The project in a few lines

Essai #17

This website describes the PCI project

To submit your preprints go to

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Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology,

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Peer Community in Ecology or

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Peer Community in Paleontology

 

Aim

The “Peer Community in” (PCI) is a non-profit scientific organization that aims to create specific communities of researchers reviewing and recommending, for free, unpublished preprints in their field (i.e. unpublished articles deposited on open online archives like arXiv.org and bioRxiv.org). To a lesser extent, they may also recommend postprints (i.e. articles already published in journals).

These specific communities are entitled Peer Community in X, e.g. Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology (PCI Evol Biol), Peer Community in Ecology (PCI Ecol), Peer Community in Computational Statistics (PCI Comp Stat), and Peer Community in Paleontology (PCI Paleo).

Once recommended by one or several of these PCIs on the basis of rigorous peer reviews, preprints become valid references and may be considered to be articles of high value. Recommended preprints can be used by scientists and cited in the scientific literature. There is no need for these recommended preprints to be submitted for publication in classic journals (although they can be, according to the authors’ preferences).

Key features of PCI recommendations

  • Stimulating: each PCI recommends remarkable articles in its field.
  • Free: There are no fees associated with the evaluation process, and no charge for publication and access to the reviews, comments and recommendations. The websites of the PCIs are freely accessible.
  • Transparent: Reviews and recommendations (for preprints) and recommendations (for postprints) are freely available for consultation. Recommendations are signed by the recommenders (see the definition and role of recommenders below). Reviews may be signed if the reviewers agree to do so.
  • Based on sound and independent evaluations: Recommenders and reviewers must declare that they have no conflict of interest with the authors or the content of the preprint they evaluate and recommend. The Managing Board performs a quality control check on the format and deontology of reviews and recommendations.
  • Not exclusive: A preprint may be recommended by different PCIs (a feature of particular interest for articles relating to multidisciplinary studies) and may even subsequently be published in a traditional journal (although this is not the goal of the PCIs).

Recommenders

The recommenders for each PCI are highly competent researchers – appointed by a Managing Board – who evaluate preprints on the basis of rigorous peer reviews, a process that may lead to the recommendation of preprints that have not been published by or submitted to a journal. To a lesser extent, they may also recommend postprints.

The role of the recommenders is similar to that of a journal editor (finding reviewers, obtaining peer reviews, making editorial decisions based on these reviews), and they may reject or recommend the preprints they are handling after one or several rounds of reviews. If a recommender eventually decides to recommend a preprint, he/she writes a “recommendation” that has its own DOI and is published on the website of the corresponding PCI.

Becoming a recommender for a PCI is not associated with a substantial workload. Recommenders organize the peer-review process of preprints and may recommend them. Most handle no more than two articles per year.

Motivation

The motivation behind the “Peer Community in” project is the establishment of a high-quality, free, public system for identifying high-quality preprints by a specific recommendation obtained after rigorous peer-review. The aim is for this system to be recognized both within, and, subsequently beyond the community, including by funding and research agencies.

This project should lead to a new scientific publication system, in which preprints are deposited in free, open archives, and, if appropriate, reviewed and awarded a recommendation publicly guaranteeing their scientific quality. This recommendation could replace the current evaluation and editing processes of scientific journals, which are often opaque and very costly for research institutions.

Structure

The non-profit “Peer Community in” organization is responsible for the creation and functioning of the various specific PCIs.

Each PCI includes an unlimited number of recommenders, appointed by its Managing Board. These recommenders evaluate preprints deposited on open online archive sites (e.g. arXiv.org bioRxiv.org), which they may decide to recommend, after rigorous peer review. To a lesser extent, they may also recommend articles that have already been published in scientific journals. The Managing Board of a PCI consists of a limited number of individuals selected from among the recommenders of this PCI, who are regularly replaced.

The members of the Managing Board  of each PCI are also members of the non-profit “Peer Community in” organization. Hence, the representatives of all existing PCIs are collectively responsible for all decisions concerning the creation of new PCIs .

