March 26, 2023 3:08 pm

Final October, the pioneering life-sciences journal eLife introduced bold adjustments to its editorial practice — which some researchers applauded as reimagining the goal of a scientific journal. From 31 January this year, eLife mentioned, it would publish each paper it sent out for peer critique: authors would by no means once more get a rejection immediately after a damaging critique. Alternatively, reviewers’ reports would be published alongside the paper, with each other with a brief editorial assessment of the work’s significance and rigour. Authors could then determine whether or not to revise their paper to address any comments.

The modify followed an earlier choice by eLife to call for that all submissions be posted as preprints on the web. The cumulative impact was to turn eLife into a producer of public testimonials and assessments about on the web study. It was “relinquishing the regular journal function 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 folks, which includes some of eLife’s academic editors (who are largely senior researchers), weren’t so pleased. They worried it would diminish the prestige of a brand they’d worked really hard to create, and some wrote privately to Eisen (in letters observed by Nature) to say they would resign if the program was totally implemented. Amid the pushback, the journal postponed switching totally to its new approach.

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, mainly because he had dismissed their issues and had not regarded 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 Healthcare Institute (HHMI) investigator who operates at the University of California, Berkeley, fired back publicly on the web, tweeting on 12 March that academics had been “lobbying really hard 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 effective scientists not wanting to modify a program 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 genuine issues with the new model at eLife”.

Eisen says he thinks the dissent is little in scale. He and Pattinson say they did not dismiss issues, but consulted on adjustments 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 really should use critique to guide filtering and rejection of papers. But supporters of eLife’s adjustments 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 grow to be perceived as arbiters of what function matters. “We rely also a great deal on journal titles in judging people’s function,” Eisen says. “If we want to repair a terrible program, 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 effective science funders — the Maryland-primarily based HHMI, the UK Wellcome Trust and Germany’s Max Planck Society — it had the aim of getting a non-industrial and academic-edited journal that would rival prestigious titles such as Cell, Nature and Science. Apart from getting open access, an additional of its crucial innovations was a collaborative program of peer critique, exactly where referees and a handling editor go over comments with each other. The journal attracted dozens of operating scientists as editors who triage submissions, with hundreds much more scientists as reviewing editors.

eLife had its eye on larger adjustments, nevertheless. 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 function. But even prior to Eisen and Pattinson joined, the journal had run a trial with much more than 300 manuscripts to test the concept of ditching rejection immediately after critique. Its aim was to basically publish papers with testimonials, author responses and editorial ratings. “The peer-critique approach does not will need to finish with a binary outcome of acceptance or rejection,” the journal wrote in a 2019 evaluation of that function.

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

Some eLife editors are totally on board with the new program. “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 approach, and the Max Planck Society told Nature it was nonetheless discussing the challenge.

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 much more time to experiment — probably operating the new program alongside the standard 1, or producing a second journal in which to publish papers of significantly less significance. They worried about harm to the journal’s collaborative open-reviewing approach, and that the top 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 observed such issues so far, despite the fact that 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-immediately after-critique meant much more stress on the gatekeeping step that remains in eLife’s program — 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 challenge that would grow to be much more consequential if later damaging testimonials could no longer lead to rejection. Editors may possibly react by becoming much more conservative and determine not to take a possibility on manuscripts from significantly less-properly-identified authors. But Eisen says that, in the new program, sending a preprint for critique shouldn’t communicate something about its top quality or significance: the testimonials and editorial assessments do that as an alternative. The guidance that editors really should adhere to when deciding what to send for critique is “can you create higher-top quality and broadly valuable public testimonials of this paper?”, he says.

In some nations, hiring and promotion choices nonetheless rely heavily on journal titles in candidates’ publication lists — anything that is unlikely to modify speedily, the editors added in their letter. They worried that scientists there would cease sending their manuscripts to eLife. Eisen, nevertheless, says that problematic reliance on journal titles will continue till there is an option program, such as eLife’s.

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

The complete scale of the discontent is unclear. Even though Eisen and Pattinson say they’ve had broad assistance, Axel Brunger, a structural biologist at Stanford University in California, who initiated the 1st letter, says he reached out only to his colleagues in structural biology and neuroscience, and that practically 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 believe the new policy was realistic”. Far from assisting eLife as a non-profit, higher-top quality option, he says, he thinks the model will diminish its effect.

Reviewing preprints

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

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

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

The triage stage shouldn’t be observed as this sort of filter, says Eisen. “People are utilised to operating in a planet exactly where look in a journal tells you about the top quality, audience or import of a study. This is precisely what we are attempting to modify,” he says. He argues that the brief editorial summary eLife appends to its articles serve as top quality guides for readers. They grade the significance of the findings (landmark, basic, crucial, useful, valuable) and assess the strength of their assistance (exceptional, compelling, convincing, strong, incomplete, inadequate).

A lot more consultation?

Endocrinologist Mone Zaidi at Icahn College of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, is 1 of eLife’s 4 remaining deputy editors and has been attempting to mediate the challenge. He admires Eisen’s vision, he says, “but any new, transformative modify has to be completed in a cautious manner, with acquire-in from the community”.

With each other with some of his colleagues, he is attempting to persuade Eisen to slow down, to prevent mass resignations and to establish milestones to assess the effects the adjustments would have on the lives of operating scientists. “There has to be consultation and danger-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 program, but stepped down as deputy editor mainly because it was getting pushed by means of also speedy. “We will need evolution, not revolution — numerous little, cautious methods to attempt to move the neighborhood towards what would be a superior publishing program,” she says.

Eisen says he has currently responded to issues by extending — for a brief time — the deadline for the normal reviewing program. “We anticipate points to evolve in exciting methods as men and women get started to see the benefits and possibilities of not producing publishing choices.”

eLife is carrying out a major and exciting experiment, nevertheless it operates 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.”

Leave a Reply