Vitek Tracz is the founder of F1000Research, an open research publishing platform based on open and transparent peer review that offers immediate publication of an article on submission (assuming it passes a set of basic screening checks). F1000Research is the most recent of Tracz’s innovative scientific publishing projects, preceded by such digital products as BioMedNet and open access publisher BioMed Central. He is based in London, by way of Warsaw and Jerusalem. Tracz’s F1000Research platform allows authors to publish articles on submission prior to peer review. Peer reviewers are selected by the authors from an F1000Research list of reviewers. Based on peer review comments, authors revise their articles. Referees may of course not approve some articles, but they cannot reject them; however authors can write new improved versions in response the criticisms of the referees.
I sat down with Tracz following his keynote address at the Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing Conference in Washington, DC recently. In his keynote, he had warned publishing executives that they have become “enemies of the researchers”. He stressed that people don’t read journals anymore. They read articles, and he urged publishers to bypass journals and abandon article selection based on improving Impact Factors.
Is it hard to find peer reviewers to provide open peer review?
It’s easier for us to get peer reviewers than ever before, and the peer reviewers do an excellent job and have a high degree of expertise. And the reason for this is transparency. For the first time, the peer reviewer gets some benefit from being a reviewer. Their peer review comments appear and are available to all and are citable. We give every peer review a DOI so people can cite it. Now we have some referees who get cited, and they can include it in their CVs. Refereeing becomes part of how you speak about your subject, and reviewers’ comments are fascinating and interesting, worth knowing and worth using so they do it.
Aren’t people afraid that the peer review won’t be honest because it is open?
The peer reviews are unbelievably honest because if you write a peer review and you know people will read it, you know if you start hiding things or speak too nicely about the authors, people will say so. So they are completely honest. They are polite, they’re not abusive, but they’re tough.
In all cases, do the authors pick the reviewers?
Always. The list (of potential reviewers) is created by us, using lists of existing reviewers, and then we do high quality algorithmic analysis. As the software reads the article, it does its calculations and gives you the suggested reviewers.
What happens to Editorial Boards?
We don’t have Editorial Boards. There is no Editor. The only purpose of an Editor is to reject, but we don’t reject.
There seems to be a certain level of chaos or disorder in your system. How are articles highlighted and prioritized without an Impact Factor?
It is very structured, very clear. Some articles are selected for F1000Prime (another Tracz product). But we are looking for some additional ways. An important part is if you publish under a funder, like Wellcome, on a funder platform, it already gives you a very significant level of legitimacy because only people who are funded can publish on that platform. We are talking both to major research funders and universities about the idea of having their own platforms.
Are journals dead?
No one is using journals for reading, but authors are using them for publishing, and I’ll tell you one way that they are not dead. Much of the money in publishing comes from journals. Publishing lives from journals. You take away the journals and it will profoundly change the economies of science publishing.
Do you consider yourself a publisher?
We are service providers. There is still place for publishing secondary content, but I am talking here principally about primary research.
What do you think of social media?
There is a huge river of articles passing through. Some of them will be picked up by social media. But there needs to be something more systematic. Transparent peer review is an incredible tool for assessing articles. When people come to read articles on our site, they go to read the referees’ comments first and the referee may say for example: “Very interesting article, but it has some serious flaws”, which immediately gives you some assessment of the article.
Do you think the printed word will disappear?
No, no. The print is disappearing but ‘the word’, the text, is needed and will stay. The way we are heading is data-based narrative so it will be a shorter narrative; the balance of narrative to data is changing.
One last question. What happens to librarians?
I love them. My wife is a librarian.
Paula Gantz (www.paulagantz.com) consults for learned societies in the U.S., Europe and China. Her focus is on new products, new technologies and innovative business models. She has over 35 years experience in scientific and consumer publishing and an MBA from The Wharton School.