Why I published in PLoS ONE. And why I probably won’t again for awhile.

By Andrew Tredennick

One morning as I was working on revisions for a paper I had submitted to PLoS ONE, this popped up on my Twitter feed,

and I immediately felt defeated. Had I chosen poorly when deciding to submit to PLoS ONE? Or, are those people that view PLoS ONE as “career suicide” just old-school professors who, for some weird reason, think papers don’t get reviewed at PLoS ONE? And, does that even matter, since I’ll need those same old-school professors to want to hire me in a couple years? Needless to say, my motivation for finishing the revisions waned.

Fortunately there seem to be others out there that I deeply respect, like Ethan White (who, full disclosure, was the academic editor for my paper at PLoS), that are moving through the academic ranks and have a different view. These people value science for science, and not where it happens to be published,

So, given these contrasting views and the potential risk of publishing in PLoS ONE, why did I do it? The answer is actually relatively simple. I thought it would be the best venue for my paper. The best place to get it read by the people I wanted to read it. I’ll talk about that more in a moment, but first let me go through the paper’s submission history for a little background as to what led me to PLoS ONE. And while I’m at it, I want to (again!) dispel the amazingly apocryphal notion that papers are either not peer-reviewed at PLoS, or not peer-reviewed rigorously (see here for brief discussion).

Paper is done! Let’s send it into oblivion for a couple months…

My paper is about general models of allometric scaling (how organism properties and processes, like metabolism) change with size, and how we should view these in really variable ecosystems like savannas. I think allometric scaling is pretty cool because it is one of the few things in ecology that appears to be somewhat universal across diverse taxa. As such, several general models have been developed (often based on physical first principles and assumptions regarding natural selection) that make testable predictions for how organisms (trees in my case) should vary with size. As you can probably guess, when we actually go out and measure allometric relationships (like the relationship between tree diameter and height or biomass) they don’t exactly match the ‘ideal’ predictions. This was the case with my data, but I had a point to make: just because a model prediction doesn’t fall within the observed 95% confidence interval does not mean the theory is wrong, per se. Instead, it is more likely the theory is incomplete, and necessarily so since it is attempting to be general. I think this becomes even more evident if the deviations we observe from predictions all trend in a certain direction that conforms with our understanding of the “pressures” within an ecosystem (like frequent fire).

I had system-specific data (all from savannas), but a pretty general case I was arguing that I thought would be important to discuss as a whole discipline. So, I submitted the paper to Ecology. And waited. For over three months. Until the decision finally came from the editor: rejected. Absolutely rejected. No major reviews and then resubmit. It was pretty clear they did not want my paper. And that’s ok because I got good, critical reviews (some based on technical issues, others on more philosophical issues) that eventually made the paper better. But, I then had to decide where to submit next.

Let’s go with PLoS ONE

After taking care of the technical issues brought up in the Ecology reviews, my co-authors and I started discussing where to submit next. I still had a general case I wanted to argue, but it seemed that getting into a general (and thus top-tier) ecology journal was not going to happen*. We started thinking about the next tier of ecology journals (things like Functional Ecology), but none seemed to provide the right fit. For example, another journal we tossed around was the American Journal of Botany which is a fine journal (impact factor = 2.6) with a good readership, but I was concerned a lot of ecologists wouldn’t find my paper there. Even though it would have been a great fit content-wise, I wanted a more diverse audience.

Plus there was another consideration: I needed to start getting some first-author publications out the door, fast. This paper was kind of a side project, so I didn’t want to keep getting bogged down with it and waiting 3-4 months for decisions. Likewise, since the conclusions I draw in the paper are kind of controversial in the philosophical sense of the way people view science and generality, there was always the chance a couple of reviewers or the editor would see things differently and decide on a reject. I started thinking about PLoS ONE.

I personally like PLoS ONE. And while it may get a bad (sometimes deserving) wrap as a place to publish uninteresting science (since “perceived impact” is not considered during the review stage), I find many papers to be quite good. The one thing I really don’t understand is why PLoS ONE gets a reputation for publishing uninteresting science while lower-tier journals get a pass on such criticism. Not everything we publish is going to be earth-shattering, so we need lower-tier journals to push us along and collect important details. But, if PLoS ONE is going to be criticized for publishing “uninteresting”, “unimpactful” science, then the same criticism could be leveled against a lot of journals — the very same journals some consider “real” while considering PLoS ONE “fake”. I am not arguing for that. I am just arguing for a more nuanced view of what PLoS ONE is and how it can serve the scientific community. And for those that do think PLoS ONE only publishes science no one cares about, check out this article in Ideas in Ecology and Evolution.

