Thursday 20 July 2023

Spotlight on: eLife's new publishing model

This year, the judges have selected a shortlist of four for the new ALPSP Impact Award. We also invite ALPSP members to take part in the judging process before the closing date of 31 July. Vote online

The finalists will be showcased in a lightning presentation session at the ALPSP Conference on 13 September, with the winners announced at the ALPSP Conference Awards Dinner on 14 September in Manchester.

In this series, we learn more about each of the finalists.

Tell us about your organization 

eLife is an independent nonprofit inspired by research funders and led by scientists. Since our inception in 2011, our mission has been to accelerate research through publishing, technology and culture reform. To support this goal in part, we review and publish preprints in the life sciences and medicine, and are committed to improving peer review to better convey the assessments made by editors and reviewers.

What is the project/product that you have submitted for the Awards?

In January this year, we launched our new model of scientific publishing that ends binary accept/reject decisions after peer review and focuses instead on providing high-quality public reviews and assessments. The output is a Reviewed Preprint, a new form of journal article that presents the research findings alongside public peer reviews, an eLife assessment – which clearly communicates the strengths and weaknesses of a paper at a glance – and a response from the authors, if available. This new process has been designed to provide a more transparent, faster and fairer way to publish research.

Tell us a little about how it works and the team behind it

In our new model, all papers that are invited for peer review go through eLife’s usual consultative review process, led by experts in the respective field/s. The authors then receive the eLife assessment, public reviews, and confidential recommendations from the reviewers on how to improve their paper and are given the chance to provide a response. When the authors are ready, the Reviewed Preprint is posted on the eLife website, alongside the eLife assessment, public reviews and their response. They also receive a fully citable DOI link, which they can use in their funding, grant and job applications. Reviewed Preprints provide certainty of outcome to authors. They are able to include a response to the assessment and reviews with the Reviewed Preprint, and are entirely in control of what to do next; whether that’s to revise and resubmit their work, or declare the Reviewed Preprint as the final Version of Record, which is then indexed by PubMed. If they choose to revise, which can be done as many times as they wish to address concerns raised by the reviewers, the revised version is published on our website with an updated assessment and reviews. When they consider their work finished, and declare a final Version of Record, this is akin to a traditional journal article and meets the requirements outlined by funding organisations and research institutes. They can also choose to submit their Reviewed Preprint to another journal if they wish to do so. Effectively, in this new process, eLife is handing power over the publishing process to authors. 

This model has been developed over the last couple of years in collaboration with all teams at eLife. We have worked closely with our board of editors and reviewers to design and implement the system, including the controlled vocabulary used in the eLife assessments. This vocabulary has been carefully crafted so that the editors’ and reviewers’ thoughts on the merits of a paper are clearly communicated in a consistent manner for the benefit of readers. Behind the scenes, our technology teams have worked to develop a new software platform for the display and hosting of Reviewed Preprints, so that they can be updated on the same webpage for each revision, with the same umbrella DOI and links back to previous versions of the work for ease of access. The model is a truly organisation-wide effort built on input from eLife’s executive staff, editorial board, early-career advisors and many other key stakeholders.

In what ways do you think it demonstrates innovation? 

The current scientific publishing system has seen very little innovation since its inception. It can be slow and frustrating for authors, with seemingly endless rounds of review, resubmission and rejections. It is also wasteful, with academics spending time on providing peer reviews and valuable insights that are lost when a paper is rejected. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for scientists to communicate their findings more quickly, leading to a significant jump in the number of papers published on preprint servers. Our approach to publishing combines the immediacy of preprints with the scrutiny of expert peer review. An eLife Reviewed Preprint can be online within just a few weeks of the authors receiving the reviews, speeding up the process for the benefit of scientists at all stages of their careers. Additionally, displaying public reviews and an eLife assessment alongside the Reviewed Preprints helps readers to assess the research based on its own merits, rather than judging the work simply on where it is published. 

What are your plans for the future?

eLife has always supported open science practices, including preprints, for increasing access to and transparency of research. Our hope is that Reviewed Preprints one day become the norm in science and that many diverse groups of authors are able to participate in and benefit from the process. To this end, we will continue to engage with the global science community, including researchers, funders, publishers and others, about the model. We hope that many other publishers will implement a flavour of the new model for themselves, bringing the benefits of Reviewed Preprints to even wider communities of authors and readers around the world.

About the author

Damian Pattinson is Executive Director at eLife. He started his publishing career at the BMJ, before joining PLOS ONE and later Research Square, where he launched the Research Square preprint server. He holds a PhD in Neuroscience from University College London.

More information

View all eLife Reviewed Preprints:


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