The Faculty of 1000 Biology Factor Will Revolutionize Scientific Evaluation and Publishing

What’s the hottest biology website currently on the Internet? In my opinion, the clear winner is the newest tool to evaluate scientific literature, entitled Faculty of 1000 Biology at http://www.f1000biology.com, which has the potential to revolutionize not only the way we rank biology papers and those who produce them, but the entire science publishing industry.

F1000 Biology is the brainchild of Vitek Tracz, the chairman of Current Science Group. It was founded in 2002 as a means to “highlight and review the most interesting papers published in the biological sciences, based on the recommendations of a faculty of well over 1000 selected leading researchers” – more than 1600 scientists in fact. The entire field of biology is divided into 16 subject areas (called Faculties), each presided over by several Heads of Faculty and comprised of a panel of Faculty Members that “[involves] both experienced and younger investigators” and is inclusive of all nationalities and genders. The Members are encouraged to evaluate and rank two to four published articles of significant scientific merit every month. The rankings from all Members are compiled and an “F1000 Factor” is calculated for each article. Comments are also posted with the rankings (1).

For its efforts, F1000 Biology has been overwhelmingly praised. The website has received the support and recommendation of one of Toronto’s top researchers, Dr. Tony Pawson – “I visited the web site, and got immediately excited. This is just what we need (1).” Shortly after its release, F1000 Biology was rewarded with the prestigious ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers) award as the most innovative publication in 2002 (2).

Subscriptions are required for access to F1000 Biology, at a cost of $75US per annum for a personal subscription. Institutional subscriptions are also available with variable prices dependent on the size and type of company, institution or organization (1). However, F1000 Biology should be commended for providing free access to institutions in impoverished countries (GNP per capita below $1000) through the World Health Organization’s HINARI (Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative) scheme (3).

F1000 Biology is praised as an exceptional tool to “[organize] and [evaluate] the mass of information within scientific literature (1).” Yet the target audience, informed scientists, may not be in need of its evaluative guidance. If you are a competent investigator, don’t you think you should possess the skills to distinguish between good and bad papers? Nonetheless, as an organizational tool, F1000 Biology functions similarly to the other invaluable on-line search engines, i.e. PubMed or Google Scholar, in highlighting articles based on keyword searches.

I would reason that the website’s greatest utility is to those outside the scientific community or unfamiliar with alternate fields, for example, inexperienced students, media personnel, and granting or promotional boards. This is emphasized by the website’s instructions to Members, that their comments should be structured in such a way that “the first sentence [is] intelligible to a general biology audience (1).”

Along these lines, the F1000 factor could serve as a rational and radical alternative to the conventional scientific ranking method, the Journal Impact Factor. A product of Thomson ISI, this method evaluates articles based on the journal in which they appear. As poor papers can be published in reputable journals, and more often times, excellent manuscripts printed in lower-tier journals, this ranking method is ridiculously flawed. Logically, the F1000 Factor is a superior method for evaluation of papers, and subsequently scientists, as articles are acknowledged for their scientific merit and not for the journal in which they are published. While publication within a top-tier journal may provide greater exposure for an article, it is not directly correlated with a citation in F1000 Biology. On analysis of Nature, Cell and Science publications from 2004, over 50% (on average) of the articles were not worthy of a Recommendation by a Faculty Member, let alone inclusion under the status of Exceptional (Note 1). This data is further supported by the fact that only 15% of F1000-selected articles are published in Nature, Cell and Science. In a survey of several Faculty Members at the University of Toronto, they maintain that their decision to recommend an article is irrespective of the publication source, but purely based on interest and its importance to the scientific community (Note 2).

An example of the F1000 Factor’s utility in judging scientific merit is represented by the fact that in June 2003, the French research organization, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), instructed its laboratory heads to use F1000 Biology as a means of assessing grant applications and evaluating the research of the scientists within the organization (4). Later this year, BioMed Central will launch Faculty of 1000 Medicine, resulting in an even broader spectrum of manuscripts that could be critiqued by this method (1).

An additional reason exists for adopting the F1000 Factor for evaluation of biology papers. Countless scientists throughout the world support open-access publishing (Note 3), where article retrieval is unrestricted and free-of-charge. Unfortunately, ranking papers with the Journal Impact Factor will not permit a move toward open-access, as established journals with high impact factors (owned by the major for-profit publishing houses) will continue to attract papers of significant scientific discovery. Therefore, a major change has to occur in the ranking system to convince authors that their scientific careers will not be hindered for publishing in open-access, and consequently often lower-tier journals. At the same time, in order for worldwide acceptance, the novel approach must appease the likes of Elsevier and Nature Publishing Group, who would retain a reputation for acceptance of high-quality papers. As the F1000 Factor is a post-publication ranking system, it possesses great potential to forward the open-access movement. Nature, Science and Cell could continue to hold a reputation for publishing high-quality papers, as is evidenced by the fact that the F1000 Top10 list is often composed of papers from these journals, and yet the struggling scientist who favors open-access publishing, would not be penalized for submitting elsewhere. F1000 Biology acknowledges that their website may ultimately “help to combat the often invidious issue of journal hegemony (1).”

Globally, greater than 80% of the top institutions are current subscribers to F1000 Biology (6). All the same, it is the institutional promotion evaluation bodies that need to recognize the F1000 Factor as the best currently available method for evaluating the quality of work published and employ a scoring system whereby a scientist is rewarded for selection within the Faculty of 1000 Biology. With this preliminary step, and continued awareness of this powerful website, we can look forward to a change in scientific evaluation and ultimately a transformation of the biology publishing industry.

Notes

1. Percentages were calculated by dividing, for each journal, the number of 2004 articles Recommended on the F1000 Biology website by the number of articles published in that year (obtained from the ISI Journal Citation Reports 2004, http://portal01.isiknowledge.com/portal.cgi?DestApp=JCR& Func=Frame). Values for Cell = 0.58, Science = 0.43, Nature = 0.41. An evaluation of ‘Recommended’ is given to selected papers of special interest to a Faculty, while ’Exceptional’ status is awarded to the top 1% of publications.

2. Personal communication

3. In 2003, an open letter was circulated by The Public Library of Science (PLoS), encouraging publishers to post archived articles in freely accessible Internet public libraries. This letter was signed and supported by close to 34,000 scientists (5).

References

1. Retrieved July 2, 2005 from the Biology Reports Ltd., Faculty of 1000 website http://www.f1000biology.com.

2. Retrieved July 2, 2005 from BioMed Central website http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/p r-releases?pr=20020920.

3. Retrieved July 2, 2005 from the Health InterNetwork website http://www.healthinternetwork.org/ssrc/eligi bility.php.

4. Retrieved July 2, 2005 from Science Blog website http://www.scienceblog.com/community/older/2003/C/20031160.html.

5. Retrieved August 3, 2005 from The Public Library of Science (PLoS) website http://www.plos.org/about/history.html.

6. Retrieved August 31, 2005 from the BioMed Central website http://www.biomedcentral.com/info/about/p r-releases?pr=20050311.

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