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Biomedical publishing: Previous historic, current steady, future conditional

Quotation: Sever R (2023) Biomedical publishing: Previous historic, current steady, future conditional. PLoS Biol 21(10):

Printed: October 3, 2023

Copyright: © 2023 Richard Sever. That is an open entry article distributed beneath the phrases of the Inventive Commons Attribution License, which allows unrestricted use, distribution, and copy in any medium, offered the unique writer and supply are credited.

Funding: The writer(s) acquired no particular funding for this work.

Competing pursuits: I’ve learn the journal’s coverage and the authors of this manuscript have the next competing pursuits: RS is employed as Assistant Director of Chilly Spring Harbor Laboratory Press at Chilly Spring Harbor Laboratory and Co-Founding father of the preprint servers bioRxiv and medRxiv. bioRxiv and medRxiv obtain funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Chilly Spring Harbor Laboratory.

article-processing cost; ASCB,
American Society for Cell Biology; COS,
Heart for Open Science; DOI,
digital object identifier; DORA,
Declaration on Analysis Evaluation; ECR,
early profession researcher; HHMI,
Howard Hughes Medical Institute; ICMJE,
Worldwide Committee of Medical Journal Editors; LLM,
giant language mannequin; OA,
Open Entry; ORCID,
Open Researcher and Contributor ID; PI,
principal investigator; PRC,
publish-review-curate; TOP,
Transparency and Openness Promotion; WW2,
World Battle II


Speaking the outcomes and conclusions drawn from analysis is important for scientific progress. Scientists have an obligation to share stories of their work in order that the neighborhood can critique and construct on it, lengthen human data, and finally translate the findings into instruments that profit society. Journals have performed a key function in choice and distribution of analysis stories within the biomedical sciences for greater than 350 years [1]. Science publishing has change into a multibillion-dollar business that peer opinions and publishes hundreds of thousands of analysis articles annually. These articles are vital not just for communication between scientists but in addition for them to reveal their productiveness and thereby safe grants, jobs, and promotions in a hypercompetitive educational surroundings.

Right here, I evaluation the historical past of science journals, discussing how peer evaluation first emerged and later turned widespread within the late Twentieth century, the rise of the journal model, and the way publishers capitalized and tailored journals to the net world. I then describe how journals presently function and their roles in verifying, peer reviewing, and filtering submissions, earlier than discussing how publishing may very well be improved within the period of the Net. My focus is totally on when and the way articles are shared and evaluated. I contact on among the technical and monetary points, however a complete remedy of publishing infrastructure and enterprise fashions just isn’t my purpose right here. For essentially the most half, I draw examples from biomedical science however most of the ideas mentioned apply extra broadly throughout educational publishing.

Briefly, I argue that we’re at some extent the place we are able to take full benefit of the potential of the Net for science communication. It’s time to rethink the extent to which a single entity ought to be liable for disseminating and evaluating analysis. As an alternative we should always construct a extra decoupled system by which articles are first disseminated as preprints after which endure evaluation, filtering, and analysis as soon as they’re already publicly out there. Habit to journal model and Influence Issue has led us to conflate high quality, impression, and belief in analysis. We now have the chance to undertake a brand new strategy with higher belief indicators, by which judgments of an article’s deserves should not made at a single time limit. Nevertheless, we’re at a fork within the highway the place we are able to select a extra open and equitable path or one which locks articles into writer silos.

The previous historic

A timeline of some key milestones in biomedical publishing is proven in Fig 1. Up till the seventeenth century, scientific discoveries had been communicated primarily in non-public letters and monographs. The primary scientific journal—Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society [2]—was launched in 1665 by Henry Oldenburg (Journal Des Sçavans was launched earlier the identical 12 months however was broader in scope). Quite a few, usually short-lived, publications appeared over the subsequent 2 centuries, nevertheless it was within the nineteenth century that journals acquainted to readers at present began appearing, together with Nature, Science, New England Journal of Drugs, The Lancet, and the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Most of the early periodicals had been operated by scientific societies. Regardless of Oldenburg’s preliminary aspirations, they had been usually not profitable ventures and had been usually backed by the societies that ran them [3].


Fig 1. A timeline of science publishing.

The timeline reveals a number of milestones within the historical past of science publishing, together with the launch of varied journals. It isn’t supposed to be complete. The main focus is on publications within the subject of PLOS Biology however some titles in different fields are additionally included. Not proven for the sake of readability are the launch of Nature Genetics (1992, Nature’s first profitable spin-off journal), BioMed Central (2000, first Open Entry writer), F1000R (2013, first post-publication peer evaluation), and PLOS ONE (2004, first mega journal), which also needs to be thought of milestones. The timeline of implementation of exterior peer evaluation can be indicated. Refereeing was launched within the early 18th century however didn’t change into normal till the late Twentieth century. The launch of preprint servers (e.g., arXiv and bioRxiv) meant scientific articles had been once more often out there with out formal peer evaluation. Within the determine, a dotted line signifies refereeing existed, a dashed line signifies when it turned extra frequent, and a stable line signifies when it was close to common for analysis dissemination.

The mid-Twentieth century noticed a fast improve within the variety of journals, reflecting the huge enlargement in scientific analysis round World Battle II (WW2) and, more and more, business motives. Subscription income and, later, writer charges proved a extremely worthwhile enterprise mannequin. Publishers like Robert Maxwell’s Pergamon Press (later purchased by Elsevier) capitalized by cultivating teachers in several subfields as editors and launching quite a few new titles throughout the life sciences [4]. In 1850, there have been roughly 1,400 journals; come the twenty first century the quantity had risen to greater than 20,000 [5]. Journals continued to proliferate into the early twenty first century, with a sequence of mergers and acquisitions among the many massive business publishers leading to a “massive 5”—Springer Nature, Elsevier, John Wiley, Sage, and Taylor & Francis—controlling a lot of the business.

