COVID-19 journal at UC Berkeley aims to accelerate peer review process

Stefano Bertozzi

Related Posts

Stefano Bertozzi, dean emeritus and a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, has been named the editor in chief of a new COVID-19 journal.

Rapid Reviews: COVID-19, or RR:C19, will be published by the MIT Press and provide quick, open-access reviews of COVID-19 research, according to a press release from the MIT Press. The stated purpose of the journal is to “accelerate peer review of COVID-19-related research and deliver real-time, verified scientific information that policymakers and health leaders can use.”

Compared to a typical peer review process, which can take four weeks or longer, RR:C19 will aim to produce reviews in a matter of days, according to the press release.

The journal will use artificial intelligence tools, developed in collaboration with the COVIDScholar researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to identify both promising manuscripts and expert reviewers for a given paper, said Madhav Nekkar, a UC Berkeley student and the assistant managing editor of RR:C19.

According to Nekkar, the chosen manuscripts will be sorted into five broad domains: biological and biochemical sciences, physical sciences and engineering, humanities and social sciences, medical sciences and public health.

“The number of COVID-19 papers hosted on (the preprint servers) medRxiv and bioRxiv now stand at over 4800 and nearly 1250, respectively,” Nekkar said in an email. “Thousands more have been published on other preprint servers like ArXiv, SocRxiv, PsyArXiv, Gates Open Research, and Elsevier’s Social Sciences Research Network.”

Stressing the importance of collaboration in science, Hildy Fong Baker, managing editor of RR:C19 and executive director of the UC Berkeley Center for Global Public Health, said RR:C19 is targeted toward not only the scientific community, but also policymakers and the general public.

According to Fong Baker, UC Berkeley will serve as the home of RR:C19’s editorial team and is leading the effort of selecting, reviewing and publishing manuscripts. Project funding has also been provided by the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.

“Peer reviews will eventually be published on the MIT Press’ PubPub website with whether reviews are favorable or not,” Fong Baker said in an email. “For preprints that have very favorable reviews and that are selected by the editorial board, authors will be given an opportunity to publish in the RR:C19 journal.”

After the initial screening by AI tools, the peer review process for RR:C19 will use student teams guided by faculty advisers and doctoral students to narrow down which preprints reach the technical peer review network and editorial board, Fong Baker explained. 

“We aim to use volunteer reviewers to help us identify important papers,” Fong Baker said in the email. “Right now, we are piloting this process with a small group of doctoral students from UC Berkeley but eventually hope to expand to include more students at different education levels.”

Currently, the RR:C19 website encourages students interested in contributing to the review process to contact the editorial team.

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57.