Reasons to believe in the project

This process is free, transparent and in line with current trends in the practices for screening/evaluating science used by researchers (social networks, deposition of papers in open archives, such as bioRxiv). It is likely to succeed for the following reasons:

Recommending could be a progressive, “invasive” process

1- The recommendation process could coexist with the current system of traditional scientific journals. Authors would be free to submit a preprint that has been reviewed and recommended by a Peer Community in X to a scientific journal. For instance, in ecology and evolution, the Editors-in-Chief of Ecology Letters, EvolutionBMC Evol BiolOikos, Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary Applications, Molecular Ecology, Frontiers of Biogeography, Genetica, and Journal of Evolutionary Biology have indicated they will consider submissions of recommended preprints and they may use PCI reviews and recommendations for their own review processes.

2- Waiting for the comments and recommendation from a Peer Community in X can increase the value of an article. Indeed, if modifications to the preprint are required to obtain the recommendation, these modifications may substantially increase the quality of the article before its submission to a traditional journal, thus increasing the likelihood of acceptance. The use of the recommendation system could then increase gradually, right from the start of its existence.

3- With the attribution of increasing numbers of recommendations to papers published in journals and deposited in open archives, these recommendations might gradually become the standard for evaluation of the quality of papers. This standard would have the advantage of being more direct and transparent than the currently used loose proxies of paper quality (such as the impact factor of journals). This would, in turn, encourage authors to deposit more of their papers in open archives, to get them recommended.

4- Peer Community in recommendations might become sufficiently prestigious that the authors would be confident that unpublished preprints deposited in open archives and then recommended by Peer Community in would be citable, cited and recognized. This situation would encourage them to deposit their preprints in such archives.

5- The free recommending of papers deposited in open archives could, therefore, become more and more common. This project would not, therefore, require authors to gamble dangerously on a new hypothetical, fragile system..

Researchers could easily join the project

1- Becoming a recommender of a Peer Community in X would not be associated with a substantial workload. Contrary to the current system, recommenders, unlike associate editors in traditional scientific journals, would have no commitment to review and recommend papers. Each recommender would rather be encouraged to review and recommend 1 or 2 articles per year in average. The constraints of this system are therefore self-imposed rather than external, which would favor participation in the Peer Community in X.

2- Each recommender of a Peer Community in X in has his/her own personal page for displaying and reporting their reviews, comments and recommendations. This makes it easier to recognize the reviewing work that each researcher has performed for the community (not unlike the Publon initiative based on traditional journals). This might make being a recommender of a Peer Community in X very attractive.

3- One key advantage of this approach is that the project can be successful even if some of the recommenders of a Peer Community in X failed to provide any comments, reviews or recommendations. We expect that each recommender would review and recommend 1 or 2 articles per year in average. Hence, the project will not be jeopardized if some recommenders are inactive.

The project may receive strong institutional support

Strong institutional support (e.g. from USDA, NSF, ERC, Universities, Inra, CNRS, etc.) is a distinct possibility, because the current publishing system entails a considerable financial burden for these institutions. Some Learning society (e.g. the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE), the Sociedad Española de Biología Evolutiva (SESBE), Société Française d’Écologie et d’Évolution (Sfe2)), French institutes (e.g. Inra), research laboratories (e.g. UMR CBGP, UMR ISA) and institutions (Labex CeMEB, BASC, CEBA, TULIP, COTE, ECOFECT)   already provided support to the initiative.

 

28 thoughts on “The project in a few lines

  1. This is a very good initiative. I have a question about becoming a reviewer. The information provided on this website states that reviewers can be nominated by current members of Peer c.i. or propose themselves, but whatever the process they are to be approved unanimously by the managing board. To be a reviewer one should actively be doing scientific research and(or?) be known for one’s pertinent reviews. As much as I think that your idea is great, it sounds a bit like an exclusive club, just the sort of thing that we all hope we could move away from. Many of us just want to discuss science for the value of the ideas and as means to solve problems and we don’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) care who is speaking in the debate. The description of the Peer c.i. system also makes me wonder if there will be any monitoring of the reviews written by the reviewers before they are posted or if the reviewers have free reign once they get approval.
    I was wondering why you did not opt for a system where anyone could be a reviewer, and then before reviews were posted they were checked by the Reviewing Board for deployment of reasoned and founded arguements, for objectivity, for an obvious lack of vengence or trashing, and that they were overall scientific.

