Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Odd approach to peer review

Also in this week's C&EN, a pretty remarkable experiment from eLife (article by Katherine Sanderson): 
The life sciences journal eLife is trying out a radical approach to peer review. Rather than deciding whether to publish a paper after peer review, an editor’s decision to send a paper for peer review will be a commitment to eventually publish it. The trial is optional and aims to recruit 300 papers. In the trial, the editor and referees will agree on what they want authors to address.  
The authors can then make revisions, including more experiments; respond to criticisms; or withdraw the paper completely. The referee reports, editor’s decision letter, and authors’ response will be published alongside the final article. Reviewers can choose whether to remain anonymous.  
The aim is to give more power to authors, say eLife editors Mark Patterson and Randy Schekman in an editorial. They also hope it will strengthen the review process, with referees gaining a reputation for the advice they give. Observers welcome the trial with caution. Raghuveer Parthasarathy, a physicist from the University of Oregon, worries that journal editors sifting through initial submissions are given more power. “It may bias the system further towards flashy papers from well-connected authors,” he says.
This is a pretty interesting experiment, and it will be interesting to see if it produces anything sustainable... 


  1. Maybe I'm cynical, but I imagine the "commitment to eventually publish" will at points translate to demands for major revisions that can't be met rapidly or sitting on an editor's desk until the authors "decide" to withdraw.

  2. If a paper is terrible and it is deemed unsalvageable by the reviewers and editor, it should be rejected. Why make a commitment to "eventually" publish bad science?

  3. There are problems with peer review as is.

    This does not fix them.

    This is like saying "because we have structural damage in the basement, let's flood the top floor".

  4. This seems to give editors a lot of power rather than authors. Is that an improvement over the current system?

  5. Terrible idea. If the paper is out of the editor's expertise, they won't be able to make an informed decision one way or another.

    In an aside, this is essentially how Stang is running JACS nowadays.