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Rethinking Scientific Publishing

ScienceOpen Research


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      Editorial content

      Dear Reader,

      Welcome to the inaugural Editorial of a unique journal: ScienceOpen Research.

      The birth of the academic journal goes back more than 300 years, when the very first volume of the Philosophical Transactions was published by the Royal Society of London in 1665[1]. Although the journal concept has undergone some remarkable transformations since then, the major intention has stayed the same: to inform the scientific community about new discoveries – and to gain recognition in return.

      One of the first essential improvements to the journal concept was the invention of peer review. Since paper doesn’t blush, societies decided that it was inherently risky to take everything at face value. They started to ask one or two other members for their expert opinion, before the society decided to invest time and money printing and distributing the article to their members. So, the term “published” became equivalent to “peer reviewed” and today, every serious academic journal conducts some kind of peer review – or at least claims to do so.

      In the mid-20th century, another game changer entered stage left: The internet. Research articles didn’t have to be printed any longer, bundled into issues and distributed to libraries all over the globe. Today, everyone is able to easily upload and download single documents from the internet. This is faster, cheaper and (with the addition of Open Access) results in broader dissemination of the content.

      Interestingly, although this digital revolution seriously affected the business models of traditional publishing houses and dictated some remarkable changes, the peer review process itself remained largely unaltered: 1-2 anonymous experts are asked for their opinion of whether the article is worthy of being published in their respective journal. Only accepted manuscripts will see the light of day, while the identity and the comments of the reviewers will remain in the dark.

      A revealing definition of the purpose of peer review can be found on the website of the Chancellor’s Doctoral Incentive Program (CDIP) of the California State University: “The process is designed to prevent dissemination of irrelevant findings, unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations, and personal views.[2]

      For ScienceOpen Research, we decided on the opposite approach, focusing on the major purpose of peer review instead: "the evaluation of research findings for competence, significance, and originality by qualified experts”, as Dale J. Benos and colleagues put it in their readable paper “The ups and downs of peer review.”[3]

      Instead of preventing manuscripts from being published, we decided to let the scientific community evaluate the articles and decide which articles are scientifically sound and which have higher importance than others. A manuscript has to pass an internal editorial check first, before it is accepted for ScienceOpen Research. This aim of this evaluation is to prevent plagiarized and non-scientific articles from swamping the pool of articles that are awaiting peer review. Needless to say that all articles in ScienceOpen Research are published Open Access under the most liberal Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 4.0 – not building any barriers to the broadest possible readership and maximum impact.

      The subsequent post-publication peer review process is completely transparent and conducted by experts in the field, under their true identity. Their referee reports are published under CC BY license and receive a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). This eliminates annoying and unproductive waiting times, helps to prevent misconduct during the review process, enables readers to evaluate the review process itself, and finally helps reviewers to achieve recognition for their essential work as a referee.

      It might even help to overcome “the most widely recognized failing of peer review”, as Michal David puts it, namely “its inability to ensure the identification of high-quality work.” Obviously, this problem is as old as the journal concept itself: “The list of important scientific papers that were initially rejected by peer-reviewed journals goes back at least as far as the editor of Philosophical Transaction's 1796 rejection of Edward Jenner's report of the first vaccination against smallpox."[4]

      The ScienceOpen article pool currently comprises more than 1.4 million Open Access articles. Of course, not all of them have been published in one of our own journals ScienceOpen Research or ScienceOpen Posters. The majority have been published by various other Open Access publishers all over the world. The fact that the authors chose to publish their papers under CC BY license allows us to gather the information on a single networking platform. In order to divide this content into digestible pieces, articles can be bundled into virtual Journals, which we call Collections. It might come as no surprise, but the Collection “ScienceOpen Research” comprises all articles published in ScienceOpen Research. Collections Editors are able to compile their own virtual journal from the content on ScienceOpen, providing another way to separate the wheat from the chaff and to highlight outstanding work. 

      The quality and importance of an article isn’t determined by the publishing house that managed the type setting and the peer review process. It is simply irrelevant for the importance of the finding, which journal name is mentioned in the article reference. Each article, whether published on ScienceOpen or elsewhere, should be read with an open mind and a skeptical attitude. Just because scientific results have been labeled "published" does not mean that the process of critical thinking should come to an end.

      As Editors of ScienceOpen Research, we are confident that a network-based and self-correcting peer review process, which enables the whole scientific community to participate, is an important step towards greater openness and transparency. Even if it requires to say good-bye to some cherished traditions. During the “paper age”, peer review simply had to be conducted before publication. Now that we have entered the “digital age”, we are equipped with some remarkable tools that enable us to immediately share scientific results with as many peers as possible and instantaneously receive feedback from the community. We fully agree with Nikolaus Kriegeskorte who says: “It’s up to scientists to design and continually improve the future publishing system.[5] Along these lines: Welcome to the democratization of scientific publishing!






      [3] Dale J. Benos, Edlira Bashari, Jose M. Chaves, Amit Gaggar, Niren Kapoor, Martin LaFrance, Robert Mans, David Mayhew, Sara McGowan, Abigail Polter, Yawar Qadri, Shanta Sarfare, Kevin Schultz, Ryan Splittgerber, Jason Stephenson, Cristy Tower, R. Grace Walton, Alexander Zotov, Ups and Downs of Peer Review, Advances in Physiology Education, 2007, 31(2): 145–152. DOI:10.1152/advan.00104.2006. p. 145.

      [4] David Michaels, Politicizing Peer Review: Scientific Perspective in Wagner, Wendy and Rena Steinzor, eds., Rescuing Science from Politics: Regulation and the Distortion of Scientific Research, Cambridge University Press, 2006 p. 224, ISBN 978-0-521-85520-4.

      [5] Nikolaus Kriegeskorte, Open Evaluation: A Vision for Entirely Transparent Post-Publication Peer Review and Rating for Science, Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, 2012, 6:79. DOI:10.3389/fncom.2012.00079.

      Image credit: Tom Magliery (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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