I should also mention that although I am not the biggest open access advocate, I am very supportive of open science in general. So I made part of decision based on that. I had even thought to myself while the paper was first in review at Ecology, if this doesn’t get accepted I am going to submit to an open access journal. But, I am not one of those people that necessarily dislikes (or will never submit to) all journals that are not open access. Whether that is good or bad…well, that’s in the eye of the beholder I suppose.

In the end, we decided to submit to PLoS ONE (without me having to twist the arms of coauthors at all!), because I thought the paper would be seen by the widest viewership and might get more reads by ecologists in general (as opposed to just plant ecologists, or just savanna ecologists). The review process was great. We had a subject editor within a week and by the next week it was sent out to reviewers. PLoS tries for a review time (that is, in the hands of reviewers) of 10 days** and our time fell within the margin of error, I think. All told, from submission to first decision was about a month. And the decision was…major revisions.

No, our paper was not simply accepted at PLoS ONE (in fact, PLoS ONE only has about a 30% acceptance rejection rate). The reviews were tough, critical, and insightful. It was obvious there was no free pass at PLoS and my response letter took over ten pages to address the three reviewer’s concerns. This was not peer-review light, as some (who have not submitted a paper to PLoS I presume) call it***.

In the end, I am very happy with our decision to publish in PLoS ONE. The review process was smooth and fast, and the editorial staff is very helpful during the production phase (they added in text for me, etc.). The question is still open as to whether it is the right venue for my paper, but since March 6 it has received 409 unique views. So, even though papers can be harder to find in PLoS since they publish so many papers in so many fields without a traditional table of contents, it appears some people are finding their way to the paper.

Reality check

The coda to all this is a reality check. I will probably not publish in PLoS ONE again for quite some time. There is still too much negative bias against the journal and against people that have “too many” PLoS ONE papers on their CV. My next couple papers are lined up for more traditional venues like The American Naturalist and Ecological Applications. Plus, for better or worse, I’m going to be honest, I still have a (some people would call shameful) desire to see my name on a Science or Nature paper. Perhaps this is for my own ego or maybe it is just the way most of us have been academically “raised.” Regardless, even though I personally like PLoS ONE and read a lot of ecology papers they publish, you won’t being seeing my name in there again any time soon. I’m just not brave enough.


*In part, I think this because we just didn’t have enough data (we never do!). I am fully confident in the conclusions I draw from our data, but I can also totally understand why a top-tier journal would want to see more.

**10 days!! That’s way better than 30-60 days in the reviewer’s hands.

***Though, perhaps many consider “peer-review light” to be reviews that don’t think about potential impact. Which I do not. I consider that a journal specific consideration, not a general attribute of peer review.

54 thoughts on “Why I published in PLoS ONE. And why I probably won’t again for awhile.

  1. This is the essence of the future of PLoS ONE: The value of this journal is exactly the way that we, as a community, define it.

    If we say the journal sucks, it does. If we say it’s awesome, it is.
    Both of those ideas are not adequately nuanced.

    I think most of us dream of a world in which we can decide for ourselves which papers are awesome and valuable and broadly applicable. Right now, that decision rests in the hands of a few individuals. Not always the same ones.

    Just imagine if we didn’t have to work hard to pitch our papers to particular journals, but instead, just wrote up our best work and shared it with the entire world, without limits? That is the promise of PLoS ONE.

    Many influential papers ended up in relatively obscure journals because the value wasn’t seen by editors and reviewers when they were submitted to high-tier journals. Then, the community as a whole recognized the value of these papers, though sometimes it took a while.

    I don’t have a lot of time. The shuffle down the tiers when you get a rejection is cumbersome, annoying, and takes me away from my job – to do and share research and to teach.

    If we all agreed to just stop wasting our time playing the status game – which is conducted mostly to serve the profits of the oligopoly of the publishers – then we could do more good science. And everyone can read it in journals like PLoS ONE.

    I recent published one of my best papers in this journal. It was a choice of mine because I wanted everyone to see it, and I wanted to support the journal by giving them something good, rather than my leftovers.

    The community – at all levels – uses journal “quality” as a crutch for evaluating research quality. The two aren’t the same. The fact that some top researchers keep having to customize their work to accommodate the whims of fashion that are found in most top journals is preventing innovation.

