Rethinking Sound Science

by | Aug 12, 2021 | Community, Company News

In response to feedback from the communities who publish with us, we are introducing new pre-review evaluation to relieve congestion of peer review and provide a better service to authors, our Editorial Boards and reviewers.

Since our launch, PeerJ has worked towards the goal of publishing all “Sound Science”, as cost effectively as possible, for the benefit of the scientific community and society. As a result we have, until now, evaluated articles based only on an objective determination of scientific and methodological soundness, not on subjective determinations of impact, novelty or interest.

At the same time, at the core of our mission has been a promise to give researchers more influence over the publishing process and to listen to community feedback over how peer review  should work and how research should be assessed.

In recent months we have been thinking long and hard about feedback, from both our Editorial Board and Reviewers, that certain articles should no longer be considered as valid candidates for peer review or formal publication: that whilst the science they present may be “sound”, it is not of enough value to either the scientific record, the scientific community, or society, to justify being peer-reviewed or be considered for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Our Editorial Board Members have asked us that we do our best to identify such submissions before they enter peer review.

As a result, we have been working with key stakeholders to develop new ways to evaluate submissions and are introducing new pre-review evaluation criteria, which we will initially apply to papers submitted to our new Medical Sections, followed soon after by all subject areas. These evaluation criteria will define clearer standards for the requirements of certain types of articles in those areas. For example, bioinformatic analyses of already published data sets will need to meet more stringent reporting and data analysis requirements, and will need to clearly demonstrate that they are addressing a meaningful knowledge gap in the literature.

At some level, of course, this means that PeerJ is moving away from the concept of peer reviewing all sound science. To be absolutely clear, this does not mean we have an intention of becoming a highly-selective “glamour” journal publisher that publishes only the most novel breakthroughs. It also does not mean that we will stop publishing negative or null results. However, the feedback we have received is that the definition of what constitutes a valid candidate for publication needs to evolve.

We are being influenced by the researchers who peer review our research articles. We have heard from so many of our editorial board members and reviewers that they feel swamped by peer review requests and that they – and the system more widely – are close to breaking point. We most regularly hear this frustration when papers that they are reviewing do not, in their expert opinion, make a meaningful contribution to the record and are destined to be rejected; and should, in their view, have been filtered out much sooner in the process.

Such submissions, in turn, impact the peer review of articles that do make a very significant contribution to the literature, research and society – the congestion of the peer review process can mean assigning editors and finding peer reviewers takes more time, potentially delaying important additions to the scientific record.

Furthermore, because it can be difficult and in some cases impossible to assign an Academic Editor and/or reviewers, authors can be faced with frustratingly long waits only to receive the bad news that their article has been rejected or, in the worst cases, that we were unable to peer review their paper. We believe that by listening to this feedback from our communities and removing some of the congestion from the peer review process, we will provide a better, more efficient, experience for everyone.

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