Preprints mean peer review can be reimagined as it should always have been




Peer review, a cornerstone of scholarly communications, is often acknowledged as a vital yet flawed process in academia. Among its well-known limitations—sluggishness, wastefulness, inconsistency and bias—its lack of transparency has arguably most impeded efforts to reform research assessment and promote open science. The recent boom in preprints, however, may now provide the impetus and opportunity to reimagine peer review for the better. 

eLife’s new ""preprint-first"" publishing model is a response to this challenge and opportunity. Since January 2023, the open-access journal has eliminated ""accept/reject"" decisions after peer review. Instead, they’ve redesigned their processes to provide public assessments for every preprint reviewed. In doing so, peer review at eLife makes better use of the peer reviewers’ time and can offer readers an understanding of a specific work's strengths and weaknesses, much more nuanced and representative than any individual metric could ever hope to provide. 

Drawing on data and lessons from the first year of the new model, this presentation will delve into the transformative potential of preprints and reimagined peer review to positively influence both career development opportunities and diversity within the researcher community. 

The talk made the case that the remaining barrier to the wider adoption of new models of transparent peer review is not technological but cultural. Transforming research culture for the better now hinges on uptake by other publishers, as well as support from institutions and funders. While this kind of change will take time, the potential resulting shift in research culture could see academia finally break free from its obsession with journal titles and impact factors, enabling researchers to be judged on what they publish and not where they publish.