Journal clubs 2.0: An update for the 21st century

Do you run a journal club? The non-profit, scientist-driven ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in Biology) promotes transparency and innovation in life science communication, and they are offering funding to organise preprint review clubs. Find out about their other activities, too.
Journal clubs 2.0: An update for the 21st century

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Journal clubs! Almost every department and lab group has one. These clubs can be excellent opportunities for early career researchers to gain experience reviewing research, reading critically, and understanding how to communicate more effectively (or how to not communicate, depending on the paper). A good journal club may consist of a number of researchers, each with slightly different areas of expertise who collectively contribute to a critical discussion of a chosen paper. However, these discussions are often kept behind closed doors, and rarely, if ever, shared with the authors of those papers. Almost always, journal club reviews are done on published papers, long after the critical feedback that is generated in the discussion can be useful to a paper’s authors.

Making preprints the topic of conversation at journal clubs transforms these discussions into invaluable activities. Publicly sharing the output of a club’s discussion provides usable feedback to a preprint’s authors that they can act upon prior to submitting to a journal. Peer review of preprints also benefits the wider publishing ecosystem; peer reviewers are increasingly difficult to find, and yet almost every department has at least one group of researchers already conducting this activity, albeit privately. By sharing openly, ECRs can also build a public track record of peer review activity. Additionally, if preprint authors engage with the review this provides tentative training benefits to the reviewers.

Optimize your journal club with snacks and strategy

So how do you convert your journal club into a preprint review club and reap all of these benefits? ASAPbio is currently providing funding to incentivise this conversion of journal clubs. ASAPbio offers $200, in the form of a gift card for refreshments, in return for four publicly posted reviews of preprints over the course of the year. Simply enroll your club, get approved, share your reviews, and you’re off to the races. Currently there are 6 funded journal clubs across the USA, EU, Argentina, and India, and we’d love to support more. 

In addition to converting local journal clubs, ASAPbio also runs a yearly crowd preprint review activity. Essentially, crowd preprint review is just a virtual, asynchronous, journal club. Crowd members are sent a preprint once a month and have two weeks to leave comments. At the end of the two weeks, crowd leads synthesize these comments into a more “traditional” peer review. They then share the review with the preprint authors and post it publicly as a comment or on platforms like PREreview (a platform for posting community peer reviews). The preprint review crowds have a very similar workflow to a local preprint review club. So far, ASAPbio has coordinated reviews on over 90 preprints through the crowd review initiative, and we’re currently recruiting new crowd reviewers for 2024.

Diagram representing the Crowd Preprint Review process.
Crowd Preprint Review process. Preprints are shared to a virtual crowd once a month. Crowd members have 14 days to comment on the preprint before the crowd lead synthesizes the comments into a traditional looking review that is then shared publicly.

For bioRxiv and medRxiv preprints, reviews from other platforms, such as PREreview, are linked directly to the preprint. A further benefit of a platform like PREreview is that contributors can link their reviews to their ORCiDs, ensuring they get full recognition for each review. Alternatively, reviewers can post reviews under a pseudonym to keep their identity confidential. On top of these activities, ASAPbio provides resources for conducting preprint peer reviews and advice on where to post these reviews. 

We invite you to apply to join the ASAPbio review crowds as a reviewer and apply for support to convert your journal club. Even without ASAPbio support, we hope you see that there are numerous benefits to converting your old-fashioned journal club into a preprint review club. Take the initiative and join the revolution! 

Image by Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

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