A time for renewal

By Mark Patterson

HHMI, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust have extended their funding for eLife.

When I was thinking about applying to work for eLife back in 2011, the biggest attraction for me was the involvement of the three funding agencies. A new project backed by HHMI, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust had to be taken seriously.

I knew these agencies wanted to launch a journal that would challenge the status quo, and I felt that they would have a strong grasp of just what this might take – both in terms of the financial investment required and the hurdles that would need to be overcome on the way. Satisfied with the progress that we’ve achieved so far, the founders have now extended their initial funding commitment through to 2021.

Over the course of eLife’s early years, I’ve seen the initiative develop into an efficient, high-quality operation, publishing 80-90 great articles each month, and still growing. However, launching an open-access journal that would attract excellent science was only ever a starting point for eLife. The founders had much bigger ambitions, which are now encapsulated in eLife’s mission: To help scientists accelerate discovery by operating a platform for research communication that encourages and recognises the most responsible behaviours in science.

We have already made good progress towards our mission on a number of fronts. First the editors devised a peer-review process that is collaborative and efficient. In this process, the reviewers discuss their views openly with one another and in light of that discussion the editor compiles a single set of comments for the authors to address in their revision. At its best, one of the editors said: “it’s like inviting some colleagues into your office to discuss a new manuscript”. And that collegial approach is perfectly in line with our longer-term mission. Looking ahead, we will continue to monitor and experiment with the editorial process and share what we learn, and we would love to see more journals adopt this approach.

To expand the possibilities for communicating peer-reviewed findings, we have also introduced new content types like Research Advances, so that authors can add to their previously published papers. We are supporting greater reliability in science by encouraging all authors to present their work in full, with the relevant underlying data. With the same aim in mind, we are the publishing partner for the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology.

Alongside the editorial initiatives we have invested in technology development and have announced two open-source products so far: a new article viewer and a publication platform for open content. As with everything we do, our aim is to try and create tools and approaches that support not just eLife, but also any other group that is interested in exploring ways to improve research communication. With the renewed funding from our founders we will be able to continue our strong investment in the development of new products and services.

Another crucial strand of the eLife initiative is the work we do with early-career researchers. eLife’s mission is ambitious and long-term, and without the input and support of early-career researchers we will not succeed. We have an enthusiastic and talented Advisory Group of graduate students, post-docs and early group leaders to collaborate with, and we are constantly encouraged by the appetite that so many early-career researchers have for a more transparent and collaborative culture in science.

Throughout our first few years we’ve benefited from a close partnership with the founding funders, who have provided guidance and oversight of our strategic direction. Several of the initiatives that we have introduced and are currently working on had their origins in discussions with the funders or the scientists who they support. The partnership with funders remains a defining feature of eLife and so I am delighted that we can look forward to several more years of working together to push for change in the way that research findings are communicated, evaluated and used.