Peer evaluation revisionism

Early journals naturally wanted editors like Oldenburg to solicit and choose manuscripts. The usage of peer reviewers is typically wrongly assumed additionally to be a centuries-old normal that existed from the outset. In actual fact, the follow of consulting exterior referees was solely launched within the 18th century and it was not universally adopted till a lot later. Furthermore, the place exterior referees had been used, the purpose was usually to guard the popularity of the scientific society that printed the journal fairly than to evaluate the deserves of articles [1,6].

Peer evaluation didn’t change into normal till the latter a part of the Twentieth century. Many editors continued to deal with the vetting course of alone till after WW2. For instance, whereas a lot of discovered societies started to ship submissions to exterior referees within the late nineteenth century, Science and the Journal of the American Medical Affiliation (JAMA) didn’t routinely achieve this till after the Nineteen Fifties and Nature and The Lancet waited till the Nineteen Seventies [1,79]. A part of the explanation for bringing in exterior referees was the rising quantity of extremely specialised submissions editors needed to consider, however strain for better scientific accountability given the large improve in authorities spending seems to have been a key driver. This was additionally the purpose when the time period “peer reviewer” began to interchange “referee,” reflecting a want that selections about science be made by specialists to keep away from political interference [7].

As peer evaluation developed, it started to serve a job past merely serving to editors filter out inappropriate articles: Referees had been additionally requested to evaluate the standard of the analysis. This got here to embody analysis of each its soundness and its significance, a mix that is still controversial. Judgments concerning the significance of the analysis turned more and more essential commercially as journals competed for authors and subscribers, whereas funders, readers, and employers sought high quality filters within the face of a rising deluge of literature. The perceived status of a journal turned a key variable to which referees started to calibrate their opinions.

Model new world

Competitors amongst journals led to the emergence of formal and people rankings of titles. This helped librarians with restricted budgets make subscription decisions; extra problematically, it offered a fast and simple proxy for the standard of particular person articles in these journals. Eugene Garfield on the Institute for Scientific Info (later a part of Thomson, then Clarivate) developed essentially the most extensively used metric—the Influence Issue—within the Nineteen Seventies [10]. A ratio that approximates the imply variety of citations to qualifying articles from a two-year interval, the Influence Issue is a very inappropriate measure of the standard of any single article given the skewed distribution of citations in every journal [11]. Nonetheless, it turned an obsession inside the educational neighborhood, largely due to the often-correct perception that friends, funders, and establishments used Influence Components to evaluate particular person scientists. “Influence Issue” stays the most typical co-search time period in Google for nearly any journal, and editors often word it’s the very first thing potential authors ask about.

Notion of a journal’s high quality has in fact by no means been solely about metrics. Many titles developed reputations for the equity and diligence of their evaluations, along with authority conveyed by the teachers on their editorial boards. Thus as teachers started to view journals as a hierarchy (Fig 2), this usually correlated with Influence Issue however not all the time; a powerful model may act as an indicator of high quality independently and even within the absence of an Influence Issue (this has been notably essential for brand spanking new journals, given qualification for indexing and award of an Influence Issue can take years).


Fig 2. Journal hierarchies.

Most biologists choose the journal to which they submit primarily based on their judgment of the place a paper suits in a hierarchy of journal impression that sometimes correlates with Influence Issue. Important modifications prior to now 2 many years have been the arrival of sibling journals of status titles (b) which have in impact relegated neighborhood journals that beforehand occupied the second tier of the pyramid (a) and mega journals.

Publishers had been extremely efficient at capitalizing on journal manufacturers, finally cashing in on status titles by launching sibling journals. Nature first tried this in 1971 with the short-lived Nature New Biology, edited by Ben Lewin, and Nature Bodily Sciences. Satirically, these had been quickly shuttered amid monetary issues and worries about dilution of the model. There can be no such issues 20 years later after Nature Genetics was launched. Lewin in the meantime launched Cell in 1974, cultivating a popularity for publishing groundbreaking science—and solely science Lewin believed was groundbreaking. A publication in Cell turned one thing to crow about and shortly the place one printed appeared to matter as a lot as what one printed. This was a key step within the rise of journal manufacturers, to which the scientific neighborhood turned as addicted as they had been to Influence Components. As Nature later budded off Nature Genetics, Nature Drugs, and Nature Construction, Cell too spawned siblings like Neuron and Immunity then Molecular Cell, Developmental Cell, Most cancers Cell, and so forth. Different publishers would create equally branded portfolios, together with The Lancet, JAMA (by rebranding present titles), and BMJ. Sibling journals bolstered the mum or dad model, offered an outlet for rejected papers and diverted submissions away from the journals that beforehand occupied the second tier within the journal hierarchy (Fig 2b). Additionally they represented a key instrument for retaining authors inside a writer’s secure as on-line publishing offered a further stimulus to launch “trickle-down” journals that accepted papers rejected by the mum or dad title.

Nice margins on-line

The arrival of the Net led to main modifications in science publishing. Publishers had moved to digital composition by the Eighties however solely began publishing articles on-line within the late Nineties. As on-line publishing matured, articles had been augmented with more and more reader-friendly HTML, high-resolution pictures, films, and different supplementary materials. XML was launched because the indexing/archiving format, and the net article turned the model of report. In the meantime, authors needed to change from mailing in manuscripts to importing information through devoted on-line submission methods. Of solely a handful of extensively used submission methods, Elsevier acquired Editorial Supervisor, John Wiley acquired eJournal Press, and Clarivate acquired Manuscript Central. Market consolidation is one other theme right here.

Importantly, the Net additionally altered the economics of publishing. An in-depth dialogue of its impression is past the scope of this text, however a number of essential results are price noting. Publishers tailored the subscription mannequin to the Net very successfully, creating so-called “massive offers” or different packages that provided institutional subscribers bundles of titles. This additional strengthened the arms of huge publishers. New journals may simply be added to present offers. In the meantime, automated manufacturing processes generated economies of scale that additionally benefited massive publishers and more and more allowed them to draw scientific societies and different smaller publishing operations as shoppers.

