Preprinting not only accelerates the dissemination of science, but also enables early feedback from a broad community. Therefore, it’s no surprise that there are many innovative projects offering feedback, commentary, and peer reviews on preprints. Such feedback can range from the informal (tweets, comments, annotations, or a simple endorsement) to the formal (an editor-organized process that can provide an in-depth assessment of the manuscript leading to a formal acceptance/endorsement like in a journal). This organized, journal-independent peer review might accomplish several goals: it can provide readers with context to evaluate the paper and foster constructive review that is focused on improving the science rather than gatekeeping for a particular journal. It can also be used as a way to validate the scientific content of a preprint, supporting its value as a citable reference for the scientific literature. When preprints are submitted to a journal, journal-independent peer review can be used by editors to speed up their editorial decisions. Additionally, since 15 million hours of reviewers’ time is wasted every year in re-reviewing revised manuscripts, transparent peer review on preprints could be one way to make the entire publishing process more efficient for reviewers, authors, and editors alike.
Nevertheless, some researchers have expressed confusion about the wealth of options available. To address this, we’ve built a table to compare four services that allow authors to request journal-independent peer reviews: eLife’s Preprint Review, Peerage of Science, Peer Community In, and Review Commons from EMBO and ASAPbio. (Note that there are other services, such as the overlay journal RR:C19, that perform reviews without the authors’ request and allow the reviews to be reused.) All four of the services covered here create reviews that can be used for journal editorial decisions, and they share reviewers’ identities with journals if authors decide to submit their article to a journal. At the same time, they differ in several key areas, outlined below.
One key difference among the services is that the peer review performed by eLife’s Preprint Review, Peerage of Science and Review Commons is explicitly designed to be a first step before publication in a journal. The peer reviews performed by Peer Community In result in a formal acceptance/rejection of the preprint by Peer Community In itself but do not preclude submission to journals.
Since manuscripts reviewed by eLife’s Preprint Review are formally submitted to that journal, it does not perform journal-independent peer review like the other services do. A further difference is the number of journals that are formally participating in the projects: Peerage of Science has 70 partner journals, Review Commons has 17, and 32 journals declared being Peer Community In-friendly so far. Preprint Review does not currently have formal journal participation outside of eLife, but it can be said to provide a journal recommendation because one of the outcomes is acceptance at eLife. Peerage of Science provides authors with recommendations on which journal to submit to; Peer Community In and Review Commons do not.
Peerage of Science is the only service in our comparison that sends all submitted manuscripts for peer review. Preprint Review attempts to send all manuscripts for review but is sometimes limited by workload and availability of editors. Peer Community In only performs review if an associate editor accepts to handle the manuscript within 20 days, and Review Commons selects papers for review in consultation with an editorial board, looking for significant advancements for the field.
The services take a variety of approaches to transparency. At Preprint Review, posting the preprint and reviews is mandatory. Peer Community In posts reviews publicly and publishes a recommendation text with a DOI only if the paper is accepted by the service; otherwise they are transferred confidentially to the author. Both Peerage of Science and Review Commons allow authors to opt-in to post reviews publicly. Reviewers are named by default (though they can opt-out) when reviewing for Peer Community In, whereas the identity of reviewers is not communicated to the authors by default in the case of Review Commons, Peerage of Science, and Preprint Review.
Do you have a question about these services not answered here? What else do you want to know about journal-independent peer review? Let us know in the comments below.
We thank Damian Pattinson and Andy Collings (eLife); Janne Seppänen (Peerage of Science); Thomas Guillemaud, Denis Bourguet, Marjolaine Hamelin, and Benoit Facon (Peer Community In); and Thomas Lemberger and Bernd Pulverer (EMBO) for their input.