    • Terry,

      Thanks for your response. I totally agree with all your points, but I think you may be braver than I am! Although I in no way feel I gave PLoS ONE my leftovers (nice term) with this one, it is true I did try for Ecology first — just to boon my career if it got in. I hope, and think, that in the future PLoS will start to get a little more klout. Most of the young ecologists I know have no qualms with PLoS in general; they read papers there but tend not to publish there based on the “image problem.” Obviously, ‘we’ as a discipline need to get over that.

      • There is no real mechanism to get over that, unless departments stop judging their faculty based on the collectively-perceived prestige of journals. When the for-profit academic publishing model finally implodes the way the music industry sort-of did, this might be easier.
        It doesn’t take much courage on my part, though. I’m tenured, and even if I wasn’t, most people in my university can’t tell a good from a bad journal if it bit them on the butt. It was considered a novelty that I cited impact factors and my h-score in my tenure file. I had to explain it to them.
        So, publishing in PLoS one is in my interest. Doing so gives me more time to write new things instead of banging my head against the keyboard with journal after journal. I still do submit most my papers elsewhere, though if there’s anything I can do to support PLoS ONE I will. If there were an academic science-fiction story, what would the world be like if that was the only journal? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s a good though experiment.

      • **Apologies if this replies to the wrong thread in here…WP wouldn’t let me reply to Terry’s latest comment directly

        You mean if PLOS was the only journal? That is interesting. We’d probably spend a lot less time trying convince each other (and ourselves) that what we are doing is ‘sexy’. But I bet even within the only journal you would start getting sub-sections like “Ecological Horizons” that highlight work perceived as exciting. I think some kind of structuring would be inevitable.

        I also wonder if I wouldn’t see as many papers out side of my direct sub-discipline? Presumably I’d have to search harder if we only had journal. I’d have to actually put some keywords in instead of just randomly coming across some interesting bird paper in a table of contents. Not sure how true that is, but it comes to mind as a limitation.

  2. Thanks for sharing Andrew. I’ve had papers bounce around various journals for 18 months until *someone* took a bite (and like you, I most of this boiled down to sample size). One main reason why I haven’t submitted anything to PLoS One is cost. It’s $1350 US to publish in PLoS One, and our lab just doesn’t have that kind of capital, especially for multiple papers.

    And I’ve found that unless something comes up in searches via Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Knowledge, etc., it’s pretty hard to find in the PLoS table of content alerts (which I’ve stopped reading because it become too onerous). I figure I’ll see it eventually.

    • Two quick thoughts on this– as a grad student, I requested, and was granted, a full waiver of the publication fees for my PLOS paper. Perhaps this strategy only works for students, though?

      Re: finding papers in PLOS- you can subscribe to subject area RSS feeds relevant to your interests here: http://www.plosone.org/taxonomy
      I find these to be a much more manageable set of papers to sort through

      • Alex,
        The cost can be a deterrent, but from what I understand almost anyone who asks for a fee waiver gets one. And it seems this hasn’t been overly abused. In our case, we were prepared to pay the page charges but I am fortunate in that our university library has a fund for publishing in open access journals, so they covered it.

        About finding the paper: I totally agree. They are getting better with the subject area RSS feeds and table of contents by subject area (that you click through to see new papers in that area). But I think they could do even better than just RSS, where you can sign up for say “Ecology” table of contents from PLoS. I thought I had signed up for something like that on their site, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

      • Thanks Andrew & Kristin. The idea of requesting waivers had not occurred to me based on my experience (& those of my colleagues) with some other OA journals where none were given out. Our uni does have a Publications Fund, but only one application deadline per year. Excellent points, though – thanks.

    • Many institutions, including ours, have a fund to help defray the cost of publishing in OA journals.


      Perhaps your institution has one? If not I agree with the others…lack of funds has never been an impediment to publishing there, we’ve gotten full and partial waivers. I also have to agree with Ethan White’s tweet…amongst my colleagues here, PLoS ONE remains well regarded for both quality of science and OA.

      nice post!

      • Emilio,

        Good to hear PLoS ONE is well regarded among you and your colleagues. I think that may in fact be the general case…but I then I hear a couple people say PLOS ONE papers don’t “count” and I take it too seriously. Better to just do the best work I can and let that speak for itself.

  3. Nice post, Andrew!

    I’ll throw in my two-cents on this… I published a paper in PLOS One a few years ago, mostly because I wanted to get the paper out ASAP, and didn’t want to do battle with editors on whether or not it was interesting enough to warrant publication. In my case, the review process wasn’t particularly fast because the editor had a tough time finding reviewers– I think it took 3 months. That’s slow for PLOS, but probably on par with or faster than a lot of journals. And, in the end, I did only have to send it to one place.