One other consequence was the start of Open Entry (OA). Calls to reap the benefits of the Net to make articles freely out there to everybody led to a debate about whether or not this ought to be completed by merely archiving free copies of manuscripts printed in subscription journals (so-called “Inexperienced” OA) or by switching to a mannequin by which article-processing expenses (APCs) levied on authors or funders lined the price of publication in a brand new breed of “Gold” OA journals that had no paywalls. Gold OA, more and more seen as the specified resolution by some funders and business publishers [12,13], had an essential knock-on impact: it incentivized publishing extra papers, since each accepted paper may very well be monetized through an APC (for subscription journals, against this, publishing extra papers incurs further prices with out offering extra income). This in some respects offered a counterforce to the countless pursuit of Influence Issue and led to the launch of mega journals corresponding to PLOS ONE and Scientific Stories that chosen just for “sound science” fairly than significance, which many hoped would encourage individuals to guage papers primarily based on their very own deserves (or a minimum of their very own metrics) fairly than the journal by which they had been printed. A brand new technology of born-OA business publishers, together with Hindawi, MDPI, and Frontiers, additionally capitalized on the strategy, producing exceptional development lately but in addition issues concerning the integrity of their evaluation processes [14]. Many conventional publishers, in the meantime, launched much less selective Gold OA siblings alongside present titles to generate new income streams and hedge towards the lack of earnings anticipated in a transfer away from subscriptions.

Modifications within the methods researchers found papers on-line offered a further potential push to article-based analysis. Net-based instruments like PubMed and Google Scholar changed paper- and CD-ROM-based indexes and likewise decreased the form of common looking readers had carried out with paper copies. On-line search outcomes centered particular person articles fairly than journals by more and more making articles, not tables of contents or journal residence pages, the literature-entry level. Nevertheless, the truth that submissions to mega journals quickly appeared to trace their Influence Components indicated the Influence Issue habit endured [15]. In the meantime, journal manufacturers labeled particular person articles simply as successfully as complete journals, and Net domains solely served to bolster model id.

Preprints: Prehistory repeating

Maybe the best menace to writer hegemony within the on-line world was elevated use of preprints, manuscripts that haven’t (but) been peer reviewed by a journal so lack any model imprimatur. Drafts of manuscripts had all the time been shared amongst small teams of teachers, however the Net meant this might happen globally. The physics neighborhood was early to take benefit with the arXiv server, arrange in 1991 [16]. There have been a lot of makes an attempt to copy the follow in biomedical sciences, together with a proposal for an NIH initiative [17], nevertheless it solely gained traction in 2013 with the launch of the preprint server bioRxiv [18]. Preprint servers pace up dissemination by permitting readers to entry manuscripts instantly fairly than after the numerous delay attributable to peer evaluation and, as well as, have offered a easy, low-cost technique to obtain OA [19].

Whereas some have raised issues about dissemination of recent scientific outcomes with out peer evaluation, it’s essential to notice servers like arXiv, bioRxiv, chemRxiv, and medRxiv do vet submissions for inappropriate materials [16,18,20]. Their screening processes thus in some respects resemble the form of filtering scientific journals carried out for the primary few hundred years of their historical past. The truth that >70% of preprints go on to be printed in peer-reviewed journals [16,21,22] and that there are sometimes solely minor variations between the preprint and the journal model [23,24,25] ought to allay fears they preclude subsequent journal peer evaluation or result in a major deterioration within the high quality of scientific proof.

By overlaying the prices of dissemination and decoupling it from peer evaluation, preprint servers present a platform for evolution of publishing. This has prompted many stakeholders to rethink the roles of journals, how and when peer evaluation ought to happen, and maybe whether or not it ought to occur in any respect. Earlier than discussing the form of system that would emerge as a consequence, nonetheless, it’s essential first to grasp how journals presently function and the completely different roles they carry out.

The current steady

Journals play varied roles. Their formal capabilities embrace editorial analysis, varied types of content material verification, peer evaluation, textual content and determine enhancing, typesetting and content material tagging, proofing, digital object identifier (DOI) project, print and on-line publication, long-term preservation, and content material deposition (Fig 3). As soon as an article is printed, the journal is liable for updating it with any obligatory corrections and investigating any integrity points that come up. Journals additionally function discovery platforms and supply qualitative and quantitative details about the articles they publish.


Fig 3. The normal journal publication course of.

Authors undergo journals through on-line platforms, typically after a presubmission enquiry, and the journal assigns an editor to judge the paper after a sequence of administrative checks. The editor then decides whether or not to evaluation the paper, sending papers deemed worthy to specialists within the subject for evaluation (referees). If conflicting stories are obtained, the editor could search extra referees. Based mostly on the opinions, the editor decides whether or not the paper ought to be rejected, accepted, or returned for revision. Revised submissions could also be despatched again to the referees. As soon as a paper is accepted, it undergoes additional checks earlier than being processed for on-line and in some instances print publication.

Not all journals carry out all of those roles, not all do them properly, and never all of those roles are obligatory and even fascinating. Nonetheless, it’s essential to acknowledge they exist, perceive why and be cognizant of the prices concerned (Field 1) if we wish to discover how the system may very well be improved.

Field 1. The price of analysis. Defining the prices of publication will depend on what one means by “publication.” Changing submissions into HTML and XML and typesetting for PDF/print are comparatively cheap (although not as low-cost as usually imagined), as is on-line internet hosting. Prices mount, nonetheless, when individuals are concerned. High quality management in manufacturing, administration, and enhancing contain salaried employees, and a journal that performs rigorous editorial evaluation, verifies ethics, and administers peer evaluation can have per-paper prices 2 orders of magnitude larger ($103/paper) than these of a preprint server ($101/paper). We should additionally watch out to tell apart prices from expenses, as APCs could also be backed by different sources of income (e.g., philanthropy, subscriptions, APCs from different titles with decrease prices).

