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Final October, the pioneering life-sciences journal eLife introduced bold adjustments to its editorial practice — which some researchers applauded as reimagining the objective of a scientific journal. From 31 January this year, eLife mentioned, it would publish every single paper it sent out for peer critique: authors would in no way once more acquire a rejection following a damaging critique. Alternatively, reviewers’ reports would be published alongside the paper, with each other with a quick editorial assessment of the work’s significance and rigour. Authors could then determine whether or not to revise their paper to address any comments.

The alter followed an earlier choice by eLife to need that all submissions be posted as preprints on the internet. The cumulative impact was to turn eLife into a producer of public evaluations and assessments about on the internet investigation. It was “relinquishing the classic journal function of gatekeeper”, editor-in-chief Michael Eisen explained in a press release, and “promoting the evaluation of scientists primarily based on what, rather than exactly where, they publish”.

Michael Eisen, eLife’s editor-in-chief.Credit: HHMI

The transformation sparked enthusiastic praise — and sharp criticism. Some scientists saw it as a lengthy-overdue move to empower authors. Other people, like some of eLife’s academic editors (who are mainly senior researchers), weren’t so delighted. They worried it would diminish the prestige of a brand they’d worked tough to create, and some wrote privately to Eisen (in letters noticed by Nature) to say they would resign if the program was totally implemented. Amid the pushback, the journal postponed switching totally to its new course of action.

But the dispute only heightened. On 9 March, 29 eLife editors — like the journal’s former editor-in-chief, Randy Schekman — wrote to Damian Pattinson, executive director of the journal’s non-profit publisher, eLife Sciences Publications in Cambridge, UK, asking that Eisen be replaced “immediately”. They added that they had no self-confidence in Eisen’s leadership, mainly because he had dismissed their issues and had not regarded compromise positions. A single of the journal’s 5 deputy editors had currently stepped down from that leadership position, and “significant numbers” of reviewers and senior editors have been “standing prepared to resign”, they wrote.

Eisen, a Howard Hughes Healthcare Institute (HHMI) investigator who operates at the University of California, Berkeley, fired back publicly on the internet, tweeting on 12 March that academics have been “lobbying tough to get me fired”. He later deleted the tweet, but told Nature in an interview that “opposition to eLife’s model is driven fundamentally by potent scientists not wanting to alter a program that has benefited them and which they have sculpted to continue to reward them”. In response, Schekman and other authors stated that Eisen’s comments have been “not correct and do not reflect our reputable issues with the new model at eLife”.

Eisen says he thinks the dissent is little in scale. He and Pattinson say they did not dismiss issues, but consulted on adjustments more than two years with editors. “We see significant swathes of enthusiasm amongst the neighborhood,” Pattinson adds.

The row highlights disagreements amongst researchers about the function of journals and peer critique — and, potentially, about the future of science publishing. Some eLife editors argue that journals must use critique to guide filtering and rejection of papers. But supporters of eLife’s adjustments see advantage in stopping peer critique from serving as a prestige-gathering function, in which, by rejecting most of the manuscripts submitted to them, selective journals turn out to be perceived as arbiters of what operate matters. “We rely also a lot on journal titles in judging people’s operate,” Eisen says. “If we want to repair a negative program, we do have to break some eggs.”

What is a journal’s objective?

When eLife was launched in 2012 with the economic backing of 3 potent science funders — the Maryland-primarily based HHMI, the UK Wellcome Trust and Germany’s Max Planck Society — it had the aim of getting a non-industrial and academic-edited journal that would rival prestigious titles such as Cell, Nature and Science. Apart from getting open access, one more of its important innovations was a collaborative program of peer critique, exactly where referees and a handling editor go over comments with each other. The journal attracted dozens of functioning scientists as editors who triage submissions, with hundreds far more scientists as reviewing editors.

eLife had its eye on larger adjustments, even so. In 2021, the journal decided to publish only papers that have been currently preprints. This meant that delays in reviewing wouldn’t hold up an author from sharing their operate. But even prior to Eisen and Pattinson joined, the journal had run a trial with far more than 300 manuscripts to test the thought of ditching rejection following critique. Its aim was to merely publish papers with evaluations, author responses and editorial ratings. “The peer-critique course of action does not want to finish with a binary outcome of acceptance or rejection,” the journal wrote in a 2019 evaluation of that operate.

It was this thought that eLife instituted for all papers final October, with the addition that editors would also append a quick summary assessment of the paper — providing readers a swift thought of its high quality and significance. “This puts energy back in the hands of the authors, who can then publish what they have, as an alternative of possessing to do ever far more experiments to satisfy reviewers,” says Eisen. The journal plans to charge US$two,000 for the course of action of arranging critique on submissions previously, its open-access publication charge was $three,000.

Some eLife editors are totally on board with the new program. “It’s the future, exactly where science is going,” says senior eLife editor Panayiota Poirazi, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Heraklion, Crete. Amongst the journal’s funders, HHMI says it totally supports the new policy. Wellcome says that it supports eLife’s publishing course of action, and the Max Planck Society told Nature it was nevertheless discussing the challenge.