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    1. Many thanks for your comments. It is true that we did not retain the option of a fully open Community. We preferred a system in which members of the Peer Community in X are appointed by the Managing board and in which any researcher can be punctually solicited by members of the Community to review a MS. The main reason is that we want Peer community in recommendations to be based on reviews of high quality. Our goal is therefore not to be an exclusive club, but merely to ensure that each member of the Peer Community in X is recognized by the peers as good enough in his/her field of research to perform sound recommendations. This is important since only the recommender (and to a lesser extant the managing board) will check the quality of the reviews underlying those recommendations (see below).
      Another important reason is that we expect that members of Peer community in X will act as members of a community that matters for them. Because members will be nominated by the community, they will probably be particularly motivated to perform very good reviews and to follow a code of ethical conduct (no conflict of interest, no recommending of articles published by recent co-authors and/or friends, etc.)
      Note that having reviewers nominated by a journal editor is currently the rule in most journals. In that perspective, Peer community in will not be more exclusive than most journals. Actually, it will be even less exclusive since their will be no numerus clausus. In addition, the limited number of recommendations that a member of the community can write (1 or 2 per year, maximum 5) will give the way to a large diversity of scientific points of views and will reduce the risk that a few members are calling all the shots in the recommendations.
      Besides here are two key points that will guarantee that the community would remain open:
      – reviews have to be conducted by at least two persons. None of these persons will necessarily be member of the Peer Community in X. Hence, for each recommendation, reviews might be written by researchers who do not belong to the community.
      – even if members of the Peer Community in X are appointed by the Managing board, it is important to note that half the Managing board will be replaced each year. The composition of the Managing board will therefore change over time quite rapidly, further diminishing the risk of a drift toward an ‘exclusive club’.

      There will not be any “scientific” monitoring of the reviews written by the reviewers beside the control by the recommender. However, the Managing board will perform a quality check of reviews and recommendations.
      The main reason why we did not opt for the system you describe (a system that is fine in principle) is to guarantee the lightest workload for everybody (Managing board, community). We feel that this is a key condition for the stability of the system. The initiative has to persist on a relatively long term in a context where most researchers cannot dedicate much energy to reviews/recommendations. If the initiative works, managing an uncontrolled influx of reviews could represent too large an amount of work and as such discourage members of the “monitoring board”. In addition, a certain proportion of the reviews would be rejected, leading to a waste of time and energy for the reviewers themselves.
      The second reason is that giving the Managing board the possibility to suppress/modify reviews and recommendations would largely increase the risk of an “exclusive club” effect.
      Importantly, reviews being published, there will be a possibility to leave comments on any recommended paper and on the reviews on which its recommendation is based. Commenting reviews will then be a powerful way to promote a diversity of views and perspectives.

      Denis Bourguet, Thomas Guillemaud and Benoit Facon

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  2. Hi Sergio
    Thanks for your positive comment. The creation of PCI Ecology is currently being discussed with colleagues. We keep in mind that you want to participate, and we’ll contact you directly.
    Best

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  3. Well done. great initiative and was waiting for this style to come along. I am keen to participate if the subject area can include say Conservation Ecology, Socioecolgical systems, Resiience Science or Marine Ecology.

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    1. Hi Stuart,
      Thanks for your nice words. As indicated to Sergio, the creation of PCI Ecology is currently being discussed with colleagues. PCI Ecology will certainly include conservation Ecology and Marine Ecology as thematic fields. We keep in mind that you are keen to participate, and we’ll contact you directly.
      Best regards

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  4. Hi there, interesting initiative. Three questions:

    1. Most journals rely on copyright surrender from the authors. If the article was previously published under an open source licence this becomes impossible (or at least legally challenging). How do you expect this issue to be solved?

    2. Researchers and academics are today by and large evaluated by their output on ISI publications. Would you see a PCI X making it to the ISI database? Are you working towards such goal?

    3. I would like to kick start the PCI on GeoInformatics. How should I proceed?

    Thank you.

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  5. Hi Luis.
    Thanks for your interest and questions.
    1. We do not publish articles, only peer-reviews and recommendations. So there is no copyright issue regarding the scientific papers.
    2. Researchers are more and more evaluated on the basis of their Google Scholar citation record. Preprints are referenced in Google Scholar. Thus the authors can track their citation number including those of their recommended preprints.
    3. Good idea. Contact Denis Bourguet, Benoit Facon and Thomas Guillemaud at contact[at]evolbiol.peercommunityin.org to explain/describe your project.
    Cheers

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  6. Dear Thomas et al., with all due respect, your answer to question 1 makes me doubt you fully understand intellectual property laws. A document that is made available to the public on a website is automatically protected by copyright. If on top of that there is a so called “copy-left” licence, publication in a commercial journal, say Elsevier, Springer, becomes legally impossible. I exhort you to clarify this issue.

