mSphereDirect was a trial that explored a new publishing pathway in mSphere, a multidisciplinary open-access journal spanning the microbial sciences. mSphereDirect put authors in control of their own peer review process allowing them to select their own reviewers and submit scientific reviews and the peer review history simultaneously with the original research. mSphere Senior Editors validated the reviewers’ credentials and evaluated the quality of the submitted reviews and research. This pathway allowed for rapid decisions, speed to publication, and transparency in review.
Goals and intentions
mSphereDirect was a response to the scientific community’s concerns about the current scholarly publishing process: peer review is too slow, the publishing process is too opaque, and journal editors may be too far outside their field when evaluating manuscripts. mSphereDirect put authors in the driver’s seat to secure reviews from suitable experts as rapidly as possible. Its objectives were to support the rapid communication of science, to give authors more control over the peer review process, and to provide guaranteed fast decisions. Additionally, mSphereDirect increased transparency by publishing reviewer names with original research papers accepted via the mSphereDirect pathway. In this way, mSphereDirect merged two crucial publication concepts: relevant, quality peer review and vetted, rapid decisions.
A number of issues and concerns surfaced during the experiment. Uptake was low. Authors felt awkward asking colleagues to review their manuscripts, and conversely, some scientists were uncomfortable serving as nonblind reviewers. Additionally, a significant number of the reviews were superficial and uncritical. To maintain editorial standards, manuscripts were rejected from authors who technically followed all the rules, but for which the significance of the work was in question.