Not everyone is happy with journals these days — researchers in artificial intelligence have announced they were boycotting a new Nature journal for being subscription-only, and universities are cancelling subscriptions over fees. The founders of PubPeer — a site dedicated to commentary about already published papers — are trying a different approach. Today, the PubPeer Foundation launched a new site called Peeriodicals, on which users can curate published manuscripts they believe are important to the field, creating an online “journal.” Many users go on PubPeer to criticize articles — we spoke with founders Brandon Stell and Boris Barbour about whether they hope the new product will inspire users to leave more positive comments on the site.
Retraction Watch: How does the new site work? How can readers participate?
Brandon Stell: The idea is to make it easy for anyone to create and edit their own overlay journal, which we call a peeriodical to emphasize that it is open to all. Once they have created an account, users can manage their peeriodical alone or with an editorial board of their choosing. It’s as simple as coming up with a title, a short description, and then “publishing manuscripts”—in reality preprints or existing articles—by selecting them with a DOI or other identifier. We encourage editors to explain why they select manuscripts; this explanation can range from a few succinct comments to a detailed review of a manuscript’s methodological details and significance to the field. To help editors assess manuscripts we also provide features for sending articles out to review by others. Any reviews or editorial descriptions will be public. Although the peeriodicals are hosted on a stand-alone site, all reviews will be mirrored on PubPeer (much the same as we did for PubMed Commons) so that there is one centralized place to find out what everyone thinks of a given article.
What will a successful peeriodical look like? We don’t know, but we hope the community does! It is likely that many formats will succeed and we have built flexibility into the platform in order to allow the broadest extent of exploration and innovation. Thus, we envisage that some peeriodicals will be free-form, personal accounts while others may be highly structured with formalized procedures. Equally, some peeriodicals may focus on narrow niches and historical work, while others may take a generalist approach in following recent developments in a wider field. Our aim of course is that users find peeriodicals useful, so we have created facilities for subscribing to peeriodicals to receive alerts. We also expect that some researchers will be revealed to have unsuspected talents as editors and commentators.
RW: What was the motivation to create Peeriodicals?
BS: We think it is important to trial the “publish first–review later” model of scientific publication, and the rapidly increasing acceptance of preprints in fields outside of maths and physics, notably in life sciences on bioRxiv, suggests to us that this model has growing potential. The major criticism we’ve heard of this model is that it will produce a sea of literature through which it will be difficult to wade and identify the best science. The goal of Peeriodicals is to solve precisely that problem by putting the discovery and curation of science into the hands of all of scientists. We expect this emerging publishing model to attenuate the current obsession with hype, celebrity and short-termism.
RW: You’re calling the publications “journals,” but they aren’t in the traditional sense, since they aren’t publishing new material, correct?
BS: That is correct. Peeriodicals can perform all of the functions of traditional journals except for actually publishing the manuscripts, for which many solutions already exist. We had in mind that preprints would be the source of these manuscripts but users can add articles from all sources, including of course existing journals. Note that there is no requirement that the manuscripts be recent.
RW: Why did PubPeer decide to create this feature?
Boris Barbour: Our aim and the mission of the PubPeer Foundation is to facilitate new ways of evaluating research. Our general philosophy is that scientists should discuss their work much, much more, thrashing ideas and criticism out in public if necessary. One size will never fit all, so while PubPeer focuses on individual publications, Peeriodicals offers broader and more creative possibilities for researchers to showcase their expertise and vision in helping their colleagues learn about the work of others. Thus, an additional benefit of peeriodicals will be as a source of commentary on PubPeer that complements the direct posts.
RW: How is the site different from F1000, which in its early days was designed to have people flag promising/interesting papers in their field?
BB: There are a number of related and overlapping initiatives, of which F1000 is only one. We would particularly draw attention to Tim Gowers’s promotion of the overlay journal concept and the leading example ‘Discrete Analysis,’ but we should also mention Science Open Collections, PLoS Channels, the APPRAISE initiative, ‘Peer Community in…’. All of these have their own specificities. We have tried to make our offering as flexible and lightweight as possible. With respect to the old F1000, that involved a restricted group of celebrities, which would be antithetical to our democratic, bottom-up approach.
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