    I’m working on another paper now that I will likely send there for similar reasons. It’s a perfectly good paper with results that aren’t particularly sexy. But, it builds the foundation for a second study that will likely be more of a hot topic, and I don’t want this first paper to hold up the second one.

    I’m not afraid to publish in PLOS, but I won’t send every paper there, either. I think it’s probably a good idea to send papers to a variety of journals.

    • Thanks for your input Kristin. I think we probably feel the same way, not totally averse to PLOS ONE, but trying to hit a good variety of outlets. I will definitely publish in PLOS again because I like their ethos (things like ensuring data is open access too), but it won’t be anymore of my dissertation work.

      I think your dead-on about publishing in a variety of journals in general. Best not to be seen as a one-trick pony (unless you can get all your papers in more general journals like Ecology and Ecology Letters I suppose!).

  4. Very good post – I really appreciate your candour. Thanks also for the link.

    One point of information – the acceptance rate at PLoS ONE is around 70%, rather than the 30% figure you quoted.

    The comments that are often heard about the importance of impact factors for career progression are sad but true. But things are slowly changing (I hope).

    • Oops! You are absolutely right…I meant to write “rejection rate of 30%”! We’ll correct that.

  5. I too appreciate the candor of this post, as well as the tweet citation (though I made that comment with tongue firmly in cheek).

    I couldn’t get an interview at the competitive departments I applied to over a 2-year job search in molecular and cell biology. Most search committees never deigned to formally reject me and instead employed the silent treatment, which I think is kind of pathetic. The feedback I did get suggested that my publication record wasn’t up to snuff. I sent my lab’s last paper to PLOS ONE after fighting with editors at several more “prestigious” journals. I’m proud of that work and it’s been viewed almost 10,000 times over the last 11 months. But I know many academics will never take that paper seriously because of where it was published.

    I’ve exited Academia and part of the reason I’m not looking back is that although my contemporaries are forward thinking the reins are still tightly in the grips of an older generation that devoutly kneels before the false idol of Impact Factor. I can’t say I’m all that broken up about it, especially when I read posts like this. I hope more academics are able to advance their careers publishing in PLOS ONE and journals like it (PeerJ), but bravery appears to be in short supply.

    And with grantsmanship reaching Malthusian proportions, how many volunteers will be charging the line going forward?

    • Thanks for your comments Ethan. I think there is chance things will change in the future. PLOS ONE has a pretty impressive list of academic editors and so does PeerJ. I think this is promising, because it is these people (mostly youngish, but established nonetheless) that will be taking over the reins in the future.

      RE: grantsmanship. One of the reasons I wanted to publish in PLOS was to have a speedy publication for upcoming postdoctoral fellowship proposals. Better to have one published — even if there’s a chance of someone thinking its not “real” — than not being able to list it on the CV. So, in a way, having PLOS around has helped me (well, we’ll see on that one I suppose) in terms of grants.

      But I agree with your sentiment of few volunteers. I basically admitted that I wasn’t going to be charging the line.

    • Ethan Perlstein wrote:

      Most search committees never deigned to formally reject me and instead employed the silent treatment, which I think is kind of pathetic.

      Pathetic indeed. I know it’s a side-issue from what this post is about, but I find this behaviour to be bullying from a position of privilege and power, and really quite contemptible.

      Let’s remember this, people. When you‘re the one in the position of power, at least have the basic common decency to reject people to their faces instead of leaving them to wonder what’s happened.

      (Same goes for journals: “If you don’t hear back from us, that means you’ve been rejected” is flatly unacceptable.)

      • It is annoying reality that you can assume that you don’t get a job, unless they call you. There’s a practical reason why people who apply for jobs never get a rejection letter: once you send out rejections, that part of the pool is closed. If the search is failed, you want to leave the option to dip back into the applications. Once an offer is accepted, then about half of the search committees notify applicants that a position has been filled. The others are too exhausted by the search to do so and don’t think of the common courtesy of a rejection. (I’ve yet to run a search, but I if I do, then notifying all applicants when the search is concluded is a high priority for me.)

  6. I agree to the fact that OA journals have wide readership, but, I have also seen many research articles in PLOS one which are not technically accepted. Its good that we can give comments there, but, still there is no response from journal side and the authors side. I also wanted to publish in PLOS one, but submitted it to molecular ecology and got it publish there. Because I don’t want to take any risk in publishing good research findings just to get wider audience. I would like to be specific for this, because research is not meant only for getting famous, but is for enriching the existing knowledge. I still feel good to publish my research in specific journals.