A number of high-quality nonprofit journals have made their prices per paper public. The EMBO Journal and PNAS estimate their prices at roughly $6,000 per printed analysis article [67,68]. eLife has prior to now produced related numbers [69]. Word that each one these journals are nonprofits, so the prices can’t be dismissed as inflated by the massive revenue margins of business publishers. In the meantime, regardless of the excessive APCs levied at Nature (>$10 Ok/article), the true per article value is far better (roughly $30 Ok/article), largely due to the employees time concerned [70]. The EMBO Journal estimate that >16 hours of employees time are required per printed paper for editorial evaluation, content material checks and administration alone, and that quantity can be larger had been manufacturing duties included [71]. Word that vital employees time can be spent on articles that aren’t printed and whose prices, a minimum of beneath a Gold OA mannequin, have to be borne by the smaller variety of papers which can be accepted.

One can argue whether or not all these prices are obligatory and/or whether or not some may very well be decreased by AI, and so forth., however we should always not fake they don’t exist. Any future imaginative and prescient for science publishing should both accommodate them someway or justify why they don’t seem to be obligatory. eLife gives an fascinating instance of 1 such technique: by now not distinguishing articles as accepted or rejected post-peer evaluation—primarily redefining the journal as a peer evaluation service [27]—complete prices might be unfold over a a lot bigger variety of articles, in addition to doubtlessly eliminating redundant rounds of peer evaluation elsewhere.

Editorial evaluation

Authors submit manuscripts to journals both unprompted or after being solicited by an editor. Previous to the Net, solicitations tended to be a function of selective journals, whose editors actively scouted for fascinating analysis at conferences and lab visits. Solicitations turned extra widespread with the arrival of e-mail and enterprise fashions that rewarded excessive quantity—to the extent that teachers at the moment are bombarded with spam invites from a spread of journals. Once more model is vital: A solicitation from Nature will sometimes be considered very in a different way from one despatched by an unknown journal, and there’s clearly a distinction between a customized invitation from an editor accustomed to the work and a type letter generated utilizing e-mail addresses scraped from the Net.

As soon as a paper is submitted, step one is an editorial choice as as to whether a paper ought to be peer reviewed or rejected with out exterior evaluation (desk rejection). The editor(s) will reject submissions which can be out of scope or report findings felt to be of inadequate curiosity or clearly flawed. That is probably essentially the most controversial step of the method. Selective journals can desk reject >50% of submissions and the share is even better for “high-impact” journals. The truth that selections on the latter are usually made by skilled editors not teachers has been a speaking level for years. I shan’t reprise the countless arguments however simply word the diploma of ire correlates with Influence Issue, so this appears extra concerning the stakes than about who’s making the choice [26]. It’s no coincidence a lot of the controversy round eLife’s choice to desert post-review settle for/reject distinctions [27] targeted on the very fact papers may nonetheless be desk rejected [28]. No matter who makes the choice, it is a vital and subjective triage step that happens very early within the lifetime of a paper and is a key step to contemplate when re-envisaging science publishing.

Peer evaluation

For papers which can be chosen for peer evaluation, within the supreme situation a journal works exhausting to search out 2 to three well-qualified reviewers whose particular areas of experience, biases, and potential conflicts of curiosity are recognized. These reviewers every commit a number of hours to offering an in depth critique of the paper that offers recommendations for potential enchancment, identifies any flaws, and assesses the significance of the advance for the sphere—there’s an ongoing debate as as to whether the reviewers ought to opine on the appropriateness of the work for the journal or go away this to the editors. An editor accustomed to the sphere then completely examines the stories obtained within the context of their very own studying of the paper, bringing in extra reviewers if obligatory and punctiliously analyzing any factors of disagreement earlier than coming to a call on whether or not the paper ought to be rejected, accepted, or returned for revision. Minor revisions sometimes contain some rewriting of the textual content, with acceptance being the anticipated final result. Main revisions are extra in depth, could require extra experiments, and acceptance just isn’t assured. In these instances, revised submissions will usually be despatched again to the reviewers for an opinion. Consultative evaluation processes by which the reviewers see one another’s stories earlier than reaching a consensus have given authors additional confidence within the course of [29], although in fact there’s a hazard of groupthink. The strategy can also restrict the much-lamented tendency for reviewers to demand main revisions with quite a few extra experiments that additional delay publication of the work.

An enormous query is how usually that supreme situation applies. It’s more and more troublesome for a lot of journals to acquire reviewers; months can go by as dozens of people are invited and decline or simply fail to answer. Determined editors could merely use people steered by the writer or automated/algorithmic alternatives and finally accept anybody who appears vaguely certified. In the meantime, the inevitable tendency of editors to depend on individuals they know skews the reviewer pool to senior teachers in Europe and america [30]. Conflicting stories are a problem for any editor and add additional subjectivity and sampling bias. Some editors have the time to completely assess areas the place the opinions of the reviewers differ, however there’s a suspicion that others merely make selections primarily based on the bulk view amongst 3 reviewers—a formulation hardly prone to fulfill statisticians. Within the worst-case situation, the method is corrupted by peer evaluation rings by which people conspire to provide one another’s papers a straightforward experience or create solely faux reviewers [31]. The existence of predatory journals by which peer evaluation is cursory or nonexistent additional underscores the conclusion that peer evaluation can’t be seen as any type of normal at a systemic degree, nonetheless, properly operated by good journals. In different phrases, given this variability, the mere label of one thing as “peer reviewed” now has little worth.

The issue manifests partly as a result of the evaluation course of is basically opaque and uncredited, with little to point to a reader how completely a paper has been evaluated. An early try to determine some type of certification for journal processes referred to as pre-SCORE was unsuccessful [32], maybe partly as a result of it was journal not article primarily based. Extra lately, the Docmaps initiative has developed a machine-readable technique to characterize the completely different steps in analysis [33]. A rising development in direction of clear evaluation by which journals publish opinions and editorial evaluations alongside articles they publish could assist [34]. Extra controversial is “open evaluation,” by which referees’ identities are public. Whereas this might in concept cut back the probability of malicious opinions by referees hiding behind anonymity, the numerous energy imbalances in academia make it possible many reviewers, notably early profession researchers (ECRs), would mood even truthful criticism for concern of later reprisals. As a consequence, open evaluation has not been extensively adopted.

