PeerJ at 10: revisiting our first articles, one decade – and 16,041 articles – later.
10 years ago we published our first articles. PeerJ was announced to the world in June 2012; 5 months later, at the end of November 2012, we launched our own submission and peer review platform; and 3 months after that, on February 12th, 2013, the first 30 articles were published. In the decade since their publication, those articles have accrued 896 citations and over 300,000 views.
Covering a wide range of subjects from Agricultural Science to Zoology, and an array of topics – including the neuroscience of Penn & Teller’s “Cups and Balls” magic trick, sauropod anatomy and protein structure prediction – PeerJ on day 1 gave a flavor of the 16,000+ articles that would follow over the next decade.
We caught up with some of the authors of those first 30 authors. Read on to hear from Uta Francke, Vladimir Uversky, Saverios Brogna, Mike Taylor and Stephen Macknik on why they decided to publish with PeerJ a decade ago, where that research has gone, and their hopes for the next decade of Open Access publishing.
You can also check out all 30 Day 1 Articles in this special anniversary collection.
Thanks to all our contributors – authors, reviewers, editors, advisors and readers – for your support over the last ten years and 16,000 articles. Here’s to the next decade!
Uta Francke, Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics, Emerita, Stanford University. Author of “Dealing with the unexpected: consumer responses to direct-access BRCA mutation testing.”
I was aware of PeerJ because I had been invited to participate as an Editorial Board Member. I absolutely wanted Open Access and was impressed with the transparent review process. Also, I liked the idea to engage authors as future reviewers for other work. I had to convince my colleagues at 23andMe that PeerJ would be a famous new journal of broad biological interest, and we could be proud to be in it from the start. In addition, direct-to-consumer genetic testing was very controversial in the medical genetics community at the time. Therefore, submission to a medical genetics or human genetics specialty journal was likely to run into prejudice and resistance on part of reviewers and editors.
Genetic testing for cancer predisposing variants is, of course, widely practiced, not only for breast cancer and not only for Ashkenazi Jewish individuals. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing for medical conditions has been curtailed by FDA regulations. In fact the company was asked to stop providing this data later in 2013, after our paper had been published. The issues about how individuals respond to and deal with genetic test information is being researched by many psychologists and bioethicists. With the 23andMe team, I published one other similar paper on Factor V Leiden.
PeerJ is an established leader in online Open Access journals; this is the way of the future, copied by many; but new creative ways may have to be found to keep the standard of review high and publication costs low.
Vladimir Uversky, Professor at the Department of Molecular Medicine at the University of South Florida. Author of “Malleable ribonucleoprotein machine: protein intrinsic disorder in the Saccharomyces cerevisiae spliceosome.”
It was an easy decision to submit to PeerJ. I was one of the Editors for PLOS ONE almost from the first days of the existence of the journal. When Peter Binfield moved from PLOS ONE to start PeerJ, I followed him and joined the editorial board of PeerJ. This new journal provided an appealing novel model for Open Access publications, which was very attractive to me. Being on the board of that “unknown quantity”, as you call it, was and still is a satisfying experience. Obviously, I wanted to support that endeavor as much as I could, and therefore submitting a manuscript was a logical option.
The paper I published was one of the articles on the roles of intrinsically disordered proteins in various biological processes. This is still the major subject of my research, which is progressing well.
From the beginning, I believed that the Open Access model implemented by PeerJ was very attractive and viable, and that the journal would become a successful platform for the publication of scientific papers. I am very glad to see that my expectations were met, and exceeded. I hope that PeerJ will continue to go from strength to strength.
Saverio Brogna, Reader in RNA Biology and Group leader, School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham. Author of “Fluorescent protein tagging confirms the presence of ribosomal proteins at Drosophila polytene chromosomes.”
I’m proud of this paper. We submitted it to PeerJ because I like how it looked: fresh, modern, easy to submit and, of course, Open Access. At the time we had little money to pay for standard publication costs so publishing for free was also a factor.
It has two take-home messages. One was the description of novel reagents to visualize ribosomes in Drosophila. This part of the paper was very well received. We send these reagents (Drosophila transgenic flies) to many people around the world.
The second take-home message was a confirmation that ribosomes might be scanning nuclear RNAs. This followed one of my earlier papers in which we came to the same conclusion (Brogna, Molecular Cell, 2002). Unfortunately, the field is not yet convinced that this is so. We remain convinced though that our interpretation is correct and that understanding the mechanisms could potentially change our understanding of cell biology. We have been working at it for 20 years. I hope the paper will be even more cited once the notion of ribosomal scanning nuclear RNA becomes accepted.
As for PeerJ and Open Access in general, I am a strong supporter. I hope to submit again to PeerJ in future.
Mike Taylor, Paleontologist, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol. Author of “Why sauropods had long necks; and why giraffes have short necks.”
I and my co-author (Matt Wedel) were both aware of PeerJ well before it launched, because we knew Pete Binfield from his earlier role as editor of PLOS ONE and Jason Hoyt from his time building Mendeley (before it was assimilated by Elsevier).
In fact we were blogging about PeerJ nearly six months before launch day and I wrote about what a game-changer it was going to be in The Guardian.
We were both really keen on the PeerJ model for several reasons:
- First, because we’re all-in on Open Access. It’s funny writing that now in 2023, when OA is pretty much a given in most contexts. Only a decade ago, it still had a slightly exotic, frontier quality to it. It’s great that that battle’s won.
- Second, because we like the published peer-review history. We elected to publish this alongside our paper, of course, and have done so with all our subsequent PeerJ papers. Sunlight remains the best disinfectant, and we think that publication of reviews is one of the reasons that the review process at PeerJ feels more constructive and collegial than at some venues. Plus it allows us to properly credit reviewers’ work in subsequent projects — as we did when formally citing PeerJ reviews (Mannion 2018a, b) in our 2022 paper “What do we mean by the directions “cranial” and “caudal” on a vertebra?“.
