PCI and digital open access academic publication: a discussion with Professor Matthieu Boisgontier

Researcher studying screen with brain imaging on it.
Have you ever heard of PCI, also known as Peer Community In? As a free, transparent peer review service, Peer Community In is led by communities of researchers who review and approve preprints in their discipline.

PCI aims to create an open access publishing ecosystem, led by scholars, outside the traditional commercial publishing system. This new model would cover the entire process (from submission to publication) and operate in ways that benefit the academic community in order to promote transparency, open access, reproducibility, equity, diversity and inclusion. There are currently 17 PCI communities, each dedicated to a discipline, such as ecology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, or genomics.

PCI also publishes the Peer Community Journal, an academic platform with no publication fees, in accordance with the diamond open access model and already indexed by Google Scholar, DOAJ, CAB Abstract and Dimensions. There are also several PCI-friendly journals, of which 30 are diamond open access and 55 belong to university publishers or research organizations.

The Library of the University of Ottawa and the Faculty of Health Sciences are proud supporters of PCI.

To learn more about PCI and its advantages, we spoke to Matthieu Boisgontier, associate professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences and principal investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute. As a champion of open scholarship who notably won uOttawa Library’s 2022 Open Scholarship Award, Boisgontier founded PCI Health & Movement Sciences, making him an expert in this innovative publishing method.

Why did you launch a PCI community dedicated to health and movement sciences?

The first time I heard of Peer Community In (PCI), I had just tweeted to promote my new preprint. In response to this tweet, someone suggested that I pre-publish it with PCI, which I had never heard of before. I immediately wanted to know more and I quickly realized that I loved what they were doing. Unfortunately, even though there were already 15 PCI communities, none of them matched my field of expertise: health. So I decided that it was my turn to contribute to this excellent initiative by creating a new PCI community. I thought it would take a few weeks. Three months, 350 invitation emails, and 50 online discussions later, PCI Health & Movement Sciences was born, with over 150 researchers on board, including 25 professors from the University of Ottawa. Thanks to our efforts, health and kinesiology researchers can now submit their preprints to PCI Health & Movement Sciences to be peer reviewed and recommended.

Matthieu Boisgontier

“PCI offers something new that the academic community desperately needs: a free process of peer reviewing prepublications.”

Matthieu Boisgontier

— Associate professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences

What are the advantages of publishing through PCI?

PCI offers something new that the academic community desperately needs: a free process of peer reviewing prepublications. Once it has been peer reviewed and recommended, a preprint can be cited as a legitimate publication and immediately included in a CV. Moreover, this peer review process saves money since it is conducted by members of the PCI community, rather than by publishers, a process that costs universities millions of dollars every year.

If researchers feel the need, preprints that have been peer reviewed by PCI can then be submitted to traditional academic journals. These journals can then use the preprint to decide whether to publish it as a such in their journal without conducting their own peer review, or if they eventually decide to publish the preprint as an article, they can limit any additional peer reviews to complementary ones.

Initially, my fear was that this initiative was financially precarious and that it would only be supported by a small number of committed researchers. But I was very pleased to discover that PCI is financially viable and officially supported by over 150 universities and research institutes, including first-class institutions such as Oxford University, Imperial College London, Harvard Library and the University of Paris-Saclay. Here at home, the University of Ottawa is paving the way: the Faculty of Health Sciences is the first Canadian faculty to officially support this initiative, so it is well equipped to be sustainable in the long term.

How has the research community reacted to date?

Since the creation of the PCI in 2017, all our numbers have steadily increased. In 2022, the number of preprint articles submitted was 320, and already in 2023, over 250 articles have been submitted. Moreover, over 1000 researchers have signed the PCI Manifesto, through which they commit to submitting one of their pre-publication articles for PCI peer review in the coming year.

What do you say to researchers who want to encourage open scholarship but who aren’t quite ready to completely give up traditional publication methods?

I tell them that they’re in luck! We’re not asking them to completely abandon the traditional model, but rather to contribute to open scholarship at their own pace, when they can. This contribution could take one of many forms: they could share data and codes through open access repositories such as OSF, Zenodo or GitHub, pre-publish their research on free servers such as SportRxiv or MedRxiv, have their preprints peer reviewed by PCI in their field of research, publish in diamond open access journals such as Communications In Kinesiology or Peer Community Journal, or even inform their students of the existence of open access practices and create lectures on this topic.

Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket, and especially not with traditional journal publishers, who do not reinvest these funds in universities and whose profit margins hover around 40%. This new strategy benefits not only  universities, but also academic careers, because open scholarship highlights researchers, is based on practices that support our academic community, fosters a more consistent system of publication, and protects equity, diversity and inclusion.

To conclude, what is your vision of the future of open scholarship?

Today, it is so hard to believe that only a few decades ago, people were allowed to smoke on airplanes. I think that similarly, academics will soon be asking themselves how the current system lasted for so long.

In future, only articles that feature open data, open codes and open peer review will be taken seriously and considered in literature reviews.

In future, universities will have succeeded in prioritizing journals published by academic institutions because these journals will be highly regarded in hiring, promotion, and research funding decisions. University publication professionals will be hired by universities and almost all the benefits of the academic publication system will flow back to the universities.

In future, the articles published by these university journals will be based on preprints that have been peer-reviewed by initiatives like PCI. Based on the quality of these preprints and their peer reviews, both of which would be published for free, the journals will need to convince the authors to publish the final version of the article in their journal, rather than another.

Support open scholarship at the University of Ottawa

In addition to supporting PCI, the Library of the University of Ottawa offers researchers a variety of open access publishing systems, including uO Research, its digital repository, and Open Journal Systems, which hosts open access journals.

To learn more about all the different open access options, contact Leigh-Ann Butler, the librarian responsible for scholarly communication.

To learn more about PCI, watch the presentation that Matthieu Boisgontier gave on January 25, 2023, during the Library’s Open Access Scholarship Award ceremony.