eLife announces a new publishing model aimed at revolutionizing scientific publishing
Beginning next year, the journal eLife will change its publishing model1. No longer will decisions to reject or accept papers be made following the peer review process. Instead, all papers that have been reviewed will be published on the eLife website as Reviewed Preprints, accompanied by eLife editorial assessments and public reviews. The authors will then have the opportunity to include a response and decide whether to resubmit or declare the paper to be the Version of Record.
This change is an extension of the process the journal used last year in which they exclusively reviewed articles already published as preprints and asked reviewers to prepare public reviews with comments useful to the author2. The publishers of eLife are hoping this change will become the norm in scientific publishing.
With this new publishing model, eLife aims to build on the current trend of publishing preprints early to help change the traditional peer review process3. According to eLife Executive Director Damian Pattinson, “It’s all about moving from the assessment being based on where you publish [to being] based on what you publish3.”
Overview of the new process
In brief, the five steps in the new process will be as follows1:
- Submission: eLife editors select submitted papers for review.
- Peer Review: Experts in the field review the selected papers and provide a public review and confidential feedback to the author. A publication fee is also collected from the author at this point.
- Publication: The reviewed papers are then published on the journal’s website as Reviewed Preprints, along with an eLife assessment and public reviews. These papers are then citable.
- Author Revision: Following publication, the authors decide whether or not to submit a revised copy. If revised, the papers are again reviewed and published as above.
- Version of Record: At any point during this iterative process, authors can declare that the current version of their paper is the Version of Record. Following the completion of journal requirements, papers are sent to PubMed for indexing.
A significant development in scholarly publishing
The peer review process is fundamental to scientific research. Every year, over two million articles are reviewed by experienced scientists without compensation and with minimal recognition2. However, the results of these reviews are rarely shared except with the articles’ authors. The publishers of eLife believe that the value of these reviews is being wasted. One of the consequences of the model change is that the information in the peer reviews—suggestions for improving the research—is shared publicly instead of being used only for a single accept/reject decision and can therefore be of use to other researchers.
Perhaps more importantly, however, this change is seen by eLife as a response to a growing dissatisfaction with the emphasis currently placed on where a research paper is published rather than on what is published. Journal names have become the measure of a researcher and the basis for tenure and promotion decisions. eLife believes that this system of single journals as gatekeepers and judges of research quality and hierarchy is inefficient and is counter to the current trend of opening up the publication process to earlier and easier access to research through preprints.
In an interview, the executive director of eLife stated that “a model where you actually assess and post reviews publicly—it’s a much fairer and faster and more equitable way of publishing3.”
Initial reactions from the scholarly community
Based on the comments posted on Twitter, the initial reaction from the scholarly community to this change by eLife appears mixed.
Some of the comments expressed concern that the new model lowers the value of the work of expert reviewers and allows low-quality work to be absorbed into scientific literature unnoticed. The fear is that this might lead to fewer researchers submitting papers to eLife. Many of the other negative comments were related to the potential biases in editorial decisions about whether or not to review submitted papers.
Despite being unsure about the results of the change, numerous researchers and publishing experts applauded eLife for initiating this experiment and taking some action to try to change the publishing industry, which is seen by many as needing fixing.
- eLife. eLife’s new model: Changing the way you share your research. 2022. https://elifesciences.org/inside-elife/54d63486/elife-s-new-model-changing-the-way-you-share-your-research
- eLife. Scientific publishing: Peer review without gatekeeping. 2022. https://elifesciences.org/articles/83889
- Akst, J. Q&A: Why eLife Is doing away with rejections. The Scientist. 2022. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/q-a-why-elife-is-doing-away-with-rejections-70667
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