Portable peer-review to prevent a pillar-to-post process

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A new cross-publisher initiative to help make the peer-review process a little less protracted aims to prevent wasted reviewer effort by allowing authors to take their reviewers’ reports to the BMC-series if their manuscript is rejected from eLife.

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How portable is your peer-review?

Peer review takes time. Sometimes, a lot of time. For many researchers, finding the balance between getting their blood-sweat-and-tears research into a top tier journal, and simply getting it into the literature, can be a maddeningly frustrating process. In fast-paced fields where the risk of being scooped by a rival lab only adds to the pressure, finding that your manuscript is cascading down a list of selective journals is enough to make even the most seasoned professor blanch. Endless cycles of repetitious re-review, and requests for additional experiments from each successive journal do not make for efficient science, or efficient scientists.

Here in the BMC-series, our aim has always been to help researchers get published – as long their research is deemed a sound, useful addition to the literature by their peers. We do of course recognise that sometimes there can be pressure to publish in more selective journals,  and as a publisher BioMed Central  is equally proud of the achievements of its flagship publications such as BMC Biology, BMC Medicine and Genome Biology, which select the very best in leading edge research in biological and clinical science.

We have for the last decade or so worked closely with our flagship publications to help the transition of manuscripts across these selection thresholds, without unnecessarily wasting peer-review effort. By transferring referee reports alongside manuscripts when they are declined by these selective journals, we hope to provide authors with a simple solution to avoid the vortex of endless review.

The success of this system of portable peer-review has also now been extended across the entire BioMed Central portfolio of journals, to try to make publishing with us that little bit more smooth. This means that any manuscript submitted to BioMed Central can be quickly and easily transferred to any other journal –pre- or post-review—at just the click of button. And the assent of the recipient editor, of course.

A portable feast

Having experienced how well such a system can operate within a large publishing portfolio, we are delighted to now be able to forge cross-publisher links with the latest addition to the stable of high-profile selective journals in biology: eLife. A few weeks ago our sister journal BMC Biology announced that researchers finding themselves rejected from this journal would be offered the opportunity to take their referees reports with them if they wished to continue the peer-review process with our own flagship journal.

Following this announcement, we are very pleased to announce that such an offer would also be welcomed for researchers wishing to publish in any of the subject-specific journals  in the BMC-series too. In many cases, such “post-review” transfers may not even require further review by the same referees: provided that the science is sound and that a full formal response has been provided to the referees comments, consultation with our Editorial Board may be sufficient to convey a swift decision.

Forging the future

In a recent interview with the Economist, BioMed Central’s managing director Matthew Cockerill outlined some of our publishing group’s other initiatives to facilitate smoother peer-review. This included details of recent links forged between our more zoologically-oriented  journals and an innovative new venture called Peerage of Science, that aims to lift the peer-review process out of the hands of publishers completely– until a manuscript is ready to be published.

This, together with similar initiatives such as Rubriq, aims to switch the focus of peer-review from one where researchers are invited to review papers by publishers, to one where researchers actively seek out papers to review. In a publishing climate where reviewer time is being severely squeezed by the volume of requests, it is hoped that this fundamental shift in the way that reviewing operates may lift this burden a little, and perhaps encourage a new generation of researchers to contribute to the scientific review process.

These new cross-publisher—and indeed ex-publisher—links that are now been forged represent a much needed update to the traditional processes of peer-review. And we’re happy to be a part of where they’re headed.