    In any event, I see the process you propose as a clear improvement over the closed peer review process we have today. Ideally, PCI would evolve to a completely replace traditional scientific journals.

    Cheers.

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  7. Hi
    We try to clarify this point:
    Typically, manuscripts for which a recommendation by a PCI (PCI Evol Biol) is requested are deposited in public repositories such as BiorXiv. BiorXiv allows the authors to “retain copyright and choose from several distribution/reuse options under which to make the article available (CC-BY, CC-BY-NC, CC-BY-ND, CC-BY-NC-ND, or no reuse)”. If authors want to submit their paper to a journal, they may ahve to transfer the copyright they own to the journal, depending on the publisher’s policy. This is a matter that concerns the authors and the publisher of the journal. From our side, as we do not publish preprints, we do not intervene in the copyright transfert.
    Some journals accept the existence of preprints on preprint servers, some accept with conditions, and some don’t (see http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/index.php, there is an entry in our FAQ about that). More and more accept preprints without conditions. Therefore authors must verify that their target journal accepts preprints in archives before submitting their paper to this journal, like anyone using preprints. This is not particularly specific to PCI Evol Biol.
    Cheers

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  8. Recent events makes the following question crucial for me to decide whether I want to give PCI a try: what ensures that PCI cannot fall in the near or distant future into the hand of Elsevier, like Mendeley, SSRN and BePress did?

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  9. Hi Benoît. The ‘raison d’être’ of Peer Community In is to be free for readers and authors and to be an alternative to publishing by private publishers. PCI is a non-profit, voluntary organisation, not a company. It is indicated in its status. On the contrary, Mendeley, SSRN and Bepress were companies from the begining. Best

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  10. The Peer Community In concept is brilliant. This has the potential to encourage more pre-print submission and make the peer-review more transparent. It will also force publisher to become more friendly towards Open Access.

    I was not sure I saw a position on open access to code, materials, protocols, and data? Maybe that is implicit.

    Congrats!

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  11. Hi Nick
    thanks for the comment. This is what we try to do! About open access to data, protocol, etc. we indicate in the ‘ethical code of conduct’ page that: ‘Recommenders of PCI Evol Biol and reviewers must ensure that the data for recommended preprints are available to the readers, through deposition in an open data repository, such as Zenodo, Dryad or institutional repositories, for example. Deposited data must have a digital object identifier (DOI). They must also verify that details of the quantitative analyses (e.g. data treatment and statistical scripts in R, bioinformatic pipelines scripts, etc.) in the recommended preprints are available to the readers, as appendices or supplementary online materials (in this case, the supplementary material must have a digital object identifier (DOI)), for example.’

    There is nothing about material, and we might correct this in a close future.
    Thanks for the suggestion.

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  12. Hey,

    I just discovered the existence of PCI and this is (almost) the solution I was dreaming of! This may become a game changer… or not.

    In this regard, I have a question I could not answer from this presentation. The recommander is basically an editor who can reject a manuscript based on the reviews, which makes total sense, but it is not clear on which criteria. Obviously a paper of bad quality (meaning missing controls, unconvincing data…) would not be accepted. But, a work based on solid experimentations could be published in a variety of journals ranging from criptic (if your work interest a small community of researchers) to top ranking journals if they are of interest for a broad audience. The reviewers and editors usually adapt there requests for new experiments and final recommendation based on this output: the journal it should be published in. In the PCI model, I suppose -but it is not clearly explained- there would be no such discrimination between broad and narrow interest as long as the data are scientifically solid, thus no novelty or impact of the findings on the decision to accept the paper. But in that case the “editorial policy” would be close to that of a Plos1 journal. Is that the idea??

    If so, going through a review process for PCI will be helpfull for sending the paper to a journal if the recommendation at least somehow “rank” the paper, giving a clue to where the findings could be published. Ideally, allowing an editor to accept the findings for publication without a second review process. If not, who would go through the ordeal of 2 complete review processes on its own will? Sounds like hell.

