PeerJ featured in a Mendelspod podcast on the ‘future of publishing’

If you missed it, last week Theral Timpson at Mendelspod interviewed PeerJ co-founder Jason Hoyt on a wide range of topics, but with a general theme of the future of scholarly communications. This included thoughts on SciHub, peer review, preprints and more.

We know that many people don’t have time to listen to podcasts (though in this case we recommend it!), so we thought it would be helpful to pull out a few of the themes that were discussed, and to answer some of the questions that the podcast generated. (Link to listen to the full-length podcast – 20 mins).

Q: There’s a lot of chatter going on (at least in some circles) about preprints coming to biology. You mentioned less than 1% of biology literature is preprinted. Are preprints really going to take over?   

Jason: No, I don’t think preprints will take over. It’s more likely that we’ll find preprints are a great complement to the peer-reviewed literature. They’ll end up co-existing. “Preprint first, then send out for peer review” has a lot of benefits over the dominant practice today of submitting for peer review first. The current practice means critical research can remain hidden for months or years. A prime use case of “preprint-first” is an emerging disease like the Zika virus; we can’t afford not to put that research out there straight away via preprints.

Q: How do preprints fit in with the peer reviewed literature at PeerJ?

Jason: We started with peer review in biology, life sciences and medicine, and last year introduced the computer science journal. The preprint system is interesting in that authors who do preprint can one-click submit to the PeerJ journals, but they can also export that data to any other peer-reviewed journal as well (~90% of journals accept preprints). We’re looking to integrate with other publishers to make that experience frictionless. It’s of course nice if authors want to submit the preprint for peer review to us, but we’re just as happy if they decide to go for peer review elsewhere.

Q: What are the next steps for preprints?

Jason: It will require two things for preprints to become adopted by a larger group: One, more education of the benefits, and two, more trust in them. Government, funding agencies, and societies have a critical role in both of those challenges, and in fact may be the only ones who can really do either.

It’s not a new idea, but for instance societies could create trust by setting up review panels for preprints. It wouldn’t matter where the preprints are published, but perhaps there is a minimal standard guaranteed by the publisher, and societies would then be open for considering preprints to review. This would be the society choosing which preprints to look at, rather than the current peer review system of author submits and the journal tries to find reviewers. Some problems of celebrity bias to work out (i.e. only reviewing preprints from known names), but the elements are there. Quite related to this are overlay journals, but again some form of trust must be instilled to create a real cultural shift in biology.

Q: Speaking of peer review, what’s in store for it in the future?

Jason: I’m no oracle, but I don’t think it will disappear in this generation. Everyone agrees there are problems with it, but you can’t say there isn’t any value to it either. It serves a purpose, but some of the problems arise when we stretch its purpose out of context. A “preprint-first” culture could solve some of the problems of peer review, where only two or three people decide on the fate of a scholarly article. And of course the rapid communication and so on.

Q: You briefly discussed SciHub at the end of the podcast. Could you elaborate more on that?

Jason: SciHub is a sign that there are problems with scholarly communication. It’s filling a need for literature, and so whether it is legal or not is the small picture question. The big picture is what are we going to do to fix scholarly comms. Open Access and preprints are a solution for articles going forward, but there is still that problem of articles locked away from the past, and Open Access is still only ~10% of today’s science. It’s up to academics to decide which way to head. At PeerJ we decided to be on the side of Open Access.

You can listen to the original podcast on Mendelspod here.

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