Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023

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

The adjust followed an earlier choice by eLife to demand that all submissions be posted as preprints on the net. The cumulative impact was to turn eLife into a producer of public evaluations and assessments about on the net study. It was “relinquishing the standard journal part 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, such as some of eLife’s academic editors (who are mainly senior researchers), weren’t so content. They worried it would diminish the prestige of a brand they’d worked difficult 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 procedure.

But the dispute only heightened. On 9 March, 29 eLife editors — such as 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, due to the fact he had dismissed their issues and had not viewed as compromise positions. One particular 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 functions at the University of California, Berkeley, fired back publicly on the net, tweeting on 12 March that academics had been “lobbying difficult 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 potent scientists not wanting to adjust 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 tiny in scale. He and Pattinson say they did not dismiss issues, but consulted on modifications more than two years with editors. “We see huge swathes of enthusiasm amongst the neighborhood,” Pattinson adds.

The row highlights disagreements amongst researchers about the function of journals and peer assessment — and, potentially, about the future of science publishing. Some eLife editors argue that journals must use assessment to guide filtering and rejection of papers. But supporters of eLife’s modifications see advantage in stopping peer assessment 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 as well substantially on journal titles in judging people’s function,” Eisen says. “If we want to repair a undesirable program, we do have to break some eggs.”

What is a journal’s objective?

When eLife was launched in 2012 with the economic backing of 3 potent science funders — the Maryland-primarily based HHMI, the UK Wellcome Trust and Germany’s Max Planck Society — it had the aim of becoming a non-industrial and academic-edited journal that would rival prestigious titles such as Cell, Nature and Science. Apart from becoming open access, one more of its crucial innovations was a collaborative program of peer assessment, exactly where referees and a handling editor talk about comments with each other. The journal attracted dozens of operating scientists as editors who triage submissions, with hundreds extra scientists as reviewing editors.

eLife had its eye on larger modifications, 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 extra than 300 manuscripts to test the notion of ditching rejection immediately after assessment. Its aim was to basically publish papers with evaluations, author responses and editorial ratings. “The peer-assessment procedure does not need to have to finish with a binary outcome of acceptance or rejection,” the journal wrote in a 2019 evaluation of that function.

It was this notion that eLife instituted for all papers final October, with the addition that editors would also append a quick summary assessment of the paper — providing readers a speedy notion of its high quality and significance. “This puts energy back in the hands of the authors, who can then publish what they have, rather of getting to do ever extra experiments to satisfy reviewers,” says Eisen. The journal plans to charge US$two,000 for the procedure of arranging assessment 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 procedure, and the Max Planck Society told Nature it was nonetheless discussing the challenge.

But other researchers have been openly crucial from the start off. In November, 47 editors wrote privately to Eisen asking for a rethink or for extra time to experiment — possibly operating the new program alongside the traditional 1, or generating a second journal in which to publish papers of much less significance. They worried about harm to the journal’s collaborative open-reviewing procedure, and that the high quality of papers on the eLife platform would drop. With no possibility of rejection, some authors may well select to ignore reviewer comments or only superficially address them, they wrote — and that know-how may well discourage reviewers from making detailed critiques. Responding to these issues, Eisen and Pattinson say that they haven’t observed such complications so far, despite the fact that the project is in its early days, and that operating two systems would cut down the probabilities of the new model’s achievement.

Editors also argued that removing rejection-immediately after-assessment meant extra stress on the gatekeeping step that remains in eLife’s program — the triage point exactly where editors select whether or not to send out a paper for assessment. That step had been “opaque and topic to errors in judgment”, their letter stated, an challenge that would grow to be extra consequential if later unfavorable evaluations could no longer lead to rejection. Editors may well react by becoming extra conservative and choose not to take a possibility on manuscripts from much less-effectively-recognized authors. But Eisen says that, in the new program, sending a preprint for assessment shouldn’t communicate something about its high quality or significance: the evaluations and editorial assessments do that rather. The guidance that editors must adhere to when deciding what to send for assessment is “can you produce higher-high quality and broadly helpful public evaluations of this paper?”, he says.

In some nations, hiring and promotion choices nonetheless rely heavily on journal titles in candidates’ publication lists — some thing that is unlikely to adjust 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. Despite the fact that 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 almost all agreed to sign up. “The issues are widespread,” he says.

One particular researcher who signed all 3 letters is neuroscientist Gary Westbrook at the Vollum Institute at Oregon Overall health &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-high quality option, he says, he thinks the model will diminish its effect.

Reviewing preprints

The idea of reviewing preprints is catching on in the life sciences. At least two dozen preprint-refereeing initiatives of a variety of 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 assessment-sharing collaboration amongst 17 journals from six publishers, such as eLife, Assessment Commons makes use of EMBO Press editors to choose referees for submissions. Authors can ask Assessment Commons to post evaluations and any additional author responses on a preprint server, or they can submit their paper, with evaluations and responses, to any journal. A lot more than two,000 evaluations of 540 articles have been run by way of this program.

The notion 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 getting each peer-reviewed preprints and traditional journals, which, he says, give “real added worth in condensing and stratifying information”.

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

The triage stage shouldn’t be observed as this type of filter, says Eisen. “People are made use of to operating in a globe exactly where look in a journal tells you about the high quality, audience or import of a study. This is precisely what we are attempting to adjust,” he says. He argues that the quick editorial summary eLife appends to its articles serve as high quality guides for readers. They grade the significance of the findings (landmark, basic, significant, precious, helpful) 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 adjust has to be completed in a cautious manner, with purchase-in from the community”.

Collectively with some of his colleagues, he is attempting to persuade Eisen to slow down, to steer clear of mass resignations and to establish milestones to assess the effects the modifications 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 due to the fact it was becoming pushed by way of as well quickly. “We need to have evolution, not revolution — lots of tiny, 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 quick time — the deadline for the normal reviewing program. “We count on items to evolve in exciting methods as persons start off to see the benefits and possibilities of not creating publishing choices.”

eLife is performing a huge and exciting experiment, nevertheless it functions 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 again.”

By Editor