Today I spent the day at the PLoS ONE Editorial Board symposium in London. The meeting was well-attended, with about 50 academic editors and 10 PLoS staff members. The meeting was thoroughly enjoyable and I came away feeling extremely positive about PLoS as an organization and the aims of PLoS ONE in particular.
Instead of summarising by session, I will start with the distinctive features of PLoS ONE and how these came up in different talks, and follow with some other interesting other points that came up.
- PLoS journals are open access. In the traditional model, the publisher is paid subscriptions by universities, libraries or readers to obtain the content. In the open access model, the authors (or in reality their employers or research funders) pay for the cost of publication, and then anyone in the world can read the article. This has the advantage that people outside (wealthy) universities can benefit from research findings. These can include people working in healthcare, SMEs or universities in developing countries.
This whole area was nicely discussed in the final session, where Dame Janet Finch told us of her experiences in putting together her report for the UK government on open access publication. It was very interesting to find out that the UK government, HE sector and funding councils are now committed to publishing all publicly funded research in open access format. Importantly, there is realization that universities need to have central pots of money to enable academics to publish in such journals – there are too many problems associated with putting such costs directly into research grants.
- PLoS is a not-for-profit organisation (in contrast with say Elsevier or Springer). This means that the money they make is being put back into improving their publications – the experience for authors and readers.
- PLoS is committed to article-level metrics. There was a great deal of material on article-level metrics in the talks. I found this particularly impressive. It was clear that the overall mood among the academics present (and indeed the majority of my colleagues) that judging someone’s work on the basis of the impact factor of the journals in which they have published is entirely inadequate. Yet, promotions, employment and grant panels continue to do this. PLoS are really leading the way by putting metrics on every article: access statistics (HTML, pdf downloads), citations (on a whole array of services), Mendeley inputs etc. Martin Fenner (PLoS’s technical lead on metrics) was rightly nervous about the use of these metrics for things like promotions – and was keen to emphasise their importance in determining which articles are having an ‘impact’. Nonetheless, moves away from an obsession on journal impact factors are most welcome!
- PLoS ONE is committed to publishing science on the basis of its scientific correctness and clarity of its exposition. Articles that meet these criteria are published, and, importantly, articles are not rejected for not being sufficiently ‘important’ or ‘interesting’. I really like this. What this means is that the community decides what is important – not an editorial office. Combined with article level metrics, it becomes clear which of the articles are ‘hits’ and which are not. Interestingly, the PLoS speakers showed us that the top PLoS ONE articles are having more of an impact than the average articles of their more selective journals. This is partly due to weight of numbers (so many more articles are published in PLoS ONE) but it does show that the philosophy of getting articles ‘out there’ and well indexed and searchable then allows the community to work out what is ‘important’ and ‘interesting’.
- PLoS connects well with other social media technologies, including Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia etc. This is also very important. For us scientists to break down the barriers and disseminate our work to a larger and wider audience – and even among other scientists – we do have to embrace social media technologies. For PLoS as publishers to take the lead and use their platform to enable this is a major bonus and shows forward thinking ahead of more traditional publishers rooted in printed media.
- Overall, the success of PLoS ONE’s model was demonstrated by the considerable rise in numbers of papers submitted and published. These are rising rapidly and steadily: in November, approximately 4000 papers were submitted, and approximately 2000 published. PLoS have published nearly 50000 papers overall. PLoS ONE is already the largest single journal, and with continued rise in papers submitted (and published), PLoS will quickly become a global academic publishing powerhouse. Here, the not-for-profit agenda is very reassuring. The increase in revenues will be ploughed back into improving PLoS journals.
- On the editing itself, it was interesting to discuss experiences with other editors. What was particularly revealing was that most editors found finding referees the most challenging aspect of editing – a fact known to PLoS. In these discussion, PLoS staff made us aware of JANE – the Journal / Author Name Estimator. What a great tool! Type in an abstract, and it will suggest journals, authors or other relevant papers. For an editor, particularly useful for finding possible referees! Also good if you are thinking of relevant journals for your article – though of course, after today, I am feeling particularly inclined to say to people: publish in PLoS ONE. It is the world’s most exciting journal.