PeerJ Launches PeerJ Computer Science

February 3, 2015

February 3, 2015Today, PeerJ Computer Science opens its digital doors for the first preprint submissions. The journal will begin accepting submissions on February 12, the second anniversary of PeerJ’s first published paper. Bio-IT World spoke to Jason Hoyt, Co-founder and CEO; and Peter Binfield, Co-founder and Publisher of PeerJ and PeerJ Computer Science about their goals for the new journal. What follows is an edited compilation of those conversations. 

Bio-IT World: PeerJ covers biological sciences and medical sciences. Can you tell me why computer science was the next step for you?  

Jason Hoyt: We decided to go with computer science for a few reasons. One was the strong connection with O’Reilly Media and Tim O’Reilly. So O’Reilly Media and Tim have been with us since the beginning as investors. On the practitioner side for computer sciences, they’re quite well known and well established. And so we felt that there was something there where we could add something new to the academic side of computer science with that O’Reilly relationship.

They don’t particularly have anything to do with academics. It’s all practitioners. But we think we can somehow leverage each other’s assets going forward and that’s something that could be interesting. There’s nothing planned at the moment specifically. But there is content that could be shared between the two organizations. For instance, we could set up other events that leverage both audiences. So there’s a lot of interesting things that could be done in the future with that. And I think a lot of academics do know Tim O’Reilly’s name as well. So there’s credibility there to try to launch into that space.

Peter Binfield: Ever since we launched PeerJ two years ago we’ve had a ton of requests from people to either expand into their area or launch a journal in their area. So we’ve had requests from all over:  humanities, social sciences, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, lots of different areas that we don’t currently cover. And the problem is we only have so much resources to concentrate on any one expansion and we wanted to get the existing journal, the biology and medicine journal, off the ground properly.

But as we were going forward we were getting a lot of questions from the computer science community in particular, which was interesting because this is a community which… tends to present their work at conferences and the conferences are then where they gain prestige and meet their colleagues and everything.

It’s a field that we can address quite well with some of our tools that we’ve already built. So we’ve built the journal, of course, which is very rapid. We’ve got the preprint server, and can get stuff up in 24 hours. We have Q&A functionality built into the system. We have leader boards of best reviewer in subject X.

It’s funny, really, because this is a field, computer science, you would imagine those people would be all over innovative, cutting edge, delivery mechanisms or publishing options. And yet, it’s this stuff has historically been driven by the biology world, at least in the open access world it has. And so, we hope that we’ve got some nice solutions for these people and that they use I guess some of the innovations that we’ve built into the system and it improves overall improves their publishing culture.

One of the biggest problems they’ve got I think is speed. So one of the reasons they publish in conferences is they’re fast. And their journal culture has historically been very slow. Apparently it’s not unusual to spend a year in peer review in this world.

Hoyt: We did a lot of focus groups and had calls with many, many editors, academics who serve as editors at different journals. We’re opening next week with over 300 academic editors on the editorial board. We talked to every single one of those and we’ve been asking them a set of questions: What upsets you about your current field? What would you like to see improved? And everyone, the number one reason has been speed then followed by open access.

Tell us exactly what content you foresee being within the scope of this journal.  

Binfield: The name is PeerJ Computer Science. It’s the whole of computer science. But for example, it’s not the sort of engineering end of the IEEE type of content. It’s more software, programming type of computer science. There is hardware architecture in our list. But it’s mostly things like artificial intelligence, big data, algorithms. We’ve subdivided the field into 40 subject areas… [including] security, cryptography, data mining, computer vision, social computing.

How much overlap do you see between these two areas and where would those papers go? 

Binfield: The preprint server is a single title, a single product that contains bioinformatics that could’ve gone into the computer science journal or the bio journal for example. And but if we talk about the journal differences, if it’s a paper in for instance computational biology that really comes at the topic from the biology side, the wet end of the subject, then it makes more sense to have it in the biology journal of course. If it comes at it from the technical end—here’s a new algorithm for calculating this folding, and this is the software implementation of it—then it would go in the computer science journal.

But the rather nice thing about having our integrated infrastructure, we’ve built everything ourselves, is that you’d share a database. So an academic editor on the journal can actually be an academic editor on either journal. So for instance, our bioinformatics academic editors could act as an editor of either journal, depending on their expertise. And the subject, the published papers, although they’ll be published in one journal or the other, can all be collated together on a single collection page or a subject page for instance and so the connection across the fence as it were between the fields.

Once we start talking about two journals you’re going to be clarifying which you are talking about a lot. What’s the preferred nomenclature for the two publications? 

Hoyt: So we’re actually still trying to figure that out right now. For now, PeerJ will still refer to just the biology and medicine journal. We’ll use the full PeerJ Computer Science for the computer science stuff. But one of the things we’re actually looking at after this announcement is, ‘Are people confused?’ ‘How so? ‘Does that confusion sort of patch itself up over time as people get used to the idea?’

