Academic Publisher eLife Shifting to Peer Review Model

November 17, 2022

The racket, er, field of academic journalism has needed a shakeup for quite some time. Will this be the move that does it? Science reports, “Journal Seeks to Upend Scientific Publishing by Only Reviewing—Not Accepting—Manuscripts.” The non-profit, online-only eLife hopes the change will offer readers more nuance than the traditional accept-or-reject dichotomy. The free-to-read journal used to charge writers $3000 if it accepted and published their paper. Writer Jeffrey Brainard relates:

“Under the new approach, eLife will charge authors $2000 if they accept the publisher’s offer to have a submitted manuscript undergo peer review. Regardless of whether the critiques are positive or negative, the manuscript and its associated, unsigned peer-review statements will be posted online and be free to read. If the author revises the paper to address the comments, eLife will post the new version.

Since eLife was founded in 2012, it has tried other innovations. In 2020, for example, it started to require all submitted manuscripts be published as preprints. Abandoning the ‘accept’ stamp is a logical next step, says eLife’s editor-in-chief, biologist Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley.

Eisen, who co-founded the open-access Public Library of Science journals in 2003, says the detailed critiques written by reviewers that eLife recruits are its main contribution to the scientific process. The reviews, he says, are ‘more nuanced, more informative, and more useful to the community than our thumbs-up or thumbs down publishing decision.’ He also argues that the new model will speed up a peer-review process that at other journals is often opaque and slow because it can involve multiple rounds.”

The plan is similar to a practice already put into place by open-research platform F1000Research, which allows readers to review manuscripts posted by researchers. Eisen, however, expects to offer higher quality critiques on his site. Some details are still being ironed out, including how to decide which papers to invite for review. The new policy is to be implemented in January 2023. Researchers funded by the NIH will be glad to know they can declare a reviewed manuscript the final version of record, allowing it to be indexed by the PubMed search engine (a funding requirement). Ultimately, says Eisen, the new approach will push the publisher to the background and researchers’ work to the fore. We wonder how other academic journals feel about that philosophy.

Cynthia Murrell, November 17, 2022


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