Content material verification

An essential however much less extensively appreciated space the place elevated transparency about journal processes can be welcome is within the different evaluations they carry out. These embrace varied types of content material verification, corresponding to plagiarism checks, screens for picture manipulation, ethics checks, verification of knowledge deposits and writer contributions, determine correction, copy enhancing, and nomenclature standardization. The order of occasions varies: some happen earlier than editorial/peer evaluation, others solely as soon as a manuscript is provisionally accepted. It’s essential to emphasize that these processes are removed from totally automated (see, for instance, [35]). They require vital administrative time in addition to editorial oversight to make sure adherence to related tips that peer reviewers can’t be anticipated to carry out. That is notably true for scientific research, the place the Worldwide Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has outlined requirements for scientific reporting [36], together with essential procedures for cover of analysis individuals—for instance, verification of knowledgeable consent and elimination of figuring out data. Certainly, the umbrella group EQUATOR aggregates greater than 500 reporting tips for well being analysis [37]. Journal insurance policies primarily based on evolving greatest practices just like the Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) tips designed to enhance analysis reporting and reproducibility are additionally more and more frequent in primary science journals [38].

Moral tasks lengthen past prepublication checks. Journals have an ongoing obligation to replace manuscripts with any obligatory errata (corrections of writer errors) and corrigenda (corrections of writer errors). They need to additionally conduct investigations and liaise with institutional authorities in circumstances the place issues are raised which may result in full retraction of an article. These investigations can take an enormous quantity of employees time and require vital experience, underscoring the necessity for people within the course of and related prices. We also needs to contemplate the truth that as enterprise fashions shift from reader service (subscriptions) to writer service (APCs), there’s a monetary disincentive to more and more stringent vetting of content material. This has manifested most clearly within the look of predatory journals however can also have an effect on decisions accountable journals make about expensive processes corresponding to handbook picture screening that don’t profit the client immediately.

Article manufacturing

One other space the place there was strain to cut back prices is manufacturing. Biomedical scientists sometimes submit papers as Microsoft Phrase information (a minority use LaTeX). As soon as accepted, article information are transformed to a format that permits typesetting of a remaining print/PDF model and technology of XML and HTML. In the meantime, figures are transformed, sized, and linked and positioned appropriately for HTML and PDF show. The small print of the method range, and there are conflicting views on the best workflow. For our functions, nonetheless, it’s enough merely to emphasise that whereas these processes are more and more automated, they can’t be solely automated as long as teachers use present authoring instruments. Human intervention and high quality management is important, a minimum of for a subset of papers, which aren’t all the time predictable upfront. Prices rise additional if articles are copy edited or figures are redrawn, each of which contain a number of particular person hours per article. Oversight and vetting of proof corrections require additional employees time, although some high-volume journals have eradicated these steps. Additionally it is price emphasizing that films, executable code, and different novel on-line options inevitably take up additional editorial and manufacturing time.

As soon as an article is printed, the writer sometimes sends metadata to indexing providers corresponding to PubMed and, having generated a singular DOI, deposits this with a registration company. Full articles can also be despatched to long-term archiving providers corresponding to Portico and repositories corresponding to PubMed Central. As well as, the journal will replace its personal web site and use quite a lot of feeds, emails, and social media instruments to alert potential readers to the existence of the article.

Neighborhood and conflation

Journals play one other, broader function inside the scientific neighborhood: They usually function boards that assist outline and nurture specific fields. Lively editorial boards have interaction with the broader neighborhood of researchers and journals usually collaborate with teams of researchers to agree on requirements such because the TOP tips (see above) for ethics, strategies and knowledge reporting within the areas they cowl. Along with the editorial checks described above and confidence within the peer evaluation course of operated by editors acquainted to the neighborhood, this doubtlessly permits journals to perform as belief indicators to readers.

Extra generally, nonetheless, journal titles are used as high quality proxies. Many establishments have used journal Influence Components to judge and reward school, and regardless of initiatives just like the Declaration on Analysis Evaluation (DORA), many scientists suspect establishments proceed to depend on Influence Components when assessing their employees, simply not overtly. Journal model in the meantime is used as a top quality proxy in all kinds of casual evaluations when a fast and tough evaluation of a person is required—from shortlisting job candidates to choosing reviewers, seminar audio system, or award recipients. They’re additionally utilized by readers as filters to resolve what content material to browse and which papers to learn. Scientists more and more restrict the variety of journals they browse and encounter content material elsewhere solely through focused searches or different suggestions (human or algorithmic). However even then, journal title usually elements into whether or not they learn a paper and what they consider it.

The consequence has been an unlucky conflation of high quality, belief, and significance in a single parameter: the journal model. That is made worse by being primarily based on choice carried out at a single time limit by a small variety of individuals, who won’t be a consultant pattern of specialists within the subject. The problem is to ascertain a future for scholarly communication that addresses these issues and finally gives a path to higher belief indicators.

A future conditional

As I’ve described above, science publishing is presently primarily based on a late-Twentieth century, pre-Net workflow by which journals are liable for peer and editorial evaluation, content material verification, distribution, and correction, and as well as function indicators for curation and analysis. The query we should always ask ourselves now’s how this may all be greatest carried out within the period of the Net. What ought to the publishing course of appear to be, who ought to carry out every step, and the way can we construct an ecosystem that’s extra equitable and avoids a conflation of belief, high quality, and impression that could be distorting science? We at the moment are at some extent the place the thought of decoupling the completely different publishing capabilities presently carried out by journals has change into possible [3942], and this might enable us to handle these questions.

