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Peer Review and The Future of Publishing

The focus for this year's Peer Review Week is 'Peer Review and the Future of Publishing'. In this blog post, Senior Publishing Editor, Andrew Dunn, reflects on some of the less traditional and more forward-looking models of publication and peer review that we support.

'What do these services all have in common? They each offer an approach to the peer review process that is collaborative and aims to foster greater openness in the scholarly publishing landscape.'

The Royal Society has both developed and fostered new publishing models throughout its history. Indeed, there’s a case to be made that we effectively invented both the scientific journal and peer review as a mechanism to quality- and sense-check contributions made to the scholarly record. We don’t rest on our laurels, however, and have continued to explore new ways of working and publishing. In this blog, I’ll pick out some of the less traditional and more forward-looking models of publication and peer review that we support, and hope you’ll be encouraged to give them a go yourself!

For some time now, the Royal Society journals have encouraged the use of preprint servers and have offered ‘scoop protection’ to authors who choose to make a version of their work available before it is submitted to one of our journals. Several of our journals are integrated with the arXiv and bioRxiv servers, easing the path of submission from the preprint to the journals. This easier route to submission has helped foster experiments in ‘preprint Editors’, notably in Proceedings B and Biology Letters. Preprint Editors, sometimes working with a team of colleagues, peruse preprint servers (especially bioRxiv) to identify content that meets the selection criteria for the journal they represent and encourage the authors of those preprints to submit them to the journal. This not only helps ensure excellent and interesting research is submitted to the journal but helps to encourage authors to submit to preprint servers, as they know their work may be spotted by Editors from a prestigious and well-known journal. Involvement in the preprint Editors’ team is a benefit to participants, too, as they not only have a chance to spot cutting edge research ahead of colleagues but also foster new collaborations with colleagues, while encouraging experimentation in the scholarly publishing landscape. A blog post examining the role of preprint Editors was published last year and is worth a read. 

Review Commons
In Open Biology, we have recently begun to explore the possibility of working with Review Commons to speed up the peer review process – a key aim for scholarly publishers now and into the future, driven by the need from our authors for rapid decision timelines. It is hoped that Open Biology will become a venue for authors of the ‘Refereed Preprints’ provided by Review Commons. Authors initially submit their paper to Review Commons, where it is subject to a round of review and revision. After that, the authors may choose to submit the Refereed Preprint to a list of affiliated journals that are willing to consider the preprint and its reviews – the hope is that, in many cases, no further review will be required and a version-of-record of the paper will be published more rapidly than for papers submitted without existing peer review. Not only does this approach speed up assessment of the literature and reduce Editor and referee burnout (a growing concern), but it helps to provide credibility to preprints. 

Peer Community In
A similar approach to Review Commons has been adopted in Royal Society Open Science, but using the Peer Community In (PCI) service instead, and for a specific subset of papers. In the PCI service, ‘recommended’ preprints are peer-reviewed in the open, and may – if the authors wish to do so – be submitted after review to a list of PCI-friendly journals. Royal Society Open Science has for some time welcomed the submission of Registered Reports that have completed peer review in PCI. By opening and speeding up peer review, researchers may receive better feedback in a more timely fashion than has historically been the case with the ‘black box’ of peer review.

Registered Reports
Registered Reports are now an established format in the publishing landscape, and are increasingly commonly offered as an article type in journals outside psychology and related fields where they originated. What, then, does the format offer for the future? Firstly, the value that the community derives from Registered Reports is clear. Secondly, given the increasing buy-in of authors and growing familiarity of Editors, referees and readers with the format, there is immense scope to encourage growth. Registered Reports and pre-registration of peer-reviewed study designs could (or perhaps should) become the default for hypothesis-led research. Indeed, Registered Reports are arguably one of several changes to research culture that may not only improve the quality of research, but also reduce pressure on the community to ‘publish or perish’. Contrary to concerns from some quarters that Registered Reports stifle exciting work, our own metrics suggest that, if anything, Registered Reports over-perform in usage, Altmetric scores, and also citations relative to an ‘average’ paper in Royal Society Open Science – if nothing else should encourage you to give the format a go, this should!

The most recent development we’re proud to support is that of the Octopus publishing platform. The approach adopted by Octopus of offering eight (hence octopus) different publication types that cover the research life cycle is an exciting one. Researchers will build their projects in stages on Octopus, and others will be able to develop ideas and projects off the back of each project stage, too. Reporting the stages will be open, and peer review will also be in the open. Authors can choose to leave each published stage on Octopus, or can convert the completed projects into research papers for submission to Octopus-friendly journals (such as Royal Society Open Science, to our knowledge, the first journal to publicly announce support for Octopus). Octopus, then, has all the benefits of a preprint server and services that encourage and support review of preprints (like Review Commons and PCI), and has the support of journals that will welcome submission of previously reviewed content. This modular and open publishing model has the potential to be really ground-breaking, and we’re looking forward to seeing it develop and also change the future of scholarly publishing for the better.

What do these services all have in common? They each offer an approach to the peer review process that is collaborative and aims to foster greater openness in the scholarly publishing landscape. Together with other open science methodologies and philosophies, they have the potential to make peer review better and more accountable, whilst encouraging better and more replicable science, which isn’t focussed only on subjective and single metric measurements of ‘impact’. I hope you’ll join this journey towards a more open peer-reviewing and publishing future.

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