Scholarly publishers work together to maximise efficiency during COVID-19 pandemic

27 April 2020

Scholarly publishers are working together to maximise the efficiency of peer review, ensuring that key work related to COVID-19 is reviewed and published as quickly and openly as possible.

The group of publishers and scholarly communications organisations -- initially comprising eLife, Hindawi, PeerJ, PLOS, Royal Society, F1000 Research, FAIRsharing, Outbreak Science, and PREreview -- is working on initiatives and standards to speed up the review process while ensuring rigour and reproducibility remain paramount. The group has issued an Open Letter of Intent and is launching an initiative to ensure a rapid, efficient, yet responsible review of COVID-19 content.

The initiative is asking for volunteer reviewers with suitable expertise relevant to COVID-19, from all career stages and disciplines, to add their names to a "rapid reviewer list". By doing so, these reviewers will be committing to rapid reviewing times, and upfront agreement that their reviews and identity can be shared among participating publishers and journals if submissions get rerouted for any reason.

Additionally, the group is asking all potential reviewers, whether they sign up to the rapid reviewer list or not, to help identify and highlight important and crucial COVID-19 preprints as early as possible, to optimise the limited time of expert reviewers who are subsequently invited to review the most important and promising research by a journal/platform. The more rigorous and helpful review of preprints that can occur during this time, the better for all reviewers, authors, and editors.

Alongside all of this is a persistent call for openness by default -- for the preprint, research, underlying data, models, code, materials -- to maximise reproducibility and credibility, which is especially important during this time of crisis.

Sarah Greaves, Chief Publishing Officer at Hindawi, commented that: “Many publishers have already agreed to support the Wellcome Trust and World Health Organisation (WHO) initiatives (1, 2) for COVID-19 papers. Alongside our colleagues we wanted to share that commitment with the research community. We’ve been listening to what they’ve been saying - and know that many researchers are struggling to find time for peer review and are worried that this could lead to delays in publication of research. By creating a joint call for available, relevant reviewers covering all research areas related to COVID-19 we hope to ease that burden.”

As regards review transfer, she added: “By creating portable peer review between some of our journals we can save reviewers’ time by allowing editors to use reports from another journal when making their decisions. This reduces the pressure on those reviewing and ultimately increases the speed by which peer-reviewed work can be shared more widely. Here at Hindawi we are delighted to be working with colleagues from across the industry and look forward to more journals joining this initiative.”

Claire Redhead, Executive Director of OASPA, echoed the views of the group by stating: "The importance of open access to research and data, the need for global cooperation and, importantly, the critical dependence of humanity on the scholarly community has never been more clear. The innovative steps being taken by this group of OASPA members will help to speed up the flow of verified research and help to ease the burden on the researchers working at the forefront of fields related to the pandemic. OASPA fully supports this collaborative approach between publishers, where the needs of researchers are placed front and centre, and community spirit - rather than competition - shines through."

Phil Hurst, Publisher, the Royal Society, said: “Efficient assessment of scientific research has never been more important. By working with other publishers, we aim to speed up triage and peer review to help ensure accurate research on COVID-19 is published more quickly.”

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