Decoupled dissemination

Decoupling of dissemination from analysis by sharing articles as preprints is now extensively—if not universally—accepted, and the COVID-19 pandemic has proven the advantages of quick availability of scientific findings to be inarguable. There’s a rising variety of nonprofit preprint servers modeled on arXiv (bioRxiv, chemRxiv, medRxiv, psyarXiv, socarXiv, and so forth.) to allow this, and the foremost company publishers all function providers that equally enable posting of submitted manuscripts earlier than finishing journal peer evaluation: Springer Nature acquired ResearchSquare; Elsevier acquired the Social Science and Analysis Community (SSRN); Taylor and Francis acquired F1000R; and John Wiley acquired Authorea. In the meantime, nearly all of journals now enable posting of preprints previous to formal publication, with a whole lot actively partnering with preprint servers to obtain submissions—see, for instance, the B2J course of operated by bioRxiv [18]. So-called “overlay journals” by which articles exist solely on the preprint server and are merely reviewed and highlighted by journals can be a logical extension of this course of however are but to be extensively launched in biomedical sciences (see Field 2; [40,43]). Alternatively, manufacturing value financial savings could also be achieved if downstream journals retrieve XML-tagged information from the preprint server (fairly than repeating the tagging course of), as eLife presently does for articles that beforehand appeared as preprints on bioRxiv and medRxiv. Publishers that function their very own servers and channel authors to remaining publication venues they function have the same monetary incentive to create XML information solely as soon as.

Greatest practices are simply starting to be established for preprints [44], and there’s some technique to go in standardizing how completely different variations of articles ought to be distinguished, cited, listed, and linked. Nonetheless, it’s now simple to ascertain a future by which the overwhelming majority of papers are first disseminated as preprints and solely afterwards endure analysis (Fig 5) and curation. For a really small variety of findings which may current a hazard to the general public—for instance, biosecurity dangers or outcomes that contradict vital public well being steerage—alternate workflows involving preregistration or extra checks could also be fascinating [45]. This underscores the necessity for accountable screening of preprints earlier than they’re made public not merely unvetted quick dissemination [20].


Fig 5. Contrasting visions of the long run.

(a) In an open ecosystem, dissemination by a preprint server (*rxiv) and analysis are decoupled, and there are a number of various choices for peer evaluation and content material verification. Content material verification might be carried out by varied actors, ensuing within the project of badges (b) that perform as belief indicators. Decoupled evaluation (R) might be carried out by journals or unbiased entities and coexists with unsolicited feedback (C). (b) Industrial lock-in against this creates a walled backyard the place all these providers are coordinated by a single publishing home and, as soon as a paper is initially captured, it’s retained and all that is still to be determined is the ultimate vacation spot inside its hierarchy of journals following both a trickle-down or bubble-up course of.

Biomedical scientists might want to modify to this new norm, as will journalists and the broader neighborhood. There is a chance to coach lay readers concerning the nature of scientific enquiry, peer evaluation, and the way scientific consensus emerges as a consequence of a number of research and self-correction. Preprints present a well timed deal with this towards the background of a rising deluge of un-peer-reviewed, peer-reviewed, and allegedly peer-reviewed materials. Once more, the COVID-19 pandemic has been illustrative. It led to unprecedented public consideration on preprints, with good journalists often noting the findings had been “not but peer reviewed.” Misinformation is clearly a priority however narratives that place preprints on the coronary heart of it are often spurious [46], and articles that carry a false imprimatur of peer evaluation and thus validity are arguably a much bigger fear.

Content material verification in a decoupled system

The phrase “publish-review-curate” (PRC) is typically used to explain how science publishing ought to function in a post-preprint world, and decoupled fashions for peer evaluation are starting to emerge (see beneath). Nevertheless, you will need to bear in mind there are types of content material verification one can’t anticipate peer reviewers or readers to carry out. We have to be cautious to not overlook the necessity for these, notably given the prevalence of picture manipulation [47], the convenience with which manuscripts might be generated computationally [48], and the emergence of paper mills fueled by a publish-or-perish tradition [49]. Checks for plagiarism, fraud, picture manipulation, adherence to related moral and topic space norms, knowledge/code availability, and different fascinating scientific practices are essential and have the potential to function key belief indicators for the scientific neighborhood and most people [50].

That is an space the place enchancment is required, since many journals do little in the way in which of content material verification and of those who do few are clear concerning the checks they carry out. A extra granular and clear strategy can be considerably higher than leaving readers to make assumptions primarily based on journal model. Project of “badges” to articles after passing particular content material checks would offer extra multidimensional indicators for human readers, and embedding such badges in article metadata can be helpful for machine studying and indexing. The Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID) scheme ( is an instance. Though presently an author-disambiguation system, it is a vital belief sign when confirmed by an writer and/or hooked up to a number of articles in several venues, and one can envisage it evolving to change into a system for id verification. Each the Heart for Open Science (COS) and the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) have developed badges for content material that characterize one other step on this course [51,52], whereas PLOS and different publishers have additionally indicated their intent to discover badging [53].

Content material checks can happen at varied phases within the life cycle of an article. Automated checks corresponding to plagiarism screening might be carried out by preprint servers previous to dissemination, and varied handbook checks are additionally fascinating at this stage. medRxiv, for instance, consists of varied ethics checks as a part of its screening course of for scientific submissions. Given the challenges preprint servers face in fast processing of giant numbers of submissions, some extra labor-intensive checks ought to be carried out downstream by journals or third-party providers. Most of the submission checklists operated by journals lend themselves to outputs of this nature. One risk is that journals may assign badges to preprints as they conclude checks on submitted papers (i.e., earlier than peer evaluation is full) in order that this data is offered earlier. Alternatively, third events could carry out these providers. Initiatives like DataSeer ( and SciScore ( are already exploring this territory. Both manner, within the PRC parlance one can think about a mix of VPRC and PVRC (the place V denotes verification) by which content material checks are carried out at varied factors and badges are sequentially added to articles to provide readers elevated confidence (see Fig 5). A taxonomy of badging would must be established for it to be helpful, and clearly there would must be some type of registration and verification of the providers themselves. An essential query is whether or not badges ought to be used solely to characterize the sorts of binary/quantitative output from content material checks or additionally embody extra subjective assessments by peer reviewers.

