in from the community”.

Collectively with some of his colleagues, he is attempting to persuade Eisen to slow down, to steer clear of mass resignations and to establish milestones to assess the effects the modifications would have on the lives of operating scientists. “There has to be consultation and threat-mitigation plans,” he says.

The deputy editor who stood down, cell biologist Anna Akhmanova at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, shares Zaidi’s view. She says she helped to create the new method, but stepped down as deputy editor since it was becoming pushed via also quickly. “We require evolution, not revolution — quite a few smaller, cautious measures to attempt to move the neighborhood towards what would be a much better publishing method,” she says.

Eisen says he has currently responded to issues by extending — for a quick time — the deadline for the typical reviewing method. “We anticipate items to evolve in intriguing methods as persons get started to see the positive aspects and possibilities of not generating publishing choices.”

eLife is carrying out a major and intriguing experiment, having said that it performs out,” says stem-cell biologist Fiona Watt, a former eLife deputy editor who is now EMBO’s director. “My sense as a scientist is that the publishing landscape is altering once more.”

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