“Peer Community In”, an alternative system of scientific publication

“Peer Community In”, an alternative system of scientific publication

In 2017, three researchers from INRAE ​​​​​​(National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment), Denis Bourguet, Benoit Facon and Thomas Guillemaud, founded Peer Community In, a recommendation service preprint (the preprint or preprint is a version of a paper that a scientist submits for peer review) based on peer reviews. The validated articles as well as the evaluations and related data, codes and scripts are deposited in open access. The PCI paves the way for researchers to reclaim their evaluation and publication system and greater transparency in the knowledge production chain.

Birth of the project

The idea for the project germinated in 2016 following the awareness of the drifts of the scientific publication system which presents two important problems in particular: most of the publications are not freely accessible and the publication and subscription costs are extremely expensive for institutions.

Indeed, even in France, where the open science movement has accelerated in recent years, half of the publications remain protected by access rights. They are therefore not freely accessible to citizens, journalists and all scientists who depend on institutions that do not have the means to subscribe to scientific journals. This obstacle to the free flow of scientific information is a brake on the circulation and sharing of scientific knowledge and ideas.

In addition, globally, the industry revenue for science, technology, and medicine scientific paper publishing is approximately US$10 billion per 3 million published papers. A remarkable figure, especially since the profit margins achieved by the major publishing houses have averaged 35-40% in recent years. Having become aware of these costs and these margins, the founders of the PCI wanted to offer scientists and institutions the means to re-appropriate the editorial system. Thus was born, in 2017, the Peer Community In (PCI) initiative.

Self-organization of scientific communities

PCI organizes communities of scientists who publicly evaluate and validate preprints in their subject fields. The evaluation takes place as in classic scientific journals. Based on a peer review, the editors (known as “recommenders”) who evaluate a preprint submitted to a PCI decide, after one or more series of evaluations, to reject or accept the article. In case of acceptance, and unlike virtually all traditional journals, the editor writes a text of recommendation, explaining the context and the qualities of the article.

This recommendation text, as well as the entire editorial process (reviews, editorial decisions, author responses, etc.), is published on the PCI website, which organized the prepress evaluation. This transparency is also quite unique in the current publishing system.

The final, validated and recommended version of the article is deposited free of charge by the authors on the prepress server or on the open archive. The validated articles deposited on pre-press servers or in open archives are freely accessible: everyone can read them.

A revolution in scientific production

The PCI makes publication in a journal superfluous. The final and recommended version of the preprint, de facto validated by peers, can in fact be cited in the literature. The preprints recommended by the PCI are also recognised, particularly in France, by various institutions and evaluation and recruitment committees at the CNRS. In Europe, revised preprints are recognized by the European Commission and several national funding agencies such as Wellcome Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, etc.

The other originality of PCI is that it separates peer review from publication. PCI validation/recommendation of a preprint does not prevent authors from submitting this preprint for publication in a scientific journal. Furthermore, a large number of journals publicly declare themselves “PCI-friendly” in the sense that, when they receive preprint mailings previously recommended by PCI, they take into account the evaluations already carried out by PCI to expedite their editorial decision.

2021, launch of Peer Community Journal : a new stage

Initially, the intention of this initiative was to stick only to the evaluation and recommendation of preprints by IBOs. Despite this, it can be frustrating to see your preprints recommended on preprint servers (because these preprints, although evaluated and recommended, are still poorly indexed and not always recognized as real articles) or having to submit them for publication in newspapers with the risk of go on an evaluation round. The creation of Peer Community Journal it thus makes possible the direct and unconditional publication of an article recommended by a thematic PCI.

Peer Community Journal it is a diamond journal, i.e. a journal that does not charge the authors any publication costs and that systematically publishes articles in open access. The articles are therefore freely available on the magazine’s website without subscription and without access restrictions. Peer Community Journal it is a general journal which currently includes 16 sections – corresponding to the 16 current thematic PCIs – in which any preprint recommended by a thematic PCI can be published.

PCI: an innovative model on the rise

The PCI has been emulated: 16 thematic PCIs have been created (e.g. PCI Evolutionary Biology, PCI Ecology, PCI Neuroscience, PCI Registered Reports, etc.) and more PCIs are in the pipeline. These 16 PCIs bring together 1,900 people in the publishing field, 130 editorial board members, and more than 4,000 user scientists. PCI e Peer Community Journal they are recognized by 130 institutions and half of these institutions – including the University of Perpignan Via Domitia – financially support this initiative. The proportion of French academics who know and/or use PCI varies greatly by community. For communities that have PCI (e.g., ecology or evolutionary biology communities, with PCI Ecology and PCI Evol Biol) the proportion is very high (probably >50% of scientists in these communities now know PCI). For communities that do not yet have a PCI, this percentage remains very low. To date, >600 articles have been reviewed by PCI. Biology largely dominates, but other disciplines such as archeology and exercise science are emerging. There is still considerable room for improvement: the challenge is for those who know how to invest even more and for scientists in disciplinary fields not covered by the 16 PCIs to create a PCI in their field.

Other open science initiatives have sprung up internationally, but none similar to the PCI. Most are limited to bids – often paid directly or indirectly – for preprint peer reviews, but no editorial decision (such as Review Commons or PreReview) and thus do not disrupt the current publishing system.

While PCI’s dynamic is undeniably growing with more than 10,000 different visitors per month on all PCI sites, the creation of Peer Community Journal shows that the classic publishing system remains relevant and that it is undoubtedly destined to persist in the medium term, even if we can hope that the validation of preprints offered by PCIs will become a sufficient model, because it is cheaper and more transparent from all points of view.

Meanwhile, PCI e Peer Community Journal offer a credible alternative to diamond open access publishing, at no cost to authors and in free access. Times are changing and many institutions and universities, faced with disproportionate and unjustified inflation of subscriptions and costs of publication, support the rise of diamond journals. PCI e Peer Community Journal they fit into this dynamic by offering all scientific communities that wish to do so the means to unite to claim their own evaluation/publication system.

Science and society feed on each other and benefit from the dialogue. Research can build on citizens’ participation, improve their daily lives or even inform public decision-making. This is demonstrated by the articles published in our series “Science and society, a new dialogue”, published with the support of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

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