The PCI project is supported by
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scientific organization that aims to create specific communities of researchers reviewing and recommending, for free, unpublished preprints in their field (i.e. unpublished articles deposited on open online archives like arXiv.org and bioRxiv.org).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).
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.
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.
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, Evolution, BMC Evol Biol, Oikos, 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.