Thomas Guillemaud

Entrevista CSIC Abierto

Comité Ejecutivo de Peer Community In Evolutionary Biology y director de Investigación del Instituto Sophia Agrobiotech (INRA)
                                                                           
Iniciativa Peer Community in...

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What are the origins and motivations of PCI initiative?

The current system of publication by scientific journals is too costly for research institutions. The cumulative amount of subscriptions to journals with restricted access and the costs of free access to journals with open access amounts to approximately 120 million Euros In France. In addition the current system relies on the work of researchers as authors, editors, and reviewers of articles for free, which is not logical given its tremendous costs for research institutions. The system is also considered too opaque because reviews and editorial correspondences remain anonymous and are rarely published. In addition, reviewers' criticisms are often far too succinct to ensure a gain in the quality of the articles. Moreover, the shift towards the economic model of open access, for which authors pay, is intrinsically scientifically vicious because publishers have an economic interest in accepting as many articles as possible, at the possible cost of scientific quality. We thus wanted to create a completely free system based on deep, high quality evaluation of preprints deposited on open archives.

Could you briefly explain the set workflow once a preprint is submitted to PCI? In particular, what criteria are used and who takes responsibility to reject a preprint for peer review and/or reject a reviewed preprint for recommendation?

When an author has deposited his preprint in an open archive, he can submit it for evaluation to a PCI. The author agrees not to submit the article to a journal for the duration of the evaluation, until a final decision (rejection or recommendation). Similarly, the author agrees to wait up to 20 days for the article to be taken in hand by an associate editor (a so-called 'recommender'). If no recommender takes the paper in hand during the 20 days, the author is free to submit the article elsewhere. If one of the many recommenders (up to 370 in PCI Evol biol) takes the preprint in hand, he/she organizes its evaluation on the basis of at least 2 peer-reviews. Evaluation is then a classic peer-reviewing process, with possibly several rounds of review/modification. If the recommender is finally satisfied with the preprint, he/she recommends the article: he/she writes a short text contextualizing the preprint and explaining why it is remarkable. This text is published with the whole editorial correspondence (reviews, authors' replies, decisions). On the other hand, the associate publisher may decide to reject the article if it is not satisfactory.

The criteria used by the recommenders are subjective: they must find the preprint interesting, whatever the reason: new or original question, data of very good quality, important repetition of results, particularly well done analysis, etc.

Very importantly, once a preprint is recommended by a PCI, it can be submitted to a journal afterwards.



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What is PCI main incentive to accept postprints for peer review/recommendation?

PCI does not evaluate postprints, however it can recommend ones. This was mainly done at the very beginning of the existence of PCI, at a time when it was not possible to organize the peer-reviewing of preprint for technical reasons. The other reason is that a PCI can recommend a preprint that has already been evaluated by another PCI, for instance in case of multidisciplinary science. In that case the recommendation of an already recommended preprint looks like the recommendation of a postprint: no need to complete a full evaluation process, a recommender can directly recommend the preprint.

It must be clear for the reader that recommendation of postprints is not the primary goal of PCI. The primary goal is to recommend preprints based on their full evaluation handled by a recommender with the help of at least 2 reviewers.

Do you think the PCI model may be applied in all fields of research? Is the model dependent on current journal system to consolidate?

Yes, we think that the PCI model can easily be applied to all research fields, from ancient history to theoretical physics. We have had discussions with mathematicians, archeologists, ethnologists, forest scientists, phytopathologists, etc.

Our model is theoretically not dependent on journals to exist or to grow. It could even replace the current journal system in theory. However, scientists used to publish in journals and they want to go on because they are evaluated (for their career, their projects) on the basis of their publication records. In a way publications that used to be a way to communicate science became a way to build individual curriculum. Therefore we propose to the authors to first submit their preprints to a PCI and then, once they are improved and recommended (with public reviews and recommendations), to submit their preprints to journals if they choose. We could imagine that, after a while, when authors understand that a PCI recommendation is enough to make their preprint a complete, reliable and citable article, they will choose not to submit their preprint to journals anymore. But this needs time and a change in the evaluation procedures. This has started in France where, for example, evaluation committees in population biology (Cnrs, Inra, universities) consider preprints recommended by PCI Ecology or PCI Evolutionary Biology as articles published in peer-reviewed journals.