An open-access bioscience journal is to commit to publishing all articles that it accepts for peer review, in a radical trial.
eLife said that it would test the approach in an experiment involving 300 papers, with the goal of giving authors greater control of the publication process.
Non-profit eLife currently invites about 30 per cent of submitted articles for full peer review and ultimately accepts about half of these at the end of this process.
Under the new process, however, each initial submission will be assessed by one or more senior editors and, once they have decided to invite it to go through peer review, eLife will be committed to publishing the paper, alongside a decision letter, the review reports, and an author response, as well as a statement from an editor on the process.
The final decision on whether to publish will lie with the author, who might choose to withdraw the paper if serious flaws are revealed during peer review.
The experiment is seen as a way of removing the gatekeeping role played by peer reviewers who are, in effect, rival authors.
But it has raised concerns that eLife’s rejection rate will rise even higher, if the initial decision stage becomes more selective, and that the articles identified by peer reviewers as having serious flaws could still go on to be published.
eLife, which was set up with funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust, says that the new approach, if adopted more widely, could stop journal names being seen as proxies for the possible quality of articles. Instead, periodicals could be “a venue for the critical and transparent evaluation of work that is judged to be making important claims for a field”, says an article by editor-in-chief Randy Schekman and executive director Mark Patterson.
The pair argue that the experiment could foster a more “constructive dialogue” between academics, with reviewers required to provide high-quality comments for publication and authors incentivised to offer robust responses.
Dr Patterson told Times Higher Education that a number of authors signed up within days of the trial being launched on 26 June.
“The way in which journals work is going through a transition,” he said. “This trial…is a way of exploring new approaches and introducing changes that we think people will be comfortable trying – to see how effective and popular it is.
“It certainly gives more control to authors,” Dr Patterson continued. “It will be up to them to decide how to respond to the advice and comments presented to them, but what comes with that is greater accountability.”
Dr Patterson acknowledged the potential concerns raised by the new approach, but said that this was why the trial was being conducted.
“One of the things that we will look at is how does this change the initial decision step,” he said. “It’s possible that the editors might become more cautious because they know the work will be published, but we don’t know. They could, of course, become less cautious as time goes on and they get more experience of the process – if the outcome is good.
“The important thing is that we set it up, see the results and see what we can learn.”