The journal's third major goal is to fully embrace the web, or as eLife's head of technology, Ian Mulvany, puts it: "making our content more promiscuous." Though nearly every journal currently has a web version, it's often tied to the vestigial traits of the print issue. "For example Science publishes 50 pages a week and that has been true for many decades all the way back to when my friend and former colleague Daniel Koshland"—who died in 2007—"was the editor in chief of Science," says Schekman. "He hit up against that limit of 50 pages and no more. And yet science has exploded in various fields, and people desperately tried to get their papers published in the most prestigious venues, and these venues really haven't changed." But since eLife isn't on a print schedule, he explains, it is free to publish as many or as few articles it wants in a given week. It also doesn't adhere to artificial limitations on article length.
eLife places a particularly strong focus on ancillary materials like charts, infographics, and tables, and in addition to placing all the material under a Creative Commons license, all articles are also automatically uploaded to Scribd, GitHub, and PubMed Central—a database maintained by the U.S. government—as well as released on a flexible API through Fluidinfo. The journal also makes all article metrics—including the number of downloads, views, and citations—available for public viewing. "I think it's a way of showing that impact and influence goes beyond numbers," says eLife Executive Director Mark Patterson, who left PLOS in 2011. "Numbers will be part of it, but there's also qualitative information as well; you can gather together the kinds of things that people are saying about content, and I think that's an important area to where we'd like to put a lot of effort to build on."
But though eLife's staff believes they are introducing much needed reforms to the science publication process, others have taken a more cynical view. Kent Anderson, publisher of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, and editor of the blog The Scholarly Kitchen, has written more than a dozen posts questioning the journal's practices. Chief among his complaints is what he considers the problems that arise with having the financiers of scientific research also backing the very journal that research is published in. "Conflict of interest doesn't have to be proven, it can be perceptual," he says. "Because nobody can prosecute every perceived conflict of interest, you have to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest."
Anderson is also skeptical of the journal's goal to speed up the process of publication, pointing out that the backers of scientific research are likely under tremendous pressure to prove what they are helping to finance has a return on investment. "I've seen studies published very, very quickly and be very important," he argues. "I've seen studies published very quickly and everybody ends up regretting it. I've seen studies sent back to authors saying you need 10 more years of data and the study comes back 11 years later and they've done it, and it's a huge ground breaking study and the editors were right. That's science; every study's set up with a different hypothesis. I don't think there's anything wrong with a high bar and high threshold for publication."
Though eLife editors maintain the journal is completely independent from its financial supporters, Anderson argues that as long as they maintain an ongoing funding interest, it doesn't pass the smell test. "They could have given a $10 million grant to three editors and said, 'Go start a great journal,' and walked away. And that would have been a fire wall. They would have had no more ongoing concern, and their money would have been spent. Instead they've kept an ongoing concern," he says.