Peer Community In Registered Reports is a new non-profit organization that offers free peer-review services. Is this the future of scientific journals? (Image credit: PCI RR)

 

Outsourcing has gained a bad reputation over the years. It brings to mind call centers and customer service jobs that are handle outside the United States. But when it comes to science journals, outsourcing could be crucial for publishing essential research. 15 scholarly journals, including F1000, BMJ Open Science, PeerJ and Royal Society Open Science, have planned to outsource the peer review process to an independent organization, Peer Community In Registered Reports (PCI RR). Their goal is to emphasize the importance of experimental questions and study design in research rather than focusing on significant results, as is the case with most journals.

 

PCI RR is a non-profit organization funded by donations from universities and various scholarly societies. They identify expert volunteers to review registered reports – detailed plans of hypothesis and questions – that are submitted for review prior to a research project. Once researchers follow through on the peer reviewed-plan and get results, the article can then be published at any of the 15 “PCI RR-friendly” journals. The results don’t even have to be groundbreaking.

 

Writers still have the option to shop their manuscripts elsewhere if the results are important enough to be published in a high-impact journal. Authors also have the option to publish the paper as a preprint, which bypasses the journal system entirely. Best of all, the service is free to authors and journals. But PCI RR won’t just publish anything they get. It has to be an appropriate topic and has to meet other requirements, such as having signed peer reviews.

 

PCI RR isn’t the first organization to offer peer review services. They join a network of existing peer communities, like Peer Community In Ecology and Peer Community In Paleontology. These communities offer free peer review of preprints with published reviews and letters of recommendation for papers that meet requirements, as a way for researchers to show the quality of their work and keep it free to read without using traditional journals or paying high open-access publishing fees. PCI RR will accept registered report submissions in the science, medial, social science, and humanities fields.

 

It sounds good on paper. It’s a way to publish research outside of high-end journals, and it can circumvent high publishing fees. But many in the field are still wary that it will cause problems down the line. Because PCI RR will rely on volunteer scientists to review reports, it could be difficult to sustain workloads and keep a diverse pool of reviewers. And with PCI RR’s cross-disciplinary focus and goal of bringing more journals on board, it could become more expensive in the long run. Typically, discipline-specific peer communities roughly cost $6,400 a year (€5300).

 

On top of this, similar projects that have tried to have parts of peer review outside of scholarly journals haven’t gained much traction. According to the CEO of PeerJ, Jason Hoyt, this is because there’s a lack of incentive for researchers to use them. Though he does think PCI RR sounds promising and could at least provide valuable feedback during the research planning stage.

 

PCI RR won’t eliminate traditional publishers, but it does challenge. With such high fees, publishers will have to show why their services are still needed. “There’s a role for publishers still to play,” Hoyt says, “but I think they will have to start justifying the prices they charge.”

 

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