F1000 research image

Innovation

Open Source Peer Review And The Future Of Research

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F1000 research image

New transparent journals and social networks for scientists are accelerating medical research and innovation.

Research drives every aspect of healthcare, from drugs to procedures to patient interaction. Fortunately, recent efforts have made research more readily available and more collaborative in the hopes of spurring innovation.

Policies at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to make all government-funded research publicly available came online in November 2012. NIH officials stated that researchers who failed to make copies of their published papers available on the government research hub PubMed Central would not receive further funding.

Recently, academic journals have paid equal attention to the importance of open access in the evolving world of research. One such journal, PeerJ, has switched the traditional payment scheme: rather than readers paying for access to see peer-reviewed literature, scientists pay membership fees in order to be published, after being accepted by reviewers. For many researchers, the cost to publish will be covered by a grant or by their university, but once published, the research is freely available to anyone.

Another journal, eLife, funds its publishing costs with grants from powerhouse biomedical research funders like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

But perhaps the journal that has taken this model of open access furthest is F1000Research, a new journal launched by the Faculty of 1000 (F1000), a publishing firm nearly a decade old. In the new journal, papers are published before they’re peer reviewed, then peer reviews go up alongside the work.

“Open access has been going on for 10 years in the sciences,” says Eva Amsen, the outreach director for F1000. This is just the “next step,” Amsen said, noting that she hopes open peer review leads to more open science.

Every paper that is submitted is vetted by an internal review before being published, then the suggestions of reviewers, called “referees,” are made public and accompany the article. Authors update their papers in response to suggestions, or if the paper is found to be seriously inaccurate, it will be hidden from search results.

If someone sees the paper even though it’s hidden, the paper’s faults will be obvious from the referees’ criticism, making the method more transparent than other journals whose retraction of printed papers is harder to follow. Furthermore, the referees are made public, making them more accountable for their reviews.

People in science sometimes think something is “published” when it’s been peer reviewed, but in reality “the word publish simply means it’s made public,” said F1000 founder Vitek Tracz in a talk announcing the new journal. The journal’s new means of bringing both the information and the referees’ suggestions to the public is intended to make the system even more transparent, leading to better understanding of research and closer collaboration.

F1000 is already buzzing with reader and author discussion, Amsen said. With the new system, researchers “can actually build a chain of information and refer one article to another one,” she said.

Because every article lives online, full sets of data can live there too, unlike print journals where space is a premium. More information goes public faster, accelerating the pace of research and innovation.

Faster publishing can prevent duplicate studies from happening simultaneously and creates a space for feedback on experimental design before researchers embark on a costly study.

Infectious disease fellow Andrew DiNardo, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, started following F1000 a couple of years ago because it was a good feed of scientific studies, he says. DiNardo has published a paper with them, calling the process “extremely prompt and accessible.”

Much of the journal’s success will depend on how the general research community receives it, DiNardo said. For certain medical situations, like the outbreaks of SARS, or more recently, coronavirus, researchers and doctors rely on a quick turnaround of information, other projects should be “seriously vetted,” he said, emphasizing that speed should not take the focus away from accurate reviews.

Other organizations are realizing the inherent value of bringing together researchers and helping them better connect and collaborate. ResearchGate, a “social network for scientists, reports that in the five years since its founding, it has 2.9 million users, and recently Bill Gates was revealed as one of its biggest financial backers. The network aims to help researchers share their work more effectively, leading to more meaningful collaboration and more meaningful research. Such changes on the research side could lead to even bigger benefits when these discoveries are put into practice.