three cheers for PLOS ONE!
Disclaimer: I’ve been a long time advocate for journals like PLoS One and I have an article that’s working its way through that journal, which I will shamelessly self-promote at a later time.
Last week, John Bohannon announced a hoax. He intentionally wrote an obviously flawed article on cancer research and submitted it to a bunch of open access journals. About two thirds of the journals accepted the paper. I’m glad these folks exposed such chicanery. Once you’ve been in academia for a few years, you quickly learn that there’s a lot of publishers who have no scruples. The sting even caught journals managed by “legitimate” vendors such as Elsevier. Bring the sunlight.
Interestingly, one of the journals that did not fall for the hoax was the much maligned PLOS ONE (e.g., Andrew Gelman recently called it a “crap journal“). From Bohannon’s article:
The rejections tell a story of their own. Some open-access journals that have been criticized for poor quality control provided the most rigorous peer review of all. For example, the flagship journal of the Public Library of Science, PLOS ONE, was the only journal that called attention to the paper’s potential ethical problems, such as its lack of documentation about the treatment of animals used to generate cells for the experiment. The journal meticulously checked with the fictional authors that this and other prerequisites of a proper scientific study were met before sending it out for review. PLOS ONE rejected the paper 2 weeks later on the basis of its scientific quality.
Good for them. This speaks well of the PLOS ONE model. Normally, journals employ two criteria – technical competence (“is this study correctly carried out?”) and impact (“how important do we think this study is?”). PLoS sticks with the first criteria while rejecting the second. It’s an experiment that asks: “What happens when a journal publishes technically correct articles, but lets the scientific community – not the editors – decide what is important?”
Now we have part of the answer. A forum that drops editorial taste can still retain scientific integrity. By meticulously sticking to scientific procedure, bad science is likely to be weeded. And you’d be surprised how much gets weeded. Even though PLOS ONE is not competitive in any normal sense of the word, it still rejects over 30% of all submissions. In other words, almost one in three articles does not meet even the most basic standards of scientific competence.
Well managed open access journals like PLOS ONE will never replace traditional journals because we really do want juries to pick out winners. But having a platform where scientists can “let the people decide” is a good thing.