eLife to eliminate accept/reject decisions on the articles it publishes

In December 2020, the journal eLife announced that it would become the first journal to only publish articles that had been posted as preprints and peer-review comments would become part of the public record. You can read more about this in a previous post

This move aligned with eLife’s stated commitment to replacing what they consider the outdated traditional print-based model of publication and peer review with one that makes more sense given the various online tools available in our digital age.

On October 20th, they announced they are taking another step in their quest to improve scholarly publishing. Now, there will be no accept/reject decision made by the journal based on peer review results. The publicly available peer review commentary will stand on its own as a testament to the article’s worthiness. eLife will still make editorial decisions about which articles to send out for peer review, but now every article that is reviewed by eLife will officially be considered to have been published by the journal.

In a statement made on eLife’s website, they note that they “have found that these public preprint reviews and assessments are far more effective than binary accept or reject decisions … at capturing the nuanced, multidimensional, and often ambiguous nature of peer review.” Richard Seever, co-founder of the preprint platforms bioRxiv & medRxiv, noted on Twitter that this change means that “publication as [a] proxy for [the] veracity/quality” of an article will be a thing of the past, at least for this journal.

Authors can change their article based on peer review comments (which can remain anonymous or not as the reviewer requests) or let their version stand while also including a published response to peer review comments. eLife also stated that they will reduce the Article Publishing Cost (APC) to $2,000 per article, down from $3,000.

Furthermore, while authors can choose to assign a copy of their articles as the “version of record,” this step is now optional, meaning that some works might become “living papers,” able to be changed at any time. According to Richard Seever, this might make the work of databases, which index articles to make them findable on their platforms, more challenging and confusing. For example, authors funded by the NIH will need to designate a version of record for eLife to post to PMC.

With any new publishing model, there are bound to be uncertainties, and the scholarly publishing community will have its eyes on eLife in the coming months to see how this new change works in practice. eLife’s editors hope that the journal will become respected for the quality of its peer review and not just its selectiveness.

However, not everyone is excited about these new changes. Some researchers believe that academics will simply switch to criteria other than the reputation of a journal as a proxy to evaluate the quality of an article, such as an institution’s reputation. This could put early career scientists and those at smaller institutions at a disadvantage. Other authors who have published with eLife in the past are concerned that the journal will lose its reputation for publishing high-quality work. They view this change as the journal’s attempt to “destroy the traditional” model of publication rather than simply helping to improve the system or create a new publishing model. 

Based on eLife’s own statements, it seems that this is exactly what they are attempting to do. Members of its editorial board note that there is an “urgent need to fix scientific publishing,” and that “the power to fix it resides uniquely with scientists” who should “not let [a] fear of change limit” the actions that are needed to create a system that will better support the work that scientists do in the future.

Do you publish in eLife, or would you consider it under their forthcoming model? Let us know.