- Third, because it was so darned inexpensive! It’s still good value now, but in the early days it was crazy cheap. More than that, we thought the all-you-can-eat nature of the membership system would be a game-changer in ways that have not quite materialized for us (see below).
- Finally, we liked the scrappiness of this little upstart publisher, with its two founders and one investor, deciding it was going to take on the Elseviers and Wileys. Which it’s done, to very good effect.
Our paper on launch day was about sauropod necks, and we’ve written a ton more about them. They really remain the focus of our research, and sometimes we can’t quite believe our luck that we get to work on the most extreme body-part of the most extreme animals that ever lived. My most recent PeerJ paper is rather a sad one on the subject: “Almost all known sauropod necks are incomplete and distorted“.
There is so much more to be discovered and said about sauropod necks!
As I hinted above, it feels like the war for Open Access has been won. There is mopping up to do, but we’ve had our D-Day and now fight the battles that will bring us a VE-Day. That is just marvellous.
Less happily, the legacy publishers have jumped on board with OA more successfully than I had hoped, offering inferior OA options at higher prices. A lot of authors are still choosing these for two reasons: out of habit (they are used to specific journals), and because the money they are spending on the big APCs is not theirs. So one thing I hope to see in the next decade is the erosion of the stupid “prestige economy” that we academics are so often enslaved to, and the decline of the big for-profit publisher corporations.
I’ve also found myself becoming increasingly impatient with traditional pre-publication peer-review. I see its value; but I also see its cost, and I am not convinced that the former outweighs the latter. I look at all the time I have spent handling reviews of my papers (and reviewing other people’s), and I wonder how much more new work I could have done in that time. Adam Mastroianni, in a widely read recent blog-post, characterised pre-publication peer-review as “the grand experiment we’ve been running for six decades. The results are in. It failed.” I am sympathetic to that perspective.
So I’m increasingly drawn to publish-first-review-later venues, which remove the gatekeeping role from reviewing. F1000 Research is the best-known of these venues, but I can’t reconcile myself to its high APC. I and Matt had a good experience at Qeios, which does the same thing at zero cost and we expect to use it again.
When Matt and I first joined PeerJ, we imagined it might become the destination of essentially all our publications, especially because of that all-you-can-eat model. We imagined publishing many short papers, maybe sometimes literally one-pagers with a single observation. We’ve not ended up doing that for a variety of reasons, but I think one of them is the sense that we don’t want to deal with the whole heavyweight peer-review machine every time we have an observation to publish.
I’m not sure what could or should be done about that. Maybe the answer is that PeerJ is actually a traditional journal with modern affordances, and that it should keep doing what it’s doing so well — leaving further experiments to other venues.
At any rate, I certainly expect to keep using PeerJ, especially for some of my more substantial papers.
Stephen Macknik, Director, Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience, SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Author of “Perceptual elements in Penn & Teller’s “Cups and Balls” magic trick.”
I was one of the founding Editorial Board Members of PeerJ, and I have been a fan of PeerJ’s publishing model from the beginning. I have always felt that the role of journals as gatekeeper of public information was at first a necessary evil, back when there was no way to disseminate research findings except on printed paper. I say “necessary evil” because pre-publication peer-preview, usually conducted in secret, is an inherently non-transparent process, which is anathema to science. Nobody should be allowed to kill somebody else’s research in secret: any rationale should be in the open and identifiable to the person making the claim so that frivolous claims are minimized, and in a forum in which the author can defend their thesis. Publishers had to be paid for their work, so we made a system that reduced the publication rate through pre-publication peer-review, and made do with the bad situation by paying a lot for that system. But the advent of the internet meant that publishing was so inexpensive as to be essentially free, and the role of journals was to be solely a form of editorial board: only allowing what they felt was good to be published. But the fact is that all impactful research—whether it is peer-reviewed pre-publication or not, is eventually peer-reviewed post-publication in the form of follow-on research that critiques impactful research articles after-the-fact. So secret pre-publication peer-reviews have no impact except to block publication. Now that we can publish our work on one of the preprint servers for free, and it is instantly indexed for the whole world to search, I do not really see a purpose for journals at all, except in that they provide a service to provide pre-publication peer-review for those who desire it. Although one might think that each journal’s role as editorial board also helps readers choose what articles to read, those services already exist in post-publication form as well, and without the conflict-of-interest of themselves being a journal publisher (i.e. The New York Times Science Section, The LA Times Science Section, Faculty of 1000, Scientific American, Discover Magazine, and many many others). PeerJ provided all of the services of a big-cost big-name journal services at a cost that was affordable to most of the world, and they also provided the role as editorial board by promoting particularly impactful research, all with a very low cost. This seemed to me to serve as a good bridge between the old pre-internet world and the new post-internet world when I felt it likely that journals will all but disappear.
I think PeerJ had a great launch and received a lot of high-level praise (such as being named one of Nature Magazine’s Top Ten innovations of the year), and it has gone on to prove that it can punch above its weight as a low-cost journal that delivers high-visibility articles.
My hope for the next decade is that granting agencies essentially stop allowing the use of grant funds towards the use of publication costs, forcing all science to be published by what are now called “pre-publication” or preprint servers. They should just be “publication” servers. Then, anybody can publish for free and anybody can access all research for free. To help sort the wheat from the chaff, scientists conducting reviews of their field and established scientific review editorial boards will remain responsible for combing through the publications and determining what should be cited and promoted for reading by all.
Tell us about your earliest PeerJ memories and your hopes for the future of Open Access in the comments below, tweet us @thepeerj or get in touch on Mastodon.