Peer evaluation prospects

Decoupling of peer evaluation from dissemination means now we have a possibility to rethink how peer evaluation is carried out, who ought to do it, when, and for which papers. In doing so, we also needs to ask who peer evaluation is for: authors, specialist readers, common readers, the general public, funders? The solutions could differ relying on the paper and the topic.

It’s typically argued that peer evaluation ought to be deserted solely (see, for instance, [54]) and so in a post-preprint world, readers ought to merely assess papers themselves. However we have to be sincere and admit many readers should not in a position to choose specialist content material themselves. That is more and more the case in multidisciplinary work. An oncologist, for instance, will not be sufficiently educated to evaluate a crystal construction in a paper on a tumor suppressor however nonetheless need some assurance from an skilled of its validity. Furthermore, funders and employers successfully use peer evaluation as an audit of their spending, and as work turns into of extra common or scientific curiosity, the non-specialist viewers grows. So there are stakeholders who by no means learn papers themselves however nonetheless have an curiosity in seeing that the work is vetted. That mentioned, we most likely don’t must formally peer evaluation the entire hundreds of thousands of papers written annually. Many findings are of curiosity solely to a small variety of specialists completely certified to judge the work themselves. The money and time spent organizing peer evaluation of those papers might be pointless, and a few minimal set of content material checks (see above) could also be enough. For this strategy to work, nonetheless, funders, universities, and different hiring establishments should acknowledge work that has not been formally reviewed as a authentic analysis output. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) presently does so in its investigator evaluations [55], however many different funders insist on “peer-reviewed” publications, normally with out truly defining what meaning.

The prior availability of articles as preprints permits a spectrum of evaluation actions to happen and accumulate—from casual commenting to extra organized approaches (Fig 5a). Numerous journal-independent peer evaluation initiatives that complement or substitute for journal peer evaluation are rising throughout this spectrum, from bottom-up neighborhood initiatives corresponding to PreReview to providers like Peer Neighborhood In and Overview Commons that extra carefully resemble the method carried out by journals [56]. These approaches have the potential so as to add belief indicators to papers that accumulate over time, notably for papers that don’t endure formal journal evaluation, and overlay journals could seem on this house (Field 2). Additionally they characterize a possibility for self-organizing teams of teachers to interact in peer evaluation. An instance is Biophysics Collab (, a collaboration of analysis scientists who evaluation and curate preprints in biophysics. Creating instruments for such teams to rearrange peer evaluation may assist handle among the inequity and skewing amongst those that get to take part within the course of [30]. It is necessary we guarantee their actions are each clear and discoverable. Instruments just like the bioRxiv dashboard (, Sciety (, and Early Proof Base ( already combination opinions and commentary from quite a lot of sources, however finally it will likely be essential that engines like google and indexing providers corresponding to Crossref, Net of Science, and ideally PubMed incorporate these as properly. Efficient indexing of accumulating peer opinions would pave the way in which for a extra open ecosystem by which quite a lot of completely different approaches to analysis coexist (Fig 5a).

Decoupling additionally gives a possibility to tailor peer evaluation and additional break it down. Peer evaluation as presently carried out is pretty uniform throughout completely different fields (i.e., 3 reviewers anticipated to offer unstructured written stories in 14 days). Maybe, it ought to be performed in a different way relying on the kind of analysis. For instance, ought to experimental and computational biology be reviewed in a different way, and may research reporting new instruments and methods profit from evaluation processes extra like highway testing than conventional evaluation? Equally, preregistration, and due to this fact linking to see opinions carried out earlier than the work is carried out, may very well be employed extra broadly. Whereas unlikely to be acceptable for lots of exploratory analysis, this might assist to keep away from bias in reporting of research for which a transparent prior speculation might be registered.

The place completely different types of evaluation of the identical paper are required, these may very well be separated. Statistical evaluation at some journals presently entails devoted reviewers, and this might happen on a unique timescale with the outputs out there earlier and appended as badges to preprints. We may do the identical for different points of papers requiring specialist evaluation. Extra usually, we should always contemplate distinguishing “technical” evaluation of methodology from “contextual” evaluation of the findings. This would offer a possibility to contain extra ECRs within the course of, notably on condition that they have an inclination to have extra direct expertise of recent methods than older principal investigators (PIs). ECRs specifically would additionally profit from peer evaluation being extra broadly acknowledged as a tutorial contribution in its personal proper [57]. Instruments like ORCID and Net of Science Reviewer Recognition Companies (previously referred to as Publons) can assist allow this, and it may additional incentivize open/clear peer evaluation and consequently create extra belief indicators related to papers.

Maybe the best inefficiency within the present publishing course of is the successive, redundant reviewing of papers by completely different journals, by which the peer opinions for rejected papers stay hidden and characterize hundreds of thousands of hours of misplaced scholarship. Trickle-down or bubble-up approaches that preserve manuscripts inside a writer silo are one strategy to combating this (Fig 5b). Cross-publisher approaches such because the Neuroscience Consortium by which peer opinions are handed between journals have been much less profitable [58], most likely as a consequence of technical and cultural obstacles, however there’s enthusiasm for moveable peer evaluation (see, for instance, [59]). Public posting of opinions alongside preprints in an more and more open system would assist, however we have to be aware of authors cautious of “metadata of failure” ceaselessly being related to their papers. A big benefit of reconceiving peer evaluation as an accumulation of data is that it means doubtlessly faulty judgments might be outdated and permits later evaluations to happen, thus addressing one of many biggest weaknesses of the present strategy: cementing a judgment made at a single time limit. This may very well be notably essential for analysis that’s doubtlessly actionable and/or of common curiosity. Given the prevalence of misinterpretation-based misinformation, the flexibility so as to add extra later reassessments and context may very well be very helpful.

