eLife shifting to exclusively reviewing preprints

Open-access journal is moving to a ‘publish, then review’ model that emphasises preprints and public reviews.
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eLife has announced that it is transitioning to a new ‘publish, then review’ model for science publishing, in which the journal will exclusively review preprints and its editors and reviewers will focus on producing high-quality peer reviews that will be made public alongside the preprints.

These steps advance eLife’s mission of transforming the communication of new biology and medicine research, and come amid increasing support for preprints within the life science community, including eLife authors. A recent internal analysis showed that around 70% of papers under review at eLife were already available as preprints. The organisation began trialing this system with Preprint Review – an opt-in service for reviewing preprints posted on bioRxiv, which has seen more than 250 papers reviewed since its launch in May.

Writing in an Editorial published this week in eLife, Editor-in-Chief Michael Eisen says these milestones pave the way for the restructure of research communication – moving from the traditional ‘review, then publish’ model developed in the age of the printing press to a ‘publish, then review’ model optimised for the digital age.

“The explosion of COVID-related papers on bioRxiv and medRxiv during the pandemic have highlighted the power of preprints to speed and democratise access to the latest science,” Eisen says, “but it also highlights the need for an organised system to provide feedback and scrutiny of author-published manuscripts. Our move towards a ‘publish, then review’ model is the next logical step in the evolution of science publishing. Moving forward, eLife will focus its editorial and technology development efforts on bringing this new model to life in a way that benefits authors, readers, potential readers, the broader research community and the public.”

From now, if a paper that eLife decides to send out for peer review is not already on a preprint server, the journal will post it to bioRxiv or medRxiv, as appropriate, on behalf of the authors. For the first six months, eLife will give authors with lingering concerns about posting a preprint of their work the option to opt out and explain their reasons, so the organisation can understand and try to alleviate their concerns in the future.

Secondly, eLife is refocusing its editorial processes towards transforming preprints into ‘refereed preprints’ that include a public assessment of the work prepared by the journal’s reviewers and editors. This will involve providing updated instructions for its reviewers to capture what should and should not be included in public reviews, and modifying its editorial processes to focus on the production of these reviews. “Our plan is to work closely with our editors, reviewers, authors and readers to optimise the process by which public reviews are created and their utility to the diverse audiences we hope to reach,” Eisen says.

The new policy is another step towards a long-term plan to create a system of curation around preprints that replaces journal titles as the primary indicator of a paper’s perceived quality and impact. Until such a system is in place, eLife will continue to select and publish papers in its journal as it always has.

“With the embrace of bioRxiv and medRxiv by eLife authors, we feel our community is ready for us to become the first major journal to move to only reviewing preprints,” he adds. “We are optimising peer review for this new era of scientific publishing, and we invite everyone along on the journey.”

For more information, please see the full eLife Editorial, ‘Peer Review: Implementing a "publish, then review" model of publishing’, at https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.64910.

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eLife is a non-profit organisation created by funders and led by researchers. Our mission is to accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours. We work across three major areas: publishing, technology and research culture. We aim to publish work of the highest standards and importance in all areas of biology and medicine, while exploring creative new ways to improve how research is assessed and published. We also invest in open-source technology innovation to modernise the infrastructure for science publishing and improve online tools for sharing, using and interacting with new results. eLife receives financial support and strategic guidance from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Max Planck Society and Wellcome. Learn more at https://elifesciences.org/about.

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