Sunday, August 16, 2015

Peer Review By Endorsement

Below is the original proposal that eventually led ScienceOpen to give it a go and make 'Peer Review by Endorsement' a legitimate, efficient, and affordable alternative to the generally (very) expensive publisher-mediated peer review mechanism we all know.

It was originally called JONAS, for Journal Of Nature And Science, as a way to indicate the wide potential for this approach in terms of disciplines covered, and yes, a gentle play on the titles of prestige journals, also known sometimes as 'glam' journals :-).

(The idea of JONAS has something in common, of course, with the idea of overlay journals that have at various times over the last decade and a half been suggested for manuscripts deposited in arXiv, whereby peer review reports were added to them and so giving the article some 'official' publication status.)

This is the original proposal:
JONAS (Journals Of Nature And Science – working title) is a new approach to open access publication of peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Establishing a publishing system that addresses:
  • Open access, 
  • Fair and efficient peer review,  
  • Cost of publishing
  • Speed of publishing
  • Publication of negative/null results
Open Access. The JONAS publishing system focuses on the superb technical publication, in various formats/versions, of peer-reviewed articles for optimal machine and human readability and re-use.
Fair and efficient peer review. Anonymous peer review has problems around issues of transparency, fairness, thoroughness, speed, publisher-bias, specious requests for further experiments or data, and possibly more. JONAS is a system using signed, pre-publication peer review, arranged by the author(s) (many publishers ask authors who to invite to review their papers anyway), and just verified by the publisher (peer review by endorsement). Reviews will be open, published with the article that’s endorsed, non-anonymous, and the rules are that peer-endorsers must be active researchers, and not be, or for at least five years have been, at the same institution as, or a co-author of, any of the authors. Such a peer-review-by-endorsement system is likely to be at least as good as, and quite probably better than, the currently widespread ‘black box’ of anonymous peer review. As reviews/endorsements would be signed and non-anonymous, there is very little danger of sub-standard articles being published, as endorsers/reviewers would not want to put their reputations at risk. The review process between authors and endorsers is likely to be iterative, resulting in improvements on the original manuscripts. “Author-arranged” may include peer review being done by services specifically set up for that purpose, as long as the reviewers are not anonymous and conform to the JONAS rules.  
Cost of publishing. A system like this can be very cost-effective for authors. The technical costs of publishing are but a fraction of the cost usually quoted for organising and arranging peer review. First indication is that an amount in the order of a few hundred pounds sterling (£) per article can be sustainable, given sufficient uptake. Tiered charges could be considered depending on the state of the manuscript when submitted. If the manuscript needs very little work to bring it up to proper publishing standards, or if the author doesn’t want or need those services, the cost can be very low indeed. 
Speed of publishing. Since the peer-review-by-endorsement process has already taken place before the article arrives at the publisher, publication can ensue within days, even hours, depending on the state of the manuscript.
Requirements for manuscripts: ORCIDs for authors and reviewers/endorsers; inclusion of (permanent links to) datasets used, underlying data for graphs, a section “details for replicability and reproducibility” with clear and unambiguous identification of materials used, including reagents, software and other non-standard tools and equipment.  Input: Properly endorsed articles to be accepted in the form of Word, Pages, (LA)TEX, XML, HTML, Markdown, and Excel or CSV for data, and high-resolution image files (where possible scalable vector graphics) via an upload site or attached to emails. 
Output: Articles would be published as XML, HTML, PDF, ODF and ePub formats, as much as possible semantically enriched and aesthetically formatted, plus Excel/CSV for data (tables extractable and rendered in Excel from PDFs with software freely supplied). 
Commenting and post-publication review: to be enabled and encouraged for all articles, links to comments to be provided with each article. Comments may be made on different sites, and will be linked to, if that is the case. Anonymous comments will be ignored. 
Access Licences: CC-BY or CC0 — DOIs for the articles would be assigned/arranged by JONAS. 
The core of the JONAS system is effectively to have OA journals with a low-cost structure, with superb and highly optimised technical quality of the published articles (machine-readability and re-useability!). The principal difference with other OA journals would be the pre-arranged open peer review ("peer-review-by-endorsement"), organised by the authors themselves, according to a set of rules that ensures a reasonable level of assurance against reviewer bias (because of its openness and non-anonymity, actually more assurance than is provided in the usual anonymous peer review as widely practiced). Since arranging peer review is one of the major costs of any publisher (mostly staff costs), leaving that part of the publishing process in the hands of researchers and the academic community can make a great difference to the cost of publication. So far, efforts to reduce the cost of publishing have been concentrated on technical issues. Changing the mechanism (emphatically not the principle) of peer review offers much greater scope for cost reduction. 
What JONAS' job would be is to take such peer-endorsed articles and make them into professionally published and complete (including data and metadata) documents, adhering to all the technical, presentational and unique identifier standards, in a number of formats, linked and linkable to databases and other relevant information, human- and machine-readable and suitable for widespread usage, for text- and data-mining, for structured analysis (incl. semantic analysis) and further knowledge discovery, and, crucially, for long-term preservation in repositories and archives of any kind. 
Any manuscript submitted in advance of peer-endorsement having been procured, would be placed, ‘as is’, on JonasPrePubs, a ‘preprint’ server, at no cost. 
The JONAS publishing system is also superbly suited to scientific societies and other groupings that wish to have their own journal. Such a journal can be fully integrated in the JONAS system, provided the manuscripts are submitted fully peer-endorsed or peer-reviewed (whether or not arranged by the author(s) or the scientific society in question). The charges per manuscript for individual authors and for societies wishing to publish their journals in the JONAS system would be the same. 
The JONAS methodology could be implemented on various publishing platforms.

Jan Velterop