    I suppose a possibility would be that idealy there will be a broad range of communities (let say from “the lover of gene X” to “Biologists”) and that depending the potential impact of the findings, one could submit to a narrower or a larger community. But that involves the creation of many communities from the start and somehow a sort a editorial policy to frame the decisions and insure a more or less equal treatment to all.

    Arno

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    1. Hi Arno,

      Thanks for your comment and your interest.

      The goal of PCI is not to recommend all preprints even if they are scientifically sounds. We are different from PLoS one or Scientific report journals. Indeed, recommenders of a PCI are expected to recommend preprints that are not only scientifically robust but preprints that they find interesting for the community. So we do not ask them to “rank” them, but merely to recommend or not the preprint. The reason why a recommender find a preprint interesting might be different from one PCI to another.

      Have in mind that although a recommended preprint can be submitted to a journal afterwards, this is not the purpose of PCI. The purpose is to peer-review and recommend preprints so that it makes them valid and citable references (hence, with no need to publish those preprints and therefore to pay APC in journals).

      All the best
      Thomas, Ben and Denis

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  13. Hey,

    thanks for your reply. Then, since all preprints will not be accepted based on the quality of the research but also on the interest for their “community”, each PCI will reflect precisely the current system, acting as a virtual journal (but made by and for researcher without an editing company). This means the PCIs would need to offer the same diversity of publications that is currently available (I am not talking about different fields, physics vs biology for example, but about different focus in a field from broad to narrow audience).

    I completely have in mind that PCI is not intended to double the burden of submission but to replace it (which is what is great in the project). However, it will not replace traditional publishing overnight. And as much as I would like to send my works to PCI instead of a traditional journal, the absence of ranking, comparison with current journals, metrics in general, will be the small thing that would prevent me to send them only to PCI, forcing me to do a dual submission or to submit to a traditional journal only. Because even if idealy, the opinion of my peers saying my works are solid and interesting should be enough, as long as there will be competition for jobs and grants, people will use metrics to compare what I do to others, and if there is no criteria to compare the opinion of recommanders between PCI and with traditional publishing, people may be reluctant to use this system. As a consequence this will reduce the quantity of the most interesting papers to be send to PCI and then will not create a reenforcing loop and change the game or will slow it down significantly.

    I don’t want to look arrogant and I am just giving my humble opinion here, mainly because I am really interested in this approach. Maybe starting small and hope for the best is the good way. I have the feeling though that the publishing industry is not going to give up easily on one of the most lucrative job on the planet, and on the other hand that researchers, even if they would like to change, still must deal with evalutation processes. Anyway, the idea is good (but the path is long 😉 ).
    Good luck.

    A.

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    1. Hi Arno

      Thank you for these additional comments. We are fully aware that it is necessary that our institutions and funding agencies recognize preprints recommended by PCIs as of equivalent value to articles published in the best journals in the field. In France, this recognition is growing up and we wish to extend this recognition to other countries.

      Note that the people evaluating researchers and/or grants are usually scientists like you and us and it is also up to them to change the system by focusing on the quality of the papers rather than on proxies like the IF of the journals in which articles are published (because we all know how much these proxies only give very poor information on the quality of articles).

      Finally, keep in mind that PCI is not exclusive since authors can then submit their PCI-recommended preprints for publication in a journal (and many journals have indicated that they would take into account reviews and recommendations to accelerate their editorial decision – see the list of these PCI-friendly journals here: https://peercommunityin.org/who-supports-peer-community-in/). An evaluation and recommendation by a PCI thus makes it possible to seriously increase both the quality of the article and the chances of it being accepted by a high-quality journal. Thus, even for those who ultimately want to publish their articles, PCI can be an interesting option. As PCI becomes more well-known, we hope that fewer and fewer authors will feel the need to publish their recommended preprints (which will then allow them to avoid paying APCs).

      Finally, we can imagine that PCI – in any case, some PCIs – accept parallel submissions (although at the moment we do not wish to offer this possibility @PCI Evol Bio, PCI Ecol and PCI Paleo)

      We hope that this answer will motivate you to submit your own preprints to PCI.

      In any case, thank a lot for your interest, remarks and feedback.

      Best regards
      Ben, Denis and Thomas

      Like

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