PeerJ, today!

Along with being Darwin’s birthday, 12 February 2013 marks the official launch of the first articles on PeerJ.

In case you haven’t heard about it already, PeerJ is a brand new open access journal, with a twist. Or, actually, a few twists.

For instance, instead of a pay-per-article fee, PeerJ has all authors buy a lifetime membership in the journal. There are several levels of membership, depending on how much publishing you think that you might do on a yearly basis. And there are no yearly renewal fees. Instead, you maintain your membership by taking part in journal activities. For instance, if you review one article a year, your membership will stay active. This fee/membership model allows for an ongoing revenue stream (when members publish with new co-authors who are not yet members), and also stimulates ongoing and growing involvement in the journal by a diverse group of scientists.

Another welcome innovation that some other open access journals are also embracing is the insistence that authors co-publish their data with their paper in a repository such as figshare. This concept is not new to many disciplines. Genomics researchers have been publishing data along with their papers for years using repositories such as those provided by NCBI. But with the growth of the internet, there is no reason that all data associated with a paper can’t be publicly and permanently available in a citable format. By making data public in this way it is easy to anticipate that others will be able to use and build on the data in new and exciting ways.

PeerJ also commits to publishing any work that is rigorous, no matter how “cool” or “sexy” it is… or is not. To quote: “PeerJ evaluates articles based only on an objective determination of scientific and methodological soundness, not on subjective determinations of ‘impact,’ ‘novelty’ or ‘interest’.”

And one last twist that I’ll mention (please see this launch-day blog post from PeerJ for more information), authors can choose to publish the full peer review documentation alongside their accepted article. Besides giving some great insight into the review process, it also allows readers to study other expert opinion on the work and come to their own decisions.

PeerJ has an impressive advisory board that includes five Nobel laureates. It also has a huge and diverse board of academic editors, of which I’m a member (no Nobel Prize for me yet, however). I also have the honor of having been the handling academic editor on one of the first thirty articles in PeerJ.

And, one last note. PeerJ PrePrints is also going to come online in a few weeks as well. If you are familiar with physics and mathematics, you doubtless have heard of preprint servers such as Arxiv. Researchers in those fields have been publishing their preprints (nearly final draft) papers online for years. This is a constructive practice as it allows the larger community to see and comment on results as they come out. This both strengthens the eventual manuscript for final publication and it allows the research community to use the results immediately instead of waiting for the final publication. Of course, it also helps the researcher to establish priority for the work.

Historically, many journals in biological fields have had issues with the use of preprint servers as they have considered such early deposition of a manuscript as “prior publication.” This, too, is changing and I expect that the growing use of PeerJ PrePrints, and others like it, will make the change final.

I am under no illusions that the shift to a more open publishing and data sharing paradigm will be completely smooth sailing. As with anything new, there are going to be challenges and opposition from some corners to doing things in a new way. But the internet has changed the way that we do everything else in our society, often for the better. There is no reason that academic publishing and dispersal of research outputs should remain in the era of the printing press. PeerJ, and other publishers, are working diligently to guide our larger research community through this process of continual innovation.

Exciting times!

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Update: Some great coverage here, here, and here.