The journal, available online at www.biology-direct.com, launches with publications in the fields of Systems Biology, Computational Biology, and Evolutionary Biology, with an Immunology section to follow soon. Biology Direct considers original research articles, hypotheses, and reviews and will eventually cover the full spectrum of biology.
Biology Direct is led by Editors-in-Chief David J Lipman, Director of the National Center Biotechnology Information (NCBI) a division of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) at NIH, USA; Eugene V Koonin, Senior Investigator at NCBI; and Laura Landweber, Associate Professor at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA. Lipman has long been interested in open access and has been central in the development of PubMed, GenBank and PubMed Central, the NLM's open access repository for literature in the life sciences.
Lipman and Koonin, speaking on the eve of the journal's launch, explain the motivation for establishing Biology Direct:
"We were compelled to launch this experiment because, while scientific publishing cannot be effective without peer review, we saw flaws in the current, predominantly, anonymous review system that run too deep to be rectified without a radical departure from the standard practices. It is our hope that the open peer-review system of Biology Direct, which allows a direct relationship between authors and reviewers, will be a major advantage for everyone involved - authors, readers, and reviewers alike."
Biology Direct aims to provide authors and readers of research articles with a unique system of peer review. Authors must approach three Editorial Board members directly to gain their agreement to review the manuscript or to nominate alternative reviewers. Editor-in-Chief Laura Landweber says, "Our Editorial Board members were carefully chosen, since they will almost autonomously run the journal: one can select one's own reviewers and, in most cases, they will be drawn from the editorial board itself, thus ensuring a high standard of review. An advantage of selecting one's own reviewers is the ability to choose people who will at least understand the article, since in so many new areas of biology finding the appropriate reviewers can be part of the problem of the conventional peer-review system."
This novel review process gives the author the opportunity to discuss points raised directly with the reviewers, and to revise their manuscript as much or as little as they wish, according to the suggestions or criticisms of the reviewers. Ultimately, reviewers can express reservations about the manuscript but publication can still go ahead unrevised (if the author wishes) unless there are ethical or scientific problems with the manuscript. The aim is to publish the most complete, informative, and interesting manuscripts possible but not to obstruct publication except in extreme cases.
In an editorial to launch the journal, the Editors explain, "our goals with this new journal, Biology Direct, are unapologetically ambitious: to establish a new, perhaps, better system of peer review and, in the process, bolster productive scientific debate…". They continue, "Anyone who ever attended a scientific conference worth its salt knows that the discussions can be quite vigorous, often enough going to bare knuckles, especially during the coffee breaks or at the bar, but also in the conference room itself. Sometimes someone gets upset or offended but it is, definitely, an exception. And how priceless these discussions often are in providing us with new perspectives and fresh ideas for our research!"
The initial response to the journal has been highly positive and the Editorial Board for Genomics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology includes many top researchers in these fields.
Dr Etienne Joly, of INSERM in Toulouse, France, one of Biology Direct's first authors and a member of the Editorial Board, comments on his experience of the journal's peer-review process:
"This experience of 'open refereeing' has been a very interesting and constructive process for me. As a result of this procedure, I have been able to interact directly with the referees, and on several issues it has allowed me to understand criticisms that would otherwise have remained quite obscure. And a couple of misunderstandings were cleared up very rapidly rather than having to spend a long time arguing against issues that had actually not been raised … I predict that a fair percentage of the manuscripts published in Biology Direct will later prove to have an important impact in their own right… The end result of this refereeing process is, I hope, a much better manuscript."
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