Despite technological advances, the time and amount of data required to publish scientific results in journals has increased. The lengthy process of peer review is contributing significantly to that timeline. One of the ways in which this issue can be improved is preprint peer-review, which has been becoming more popular in recent years with new initiatives and platforms working to make it a more common practice among scientists.
During our September Community Call, we heard from two publishers, eLife and PLOS Biology, about their experiences with preprint peer review models.
The first speaker, Fiona Hutton, Head of Publishing at eLife, discussed eLife’s new publishing model. Fiona started by introducing problems with the current publishing system. Apart from being slow, the publishing system is undervaluing academics’ time and doesn’t give authors control over their work by requiring them to perform the work requested by the reviewer, which can often take months to complete or require multiple revisions, thus delaying the publication. She also pointed out that the current system gives higher value to where the article was published than the content of the article itself.
Fiona contrasted this with eLife’s new model. In this model, the submission of a manuscript is followed by the editor’s decision whether to send the article for review. Following review, reviewers, and editors consult with each other and reach a consensus, which is published as eLife’s assessment. The eLife assessment comments on the significance of the findings and the strength of the evidence. Before the reviews are published, authors are given a chance to address them. At this point, authors can revise the manuscript based on reviewers’ comments (most authors follow this route) or leave it unchanged. Whatever the decision is, eLife publishes the manuscript with the assessment as a Reviewed Preprint.
Fiona emphasized the benefits of the eLife model. The process is much faster, and it takes 1-3 months. The average time from submission to publication of the Reviewed Preprint is 79 days compared to 170 days in the previous eLife model. The process is transparent, with detailed assessments, comments, and all manuscript versions publicly available. Authors also have more control over the process. They can publicly respond to reviewers’ comments and decide whether they want to revise the manuscript.
When the model was presented to the public, it gained much attention, both criticism and praise. After several months since its implementation, submissions are steadily increasing, showing that there is an interest and authors see value in Reviwed Preprints.
Our second speaker was Nonia Pariente, Editor in Chief at PLOS Biology.
Nonia started by reminding the audience about the objective of PLOS to increase the adoption of open science practices among the PLOS authors and beyond. One of the Open Science practices is the adoption of preprints.
Nonia emphasized that PLOS was always supportive of receiving submissions that were preprinted and one of the early adopters of the bioRxiv to Journal and Journal to bioRxiv workflow, and is a supporter of meta-research on preprints.
PLOS’s commitment to preprints is also supported by its collaboration with preprint peer review platforms such as Review Commons and Peer Community In. Review Commons is a journal-independent preprint peer-review platform. When authors decide to submit to Review Commons, their preprints are peer-reviewed by reviewers selected by Review Commons. The preprint and reviews are then posted on bioRxiv. Authors can decide to send their manuscript with the reviews and their response with a revised version or a revision plan to any journal that is part of the Reviews Commons network, which includes PLOS journals.
Nonia presented data from this collaboration. PLOS received 526 submissions through Review Commons, and have published over 200 papers, with PLOS Biology being the most popular among PLOS journals. She also noted that 70% of submissions (90% for PLOS Biology) don’t require additional reviewers, and papers received through Review Commons have shortened publication time by around 30%.
PLOS also works with Peer Community In. The collaboration between PLOS and PCI is similar to the collaboration with Review Commons. However, so far, PLOS has received fewer manuscripts through PCI. When a preprint is sent to Peer Community In, it is reviewed and recommended by the PCI’s specific topic community. Authors can then send it to a PCI-friendly journal such as PLOS. At the end of the presentation, Nonia emphasized her support for Publish Your Reviews, an ASAPbio initiative encouraging reviewers to publish their reviews publicly alongside the preprint. She believes there is a lot of effort wasted during peer review, and if somebody wrote a peer review, they own it and can publish it.
The talks were followed by a discussion about preprints, peer review, and the future of scientific publishing.
We would like to thank our speakers and all the event participants. If you would like to learn more, but couldn’t attend the event, follow the link below to watch the recording.