Publishing with eLife: An author’s experience

An author from the first revised Reviewed Preprint shares her experience of the new model and publishing with eLife.

Rebecca Jordan is a Principal Investigator at the University of Edinburgh and is co-author of ‘The locus coeruleus broadcasts prediction errors across the cortex to promote sensorimotor plasticity’. This was originally published as a Reviewed Preprint and has more recently been revised and published with eLife, accompanied by an eLife assessment and updated public reviews.

We spoke to Rebecca to ask her why she chose eLife’s new model when sharing her work, her thoughts on publishing with us, and what’s next for her research and her paper.

What area of research do you work in?

“My research is focused on understanding how the brain learns to predict the sensory world - for instance, how we learn to predict the motion of the visual scenery caused by our own movements.

I am particularly interested in how the cerebral cortex and neuromodulatory systems of mice work together to drive this type of learning, and how this learning differs in neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Can you give us an overview of your paper?

“Prediction errors are neuronal signals that tell the brain when its predictions about the world are wrong. They are thought to be learning signals, driving learning of better predictions.

In this paper we found that the central noradrenaline system (the locus coeruleus) controls this type of learning in the visual cortex of mice. Locus coeruleus axons responded whenever predictions about visual motion were violated in virtual reality, and we could drive plasticity in the visual cortex by stimulating these axons.

This means the central noradrenaline system could be a kind of alert system that enables fast learning to predict the sensory world.”

Why did you choose to submit your paper to the new model at eLife?

“I believe peer review should serve only one purpose, and that is to examine to what extent a manuscript's claims are backed up by the evidence presented. Many highly subjective factors influence opaque peer review processes at prestigious journals, like perceived impact or 'journal-worthiness'.

You can be asked for months' or even years' worth of new experiments that have little to do with improving scientific rigor, and are more aimed at extending the paper in some way.

I love the idea of handing full control over the final version to the authors, so that you can decide whether and how to respond to author comments with no threat of rejection.

As I was just starting my new lab, I particularly did not want to have my time consumed by reviewer requests that I didn't see the need for.”

How did you find the publishing process?

“It was certainly the most pleasant and constructive peer review process I have experienced so far, and that was down to receiving very reasonable reviews alongside having complete freedom over how we respond to them.

The reviewers made some good suggestions that improved the paper, which we incorporated into the revision.

There was also a suggestion for a type of experiment that we had already decided long before that we were not prepared to do, given a cost-benefit analysis. It was great to be able to publicly explain these decisions in the response to reviewers.”

Did you have any reservations about submitting through the new model?

“I did have one reservation. This was not about the nature of the new review process, which I believe to be a big step in the right direction.

However, when deciding to have the final version as a peer reviewed VoR at eLife, I had a minor concern about how the article would appear in future career evaluations, given that it may not be viewed in the same way as a traditional journal publication.

In the end, I decided that it is far more important to try something new that aims to tackle problems with the publishing system.”

Why did you choose to revise your paper and resubmit it to eLife?

“We felt that the reviews had been very constructive and had good suggestions that helped improve the paper, and we did not feel we would get a higher quality process elsewhere.

Also, having experienced the freedoms afforded by the new model, it would have been quite painful to return to a traditional process at another journal!”

Do you have any advice for people who are unsure about the new eLife model?

“People often complain about the 'hoops' they are made to jump through by reviewers in order to publish. While there are a lot of pressures to maintain the status quo in publishing, nothing will ever change if we don't grab and hold on to new systems that tackle the very problems we complain about.

After our very constructive process, I fully recommend the new model. You can always take it to a different publication venue after review - so there isn't much to lose.”

What’s next for your paper and your research?

“After the changes we made after review, we felt the paper was complete, so we have submitted it as a VoR at eLife.

In my lab, we plan to continue unravelling exactly what is computed by the brain's neuromodulatory systems, and how they contribute to learning and computation of predictions in the cerebral cortex.

In particular, we aim to comprehensively characterise the conditions under which the locus coeruleus responds, and study how this signal interacts with cortical activity patterns to drive plasticity.”

Find out more

If you’d like to publish your research in the new model or would like to know more:

You can also read the Reviewed Preprint of Rebecca’s paper ‘The locus coeruleus broadcasts prediction errors across the cortex to promote sensorimotor plasticity’, the revised Reviewed Preprint and Version of Record (VoR) on our website.


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