MetaROR – a new form of scholarly publishing and peer review for STS

by Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner, Ludo Waltman, Adrian Barnett, Jennifer Byrne, Jason M Chin, Alex Holcombe, Stephen Pinfield, Simine Vazire, James Wilsdon

Science and technology studies (STS) is an interdisciplinary field where multiple forms of scholarly publishing coexist. On one hand, there is a range of established scholarly journals. Think of venues like: Science, Technology, & Human Values (ST&HV); Catalyst; Social Studies of Science; Public Understanding of Science; Social Epistemology; Biosocieties or Science as Culture. These use single- or double-anonymous pre-publication peer review. Most are operated by a large corporate publisher (in particular Taylor & Francis and SAGE). Some of these journals, such as ST&HV, Catalyst and Science & Technology Studies, rely on the use of an editorial collective where editorial responsibilities are distributed, and other journals have begun to move in the same direction. 

Two large STS societies now offer their own fully Open Access (OA) journals: Engaging Science, Technology, and Society (4S) and Science & Technology Studies (EASST). Monograph publishing also continues to play an important role in STS. Mattering Press and Meson Press have trail-blazed OA book publishing, creating open alternatives to the traditional,  internationally-prestigious university presses.

Challenges in scholarly communication in STS

While the STS publishing landscape is clearly diverse and heterogeneous in terms of its formats, publishing workflows, and commercial structure, it still faces several broad challenges:

      • Limited accessibility of the literature. With the exception of the OA journals and some OA book publishers, like Meson press and Mattering Press, readers of STS literature usually need to pay to read the literature. Those unable to pay do not have full access to the literature. Conversely, the model of funding OA publications through article processing charges limits the ability of STS scholars to have their work published in certain journals, especially where authors don’t have access to institutional funds or OA publishing subsidies.
      • Lack of community ownership. Many important journals in our field are (co-)owned by commercial publishers, constraining the freedom we have to decide ourselves how we organize our publication practices.
      • Pressure on peer review. Peer review is a vital community service, but also a kind of invisible work that often goes unacknowledged by employers and institutions. It is increasingly difficult for journal editors to recruit expert reviewers in a timely fashion, thus delaying the communication of scholarly work.
      • Limited openness in our research practices. Much research is shared only in its final state, typically as an article published in a journal. There appears to be no outlet or platform in STS that offers the possibility of publishing peer review reports alongside papers, and with the exception of the Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, there are no STS-dedicated places to share the empirical materials on which scholarship is based. Preprint publishing – a practice where an article is published before peer review on a preprint server or in an institutional repository – is similarly uncommon, despite its very rapid growth in the sciences and endorsement by public research funders.
      • Little dialogue with fields with different epistemic commitments. While STS is already interdisciplinary in that that it inter alia spans anthropology, sociology, feminist science studies, activist work, and making & doing, we think it would benefit from more interaction with fields such as the history of science, quantitative science studies, and philosophy of science.

Many researchers in STS are intimately familiar with the above challenges, not only from practical experience but also since much of our intellectual work involves taking a reflexive stance on (co-)creating and communicating knowledge – frequently with special attention to mechanisms of exclusion and monopolization. Doesn’t this also mean that STS has a special responsibility to develop and test innovative ways to address these challenges? 

Recent events such as the STS Publishing Futures session in New Orleans in 2019 (4S), a plenary on The future and politics of STS in Europe in Madrid in 2022 (EASST), and a session organized by the editorial collective of Engaging Science, Technology, and Society in Cholula in 2022 (4S) certainly suggest a willingness to rethink STS publishing practices and experiment with new approaches.

Innovating scholarly communication in STS and beyond 

To address the above challenges, we – a group of researchers from STS, quantitative science studies and metaresearch – are developing what we feel is an innovative approach to scholarly communication. We call this new initiative MetaROR (MetaResearch Open Review). While MetaROR remains a concept at this stage, some of its key features can already be outlined:

      • MetaROR will not be a traditional scholarly journal. It will be a platform that operates according to a publish-review-curate model. This model is getting increasingly popular, especially in the life sciences, where it is used by journals such as eLife and F1000 Research.
      • In MetaROR’s publish-review-curate model, researchers will first publish their work on a preprint server such as MetaArXiv, SocArXiv or OSF Preprints and then submit it to MetaROR. Submissions will be handled by MetaROR editors, who will first perform a basic screening and then assign reviewers on the basis of their fit with a submission in terms of epistemic outlook. The role of a MetaROR editor is a form of voluntary communal service and will be advertised on a rolling basis on the platform website. Review reports and optionally reviewer identities will be published on the MetaROR platform and will be linked to the article published on the preprint server. Based on the peer review outcomes, MetaROR will publish an editorial assessment consisting, for instance, of a short summary, contextualization, and brief discussion of review reports. This is the “curate” facet of publish-review-curate models.
      • Research reviewed and curated by MetaROR can still be published in traditional scholarly journals. To streamline this process, MetaROR aims to develop partnerships with journals in the broad area of STS and adjacent fields of metaresearch. This is similar to the way in which platforms such as Review Commons and Peer Community In are partnering with academic journals.
      • MetaROR’s publish-review-curate model will accelerate the communication of scholarly work, since peer review will take place after publication rather than before. The model is also expected to reduce the pressure on peer review, since reviews will be used more efficiently. Should authors of an accepted paper choose to submit their work to a journal later on, they can include the reviews that have already been performed for MetaROR. And since reviews will be openly available, there will be more recognition for the efforts of reviewers than is usually the case (making it more attractive for researchers to perform peer review).
      • MetaROR aims to serve all research communities in STS and adjacent fields that show interest in experimenting with new approaches to scholarly communication. MetaROR aims to stimulate interaction between different research communities, while also recognizing the value of community-specific norms and research practices. In addition, MetaROR aims to promote the translation of research outcomes to insights that are of direct practical use, for instance for STS scholars involved in community building work and inter- and transdisciplinary research.
      • MetaROR will be owned by the academic community of researchers doing research on science, technology, and knowledge making. We expect to work together with one or more technology providers, but they will not own the platform. Instead, we envision MetaROR to be community-owned.

We hope to launch MetaROR in the second half of 2023. To kick off the platform and stimulate engagement in STS and other communities, we plan to launch a call for a themed collection of papers around the topic of “metaresearch”. Our ambition is to stimulate a dialogue among members of different research communities (STS, anthropology, scientometrics, activist writing, science & innovation studies etc.) on this emerging term, its conceptual underpinnings and shortcomings, its relation to existing intellectual formations like STS, and the opportunities it may provide by connecting to broader audiences. More details on this call will be published in the EASST Review closer to the launch of MetaROR.

To turn MetaROR into a genuine community-driven initiative, we hope to further expand and diversify the core team of MetaROR. We invite colleagues in STS that are interested in contributing to the development and implementation of MetaROR to reach out to us.