    • That’s interesting. Has PLoS ONE had any formal retractions?

      Regarding your general thoughts, I think that is the biggest problem, that we don’t want to take the risk. Of course, that means the situation we are in is self-perpetuating — until young scientists start publishing some of their best work in places like PLOS ONE and PeerJ, it will continue to viewed as it is now.

  7. For what it’s worth, I’ve heard the ‘too many PLOSOne papers on a CV is bad’ thing too. A friend of mine was explicitly advised by a colleague (head of a major psychology department) that it looks bad, so she only sent one paper there and the rest to a paywalled journal. It had never occurred to me that it was a bad look, but the idea is out there.

    • Thanks for the comment Andrew. I too have been told by a senior ecologist at my institution that PLOS ONE is not ideal. I ignored him for this one! But, as my post attests, I am not completely immune to those types of comments.

  8. Interesting discussion!

    One aspect that hasn’t been mentioned so far is that of the licensing of the published materials. While academics generally don’t spend much thought on that, it makes a huge difference for projects like Wikipedia whether an article is (a) behind a paywall, (b) free to read but not to reuse or (c) free to read and free to reuse for any purpose (typically via CC BY – e.g. PLOS uses http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/ ).

    Specifically, reusably licensed materials from open-access sources are now used more than 80,000 times across Wikimedia projects in over 250 languages (a recent snapshot sits at http://www.webcitation.org/6FITPLsx7 ). The pages they are embedded in garnered over 40 million page views in January (cf. http://www.webcitation.org/6FJ7f9z3f ). The reuse can even be automated to some extent (cf. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Open_Access_Media_Importer_Bot ), or built into the publishing workflow right from the start (e.g. http://blogs.plos.org/plos/2012/04/bridging-the-journal-wikipedia-gap/ ).

    None of this is possible with materials published in classical journals published under (a) or (b).

    • Thanks for that information Daniel. Licensing is an important issue that we generally don’t consider too much. Probably the coolest things that can be done with CC BY (like PLOS uses) is automated data mining from journals. I think the talented folks at ROpenSci (http://ropensci.org/) are building some tools for things like that.

      Licensing is also important for things like code associated with papers. I have no idea what it is for, say, code published with a Nature paper, but assume code published with a PLOS paper is CC BY. Does code associated with a paper automatically inherit the licensing of the paper?

  9. As it happens, I blogged about this very issue a couple of days ago over at Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week (which, for anyone who’s not familiar with it, is slightly more general-interest than the title suggests). The only winning move is not to play.

    The current journal system and ladder of prestige is just about the most fatuous waste of precious research time and effort that I can imagine.

    • Mike,

      Thanks for the link, that’s a great post, and I think echoes my thoughts. Though, I am one of the one’s playing the idiot game!

      • Well, I am hoping posts like The Only Winning Move will help to persuade you, and others, not to! 🙂

        In the end, you want your paper to be as widely read and as influential as possible. All the evidence says that, Science ‘n’ Nature apart, this is best done in OA venues.

  10. Pingback: What we’re reading: isolation with migration, starch-eating dogs, and politicized science funding | The Molecular Ecologist

  11. Pingback: Open Access revisited | The Lab and Field

  12. Thanks Ethan for an very nice but depressing post and to others for their thoughtful comments. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.

    “New scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

    Max Planck, “Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers”, Williams & Norgate, London (1950), pages 33-34.

    Hopefully the same is true for how we publish!

    Two thoughts. While I am not a huge fan of impact factors, PLoS One’s 2011 impact factor is over 4 which I believe puts it well into the top 10% of journals in the science journal citation report. For what it is worth researchers are finding the articles and citing them.

    Secondly, there was mention of the difficulty many have, myself included, paying a $1,350 article processing fee. I urge you to consider PeerJ which is a new, similar journal created by the founding editor of PLoS One, Pete Binfield. PeerJ uses a membership funding model with the base membership fee of $99. Not just for one article but for life. That allows you to publish one article a year. I think most of us can afford that. I am sure it will be panned even more than PLoS One as a new journal and a new publishing model but I urge you to consider publishing in PeerJ if you are at a point your career can handle it. PeerJ can succeed and provide all the benefits of PLoS One at a price most anyone can afford but only if researchers join and begin publishing in it.

