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eLife switches to ‘publish, then review’ model for research

Cambridge-based eLife is moving to a new ‘publish, then review’ model for scientific research papers.

The non-profit organisation says its journal will exclusively review preprints and its editors and reviewers will focus on high-quality peer reviews that will be made public alongside the preprints.

Michael Eisen, the editor-in-chief of eLife
Michael Eisen, the editor-in-chief of eLife

It comes amid increasing use of preprints, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Editor-in-chief Michael Eisen said it represents a restructure of research communication.

“The growing popularity of preprints has enabled researchers to make their papers freely and immediately available to anyone with an internet connection,” he said.

“Many eLife authors were early adopters of preprinting, and support within our community continues to expand: a recent internal analysis showed that nearly 70 per cent of papers under review at eLife were already available on bioRxiv, medRxiv or arXiv.

“This is a major milestone. It means that for all practical purposes eLife is no longer a publisher: rather, eLife is now an organisation that reviews and certifies papers that have already been published.

“We welcome this moment, and the long-awaited opportunity it provides to replace the traditional ‘review, then publish’ model developed in the age of the printing press with a ‘publish, then review’ model optimized for the age of the internet.

A recent internal analysis by eLife, which says its mission is to transform the communication of new biology and medicine research, showed that around 70 per cent of papers under review at eLife were already available as preprints.

eLife trialled the system with Preprint Review - an opt-in service for reviewing preprints posted on bioRxiv, which has led to more than 250 papers being reviewed since it was launched in May.

Michael said: “The explosion of Covid-related papers on bioRxiv and medRxiv during the pandemic have highlighted the power of preprints to speed and democratise access to the latest science, but it also highlights the need for an organised system to provide feedback and scrutiny of author-published manuscripts.

“Our move towards a ‘publish, then review’ model is the next logical step in the evolution of science publishing.

“Moving forward, eLife will focus its editorial and technology development efforts on bringing this new model to life in a way that benefits authors, readers, potential readers, the broader research community and the public.”

eLife, based at the Westbrook Centre, said it will post any papers it is sending out for peer review to bioRxiv or medRxiv, as appropriate, on behalf of the authors if they are not already on a preprint server. For six months, authors will be offered the option to opt out and explain their reasons.

It is also refocusing its editorial processes towards transforming preprints into ‘refereed preprints’ that include a public assessment of the work prepared by the journal’s reviewers and editors.

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