But other researchers have been openly important from the start off. In November, 47 editors wrote privately to Eisen asking for a rethink or for far more time to experiment — probably operating the new program alongside the standard one particular, or generating a second journal in which to publish papers of much less significance. They worried about harm to the journal’s collaborative open-reviewing course of action, and that the high quality of papers on the eLife platform would drop. With no possibility of rejection, some authors could pick out to ignore reviewer comments or only superficially address them, they wrote — and that understanding could discourage reviewers from generating detailed critiques. Responding to these issues, Eisen and Pattinson say that they haven’t noticed such difficulties so far, while the project is in its early days, and that operating two systems would lessen the possibilities of the new model’s results.

Editors also argued that removing rejection-following-critique meant far more stress on the gatekeeping step that remains in eLife’s program — the triage point exactly where editors pick out whether or not to send out a paper for critique. That step had been “opaque and topic to errors in judgment”, their letter stated, an challenge that would turn out to be far more consequential if later damaging evaluations could no longer lead to rejection. Editors could react by becoming far more conservative and determine not to take a likelihood on manuscripts from much less-nicely-identified authors. But Eisen says that, in the new program, sending a preprint for critique shouldn’t communicate something about its high quality or value: the evaluations and editorial assessments do that as an alternative. The guidance that editors must adhere to when deciding what to send for critique is “can you create higher-high quality and broadly beneficial public evaluations of this paper?”, he says.

In some nations, hiring and promotion choices nevertheless rely heavily on journal titles in candidates’ publication lists — anything that is unlikely to alter speedily, the editors added in their letter. They worried that scientists there would cease sending their manuscripts to eLife. Eisen, even so, says that problematic reliance on journal titles will continue till there is an option program, such as eLife’s.

In a additional private letter sent to Eisen in January, 30 editors mentioned they would resign as soon as the new policy was totally implemented.

The complete scale of the discontent is unclear. While Eisen and Pattinson say they’ve had broad assistance, Axel Brunger, a structural biologist at Stanford University in California, who initiated the 1st letter, says he reached out only to his colleagues in structural biology and neuroscience, and that practically all agreed to sign up. “The issues are widespread,” he says.

A single researcher who signed all 3 letters is neuroscientist Gary Westbrook at the Vollum Institute at Oregon Overall health &amp Science University in Portland. He is a vocal critic of what he sees as the monopoly that industrial journals have in science publishing, and says he signed “because I didn’t feel the new policy was realistic”. Far from assisting eLife as a non-profit, higher-high quality option, he says, he thinks the model will diminish its effect.

Reviewing preprints

The idea of reviewing preprints is catching on in the life sciences. At least two dozen preprint-refereeing initiatives of a variety of sizes have been launched in the previous couple of years. The biggest (apart from eLife itself) is Evaluation Commons, launched in December 2019 by the California-primarily based non-profit organization ASAPbio and EMBO Press. The latter runs 5 journals and is aspect of the European Molecular Biology Organization in Heidelberg, Germany. As a critique-sharing collaboration involving 17 journals from six publishers, like eLife, Evaluation Commons makes use of EMBO Press editors to choose referees for submissions. Authors can ask Evaluation Commons to post evaluations and any additional author responses on a preprint server, or they can submit their paper, with evaluations and responses, to any journal. Extra than two,000 evaluations of 540 articles have been run by means of this program.

The thought of ‘journal agnostic’ reviewing is nevertheless at proof-of-principle stage, says Bernd Pulverer, EMBO’s head of scientific publications. But he sees merit in possessing each peer-reviewed preprints and standard journals, which, he says, supply “real added worth in condensing and stratifying information”.

That view is shared by Maria Leptin, president of the European Investigation Council. “If I want to discover about a new field that is not core to my personal, then I want a trustworthy supply that filters for basic interest,” she says. “eLife now does its filtering upstream, in a non-transparent, unaccountable way.”

The triage stage shouldn’t be noticed as this sort of filter, says Eisen. “People are employed to operating in a globe exactly where look in a journal tells you about the high quality, audience or import of a study. This is precisely what we are attempting to alter,” he says. He argues that the quick editorial summary eLife appends to its articles serve as high quality guides for readers. They grade the significance of the findings (landmark, basic, essential, worthwhile, beneficial) and assess the strength of their assistance (exceptional, compelling, convincing, strong, incomplete, inadequate).

Extra consultation?

Endocrinologist Mone Zaidi at Icahn College of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, is one particular of eLife’s 4 remaining deputy editors and has been attempting to mediate the challenge. He admires Eisen’s vision, he says, “but any new, transformative alter has to be completed in a cautious manner, with obtain-in from the community”.

With each other with some of his colleagues, he is attempting to persuade Eisen to slow down, to stay clear of mass resignations and to establish milestones to assess the effects the adjustments would have on the lives of functioning scientists. “There has to be consultation and danger-mitigation plans,” he says.

The deputy editor who stood down, cell biologist Anna Akhmanova at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, shares Zaidi’s view. She says she helped to create the new program, but stepped down as deputy editor mainly because it was getting pushed by means of also quick. “We want evolution, not revolution — lots of little, cautious actions to attempt to move the neighborhood towards what would be a improved publishing program,” she says.

Eisen says he has currently responded to issues by extending — for a quick time — the deadline for the common reviewing program. “We anticipate items to evolve in exciting techniques as persons start off to see the benefits and possibilities of not producing publishing choices.”

eLife is performing a significant and exciting experiment, even so it operates out,” says stem-cell biologist Fiona Watt, a former eLife deputy editor who is now EMBO’s director. “My sense as a scientist is that the publishing landscape is altering once more.”

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