How similar are the platforms? 

Binfield: They’re on the same platform. They’ll look and feel the same. They’ll have the same functionality. They’ll have the same mentality, that they’re attempting to publish everything that’s publishable and so on.

PeerJ is a publishing for life model. Is that right?  

Hoyt: That’s correct, yes. You pay just one price starting at $99 that allows you to publish once per year. It’s free to submit and that covers everything from peer review to getting published if you’re accepted. Once you’ve gone through the peer review process and the editor in charge decides it’s acceptable for publication, then the authors have to pay at that point in order for it to go through to production and be published.

If you’ve published once already in a 12 month time span you can pay an extra fee to be able to publish more than just once that year. Otherwise, you would have to wait another year. But what happens is authors usually like to spread their publications around to different journals. They don’t always like to publish in the same journal. And most authors, roughly 60%, only publish once in their career anyway. So whether they publish multiple times with us or just once with us, they’re usually getting a pretty good deal for open access.

Will the business model for PeerJ Computer Science will be the same as the business model for PeerJ? I’m assuming there will be early adopter incentives. 

Hoyt: Yeah, exactly. So for the first six months [starting February 12], anyone who simply comes to us and just signs up, expresses their interest, they’ll be able to publish for free in the computer science journal. And then we’ll look after six months what the uptake is looking like at that point.

Tell me about your advisory and editorial boards.  

Binfield: We’ve got a stellar advisory board so that’s really something that I think will make an impact in this world. We’ve got three of the past Presidents of the ACM and the current Vice President of the ACM. We’ve got some of the most significant names in this world are on the advisory board and that’s an important thing I think for me to highlight to you.

Hoyt: We have some pretty big names, like Vint Cerf from Google, who’s considered one of the fathers of the internet. He’s the chief internet evangelist at Google right now. Grady Booch from IBM, who goes way back in terms of the UNIX environment.

Binfield: And then just the broader editorial board. You know, we have 350-something people now. People will recognize lots of significant names that they know from that list. It’s a very high class editorial board in general that we’ve got, which is important I think to establish the credibility of the journal in people’s minds. We’ve been able to convince almost 400 significant people in the world that this is a worthwhile effort to be undertaking. It’s a good thing to be trying and they’re behind it, which is great.

[See the full list of advisors and editors here.]

And you have a lot of women listed.  

Binfield: We’ve made a real effort to have as good a gender ratio as we can. It’s something that it’s sort of a corporate goal of ours. It’s an important thing. We’ve done the same thing with the biology journal. This historically is a field that has a very low female representation, which is a great shame. So we’ve made an effort to have a good female representation. We’re actually up to about 40% females overall on the editorial board.

I know that PeerJ is looking forward to getting its impact factor this year. Is that correct? And it will just apply to PeerJ, it won’t apply to PeerJ Computer Science.  

Hoyt: That’s right. Yeah. You heard about that. So we found out last October, I believe it was, that we’ll be getting one which comes out usually in June. We decided to make PeerJ Computer Science an actual proper separate journal. So, to begin with this won’t have an impact factor, unlike the biology journal.

The impact factor can basically make or break you. It could be a huge boon for you or it could be very disappointing. What’s the reasoning behind launching a new journal just a handful of months before you are due to get what could be a seal of approval from the scientific community? 

Hoyt: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, whatever happens then with the bio journal, we always wanted to do something else besides just the journal we have now. I don’t know if we’ve really thought about the timing like you just put it in terms of the impact factor in getting this new journal out. But I think what we’re doing, we realized we’ve been looking for other things to do, including non-journal stuff but we decided we’d just leverage what our current strengths are and just expand into entirely new fields.

In the past, we’ve added new subject areas to the current PeerJ journal. Those are biology-related subject areas. And we had considered putting this into the main journal as well, but we felt we could experiment more with the computer science community if we made this a different journal. We could do things with this journal that we don’t do with the biology journal. We don’t know exactly what those are. Some very low level stuff might be requiring Latex submissions only for instance or doing something around that.

Latex submissions? 

Hoyt: A lot of physicists and computer scientists will use a program called Latex to generate a very nearly typeset document and submit those whereas a lot of biologists use Microsoft Word. So it’s just it helps for typesetting and you can get some through of production much more rapidly. But since only 5% of biologists use this, it’s not really relevant to them. So that’s just one of the areas, for instance, where we could look to do something different.

Earlier you had mentioned maybe some events with O’Reilly. Is that the kind of thing you’re thinking of? 

Hoyt: Yeah, when we launched in 2013 we always said we wanted to eventually make the cost zero to have to publish open access. But in order to do that you have to find other sources of revenue. And so that’s what we’ve been looking at. A lot of journals do things like just advertising. We don’t have any advertising. That probably wouldn’t pay the bills anyway. And so we’d be looking to do something more substantial. For now, we don’t have a plan for that though.