eLife: a journal run by scientists, for scientists
Today, we announce the name and senior editorial team of eLife, the new top-tier, open access journal to be launched next year with the support of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust. Here Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, explains how eLife will operate in the best interests of researchers.
Until recently, the central role of traditional subscription-based academic journals in the scientific process seemed unassailable, but rapid changes in technology over recent years mean that new models of publishing scientific papers have become viable.
We must be willing to look beyond the status quo to ensure we are making the most of available technology and resources to support and extend one of the most fundamental aspects of science: communication. At its most basic, communication is the simple act of sharing knowledge; at its most inspirational, it helps us to form our ideas about the world and leads to new concepts, understanding and applications.
Formal reports of research – including the methods, data and conclusions – that are subject to the scrutiny of expert scientific reviewers are the bedrock of the ‘literature’ from which we learn and to which we constantly refer. Yet if the scientific community were to be asked to devise the best way of communicating these reports today, drawing on the full capability and capacity of the internet, is it likely we would end up with the current publishing model? I think not.
A subscription-based model for publishing the results of scientific research has provided a robust and sustained system for sharing research over the decades. However, many scientists believe that publishers are not adapting quickly enough to the opportunities offered by today’s technology. They feel that the interests of research may have been placed second to the interests of a profitable status quo.
At the Wellcome Trust, we have taken the view – with support from the research community – that funding agencies have a responsibility to help establish a modern standard for best practice in scientific publishing, where ‘best’ is defined as ‘in the best interests of research’. In partnership with the Max Planck Society and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, we have announced our plans to launch a new journal, called eLife, which will take advantage of the latest communications technologies without losing sight of the many useful practices that have evolved in scientific publishing over the decades.
eLife will be open access so that there are no financial barriers to any scientist around the world accessing or reusing the research it publishes; it will be entirely online because this is the easiest and most consistent way of delivering and preserving content globally, and allows for greater innovation in the presentation and handling of data, adding more value to publications; and the editorial team that will make decisions about whether or not a paper should be published in eLife will be composed of active researchers.
This last point is crucial. We believe that editors who spend a substantial part of their time working in the laboratory have a more keenly developed sense of what is the most significant, exciting and potentially revolutionary research. That is exactly the kind of work that will be published in eLife, so having renowned active researchers on the senior editorial team will help to deliver the best service for scientists. Our first Editor-in-Chief will be Professor Randy Schekman, a distinguished cell biologist and until recently Editor-in-Chief of the journal PNAS, and he will divide his time equally between research and eLife.
Peer review is a vital part of scientific publishing but the culture of peer review must evolve. It must be rigorous to ensure the quality of published research, but equally it must not be allowed to cause endless delays, which works against the best interests of the wider research community. eLife’s editorial scientific team, led by Professor Schekman, will have the authority and the responsibility to use their judgement and to decide on a case by case basis to publish papers without the authors necessarily having to address every criticism raised in the peer review process. It would be harder, we believe, for people who are not active researchers to make such bold decisions.
Working with Professor Schekman will be Managing Executive Editor, Dr Mark Patterson, previously the Director of Publishing at PLoS, to oversee the business functions of eLife. Alongside them will be a group of Senior Editors and a board of reviewing editors comprising scientists who can quickly review submitted articles and make editorial recommendations. These people will be paid for their time, which might range from a few hours a month to two days a week, recognising the contribution that scientists make to the publishing process. For too long there has been the sense that while the publishing process is supposed to serve the scientific community, this community has, in fact, been in service to the publishing industry.
In the best spirit of research, we will test our hypothesis that an open access, top-tier journal run by scientists will be better for scientists when eLife is launched next year. The proof will be in the reading and the service it delivers.
Sir Mark Walport
Sir Mark Walport is Director of the Wellcome Trust