Normalizing such a course of will likely be a cultural problem. The PubPeer service gives the obvious instance of this and presents some helpful classes [60]. Undoubtedly a helpful service, PubPeer is typically considered as controversial and authors often fail to answer criticism there. As we contemplate how ongoing evaluation, specifically corrections and retractions, ought to function as a part of a extra decoupled strategy, it will likely be essential to outline the place authors’ obligations to reply start and finish, whose challenges warrant addressing, and who’s the arbiter of this. Authors don’t all the time reply properly, and establishments have a historical past of delaying or failing to take accountability when moral points are raised about analysis carried out by their school.

Curation and analysis

Filtering of content material has the potential to be a lot improved in a decoupled system that now not depends so closely on journal model. Algorithmic suggestions primarily based on textual content and quotation evaluation are already used extensively. It’s a priority {that a} broader number of instruments should not routinely employed. Regardless of the looks of quite a few advice engines lately (Epistemic AI, Meta, Microsoft Educational, PubChase, PubCrawler, Semantic Scholar, and so forth.), many have been shuttered or failed to achieve traction, and most biologists proceed to depend on PubMed and Google Scholar. With the arrival of ChatGPT and different giant language fashions (LLMs) blurring the strains between dialog and search, it will likely be fascinating to see what function they play [61]. Extra decisions can be welcome and keep away from the biases of a single instrument changing into baked into the literature graph.

Human curation will in fact nonetheless play a job, be it through casual, trusted sources like colleagues and social networks or extra organized tertiary materials. Will this imply the return of the model or the revenge of the neighborhood? Journal entrance sections (Information & Views, Mini-Evaluations, Views, and so forth.) already play an essential function highlighting work of potential curiosity. As journals stop to be venues the place analysis itself first seems, offering context and evaluation ought to change into extra essential (a lot as newspapers are more and more venues one appears to be like to for evaluation fairly than locations one first hears about occasions). College Opinions (previously College of 1000) gives this service independently of journals [62], and the rising variety of preprints in biology could make it extra interesting since these should not already related to a journal model. PreLights is a journal-independent preprint-highlighting service which will function a mannequin [63]. Scientific societies have an enormous alternative on this house given their standing as trusted sources of experience and their membership attain. As ever, a lot of the dialogue will revolve round enterprise fashions; societies have tended to be extraordinarily danger averse prior to now.

Opinions differ on the desirability of quantitative indicators for articles, which can be utilized for each curation and analysis. Goodhart’s Legislation applies, however there’s a sturdy push to rank content material. Academia is a status financial system, and hypercompetition solely fuels inflation inside it. Citations are a extensively used metric simply integrated into search instruments and evaluations. Different article-level metrics, corresponding to downloads and social media-based measures of consideration (e.g., altmetrics), now usually seem alongside articles however there’s little signal they’re extensively used. In each instances, numbers are exhausting to check throughout disciplines, regardless of makes an attempt to normalize for this [64], and a focus just isn’t all the time a sign of high quality. There have been varied calls for brand spanking new rating methods, together with proposals akin to Yelp, Uber, eBay, or Amazon rankings. Consumer rankings have their very own points although [65], which hardly make them a very good mannequin for academia. Plaudit is one such experiment. It has been integrated by preprint servers on the Open Science Framework however has but to see broader adoption [66]. Others have proposed vote- or reputation-based approaches like Reddit or Stack Trade, nevertheless it’s exhausting to think about lively reader engagement on the dimensions wanted, notably from these whose opinions are desired, or a single system that operates throughout a number of million papers. And including reputation as an additional confounder to high quality evaluation is unlikely to assist. Finally, analysis is a matter establishments and funding businesses not publishers should handle and keep away from the pull of simple high quality proxies. Recognizing that papers are merely narratives about analysis and simply certainly one of varied analysis outputs is a vital step in the precise course some funders and hiring establishments are taking.

One remaining side of curation to contemplate is whether or not there’s a conflationary counterforce. An implicit assumption of the PRC mannequin is that (peer) evaluation and curation might be distinguished and happen in sequence. But when peer evaluation is ongoing, the road between peer evaluation and Information & Views could blur as individuals experiment with analysis. This may very well be essential when opinions of the deserves or validity of labor differ amongst specialists and/or later developments solid the work in a brand new gentle. In such instances, PRCR could also be a extra correct depiction of occasions than PRC. We have to be cautious to keep away from the knowledge of hindsight in judging people although, understanding that their logic, strategies, and conclusions could have been completely affordable given the state of data on the time.

Concluding remarks

Any imaginative and prescient for the way forward for science publishing ought to be centered on making new findings out there as quickly as potential to spur additional analysis and pace up its translation to actionable instruments and data that advantages society. Peer evaluation in its broadest sense ought to be a vital side of this course of. In recent times, nonetheless, it has too usually served as a mechanism for assigning high quality proxies to articles, as academia has successfully outsourced analysis of scientists to journals. We must always as a substitute focus efforts on methods to confirm the content material of articles and their authors and supply belief indicators for readers. Decoupling peer evaluation from dissemination will enable it to tackle completely different types, operated by completely different actors, amongst quite a lot of multidimensional indicators fairly than sustaining a single quantitative or qualitative journal-based parameter. The oft-referenced “article of the long run” we should always attempt for ought to thus be a constellation of linked net objects that embrace narrative (the article), knowledge deposited in acceptable repositories, appropriately archived code and coding environments, verification badges, and any obligatory protocols or preregistered analysis plans, amid a cloud of evaluation and analysis parts that accumulate over time.

To realize this imaginative and prescient, we should always attempt for an evolving, open ecosystem (Fig 5a) fairly than writer silos that lock in content material and assign immutable journal-based main indicators early of their lifespan (Fig 5b). Reaching such a imaginative and prescient would require concerted efforts to realize interoperability throughout infrastructure maintained by quite a few completely different teams. It would additionally take buy-in and efforts from all stakeholders. Far too usually have establishments and people lamented the state of scientific publishing whereas adopting counterproductive practices and failing to acknowledge that lots of its undesirable traits emerged due to deeper points in academia [26]. It’s greater than publishing that must be reformed.



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