    Dave Solomon

    • David,

      Sorry it was depressing! And I really like that quote.

      RE: impact factor. Yes, PLOS ONE does have a relatively good IF, but I would be more interested in discipline-specific impact factors. Surely someone has done this, but I haven’t seen it. I think the number of people that follow PLOS regularly varies widely by discipline, and perhaps ecology is one of those that hasn’t quite caught on (though my link in the main text to the Ideas in Ecology and Evolution paper says different).

      RE: PeerJ. Yes, it does look very cool and affordable. I plan to publish both there and PLOS ONE in the future…but as I mentioned in the post just feel like I need to be more established. In fact, once a post-doc or professor I plan on volunteering to be subject-area editor for both PLOS ONE and PeerJ if they’ll have me! Given PeerJ’s impressive list of academic editors, I have hope it will take off.

      • Sorry Andrew for calling you Ethan. I am not sure where you could get citation data by individual fields. Have a good weekend.

  13. Hi Andrew,
    great post! I have read it before but this time actually recognized your picture.
    I hope you’ll get to this “more established point” soon and would encourage you to emphasize the “open-access way”. I plan on submitting my (first) manuscript with PLOS Genetics, not only because of fit, but also due to the open-science component of it.
    I had lots of fun on the slickrock trail (rode pipe dream, which was pretty nice), looking forward to riding with you again in summer.


    • Hi Martin!
      Yes, I am hoping that once I am established I’ll have a little more lee-way in deciding where I publish…and not having to worry about these (perceived or real) image issues. I am also hoping more university libraries start to have open-access funds. I think this opens up the door to both publishing in OA-only journals like PLoS and choosing OA options in more traditional journals (e.g., PNAS and others have OA options if you can pay for it). On that note, I think it’s important that we acknowledge some our society journals do have OA options. For example, “Reports” in Ecology are OA (and you get free color figures!) and Ecosphere is ESA’s new online-only OA publication.

      Look forward to riding over the summer too! And good luck with your submission to PLOS Genetics.

  14. An interesting post. The deep sadness of this all is that our current system where academics are judged by the cover on their books, rather than the content itself, is deeply corrosive. I publish with PLoS but I find their publication system itself terrible. And over-expensive. But academics are prevented from looking for better alternatives, looking for journals which are cheaper and which provide a more convenient publication experience.

    Scientific publication has long since ceased to be about communication. You managed to communicate your ideas about publication clearly, rapidly and cheaply here, a commodity piece of technology. What a shame we do not publish our research in the same way. Worse, that the reason we do not is for fear that it will look bad on our CV.

  15. Pingback: Selective journals vs. social networks: alternative ways of filtering the literature, or po-tay-to, po-tah-to? | Dynamic Ecology

  16. Of the important roles that Plos One does play and not mentioned here is that it is a forum to publish data that corrects/contradicts published results in the top tier journals (see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/28/us-science-cancer-idUSBRE82R12P20120328). The problem is so pervasive and even dangerous to their top line that Nature felt the need to publish a piece on how they will “fix” their problem (http://www.nature.com/news/announcement-reducing-our-irreproducibility-1.12852). Good luck with that!

    The problem is that once published in these high IF journals the hypothesis seemingly takes on a role as definitive proof – despite the adage that you can only disprove a hypothesis. So, when you find fault, major or minor, its very likely that your data will not see the light of day. This has happened to me twice and nearly cost me my faculty position… Specifically, a high impact factor paper (Cancer Cell) made a really interesting observation which had implications as a therapeutic lead (also landed the author a $1.25M direct cost grant). There was something fishy about it, but also promising if true. My graduate student and I chased it down, produced alot of high quality work, identified the problem, and tried to publish the work. It was swatted down multiple times high to low IF… Finally, rather than being political, we moved the damning piece of data from supplemental to a figure and it was accepted (at a different journal with a lower IF than Plos One). So all is well, right? Not really. What made the original paper so important turns out to be an artifact. Obviously the high IF journal isnt interested in our results of what they considered an improtant finding, and at the same time, the original paper remains in press. The NIH is still doling out lots of funds to the original PI, which I am sure are being applied to a different project. Seems to be a common problem/theme in biological sciences.

    For this reason, i believe that Plos One serves a second, perhaps more important role. If truly selected on the merit of the science (and in my experience it is – we had 4 reviewers on one manuscript), it provides an outlet to correct a (maybe not so) innocent mistakes that could save the government significant amounts of money or allow them to fund additional studies.

    Lastly, I have published in Plos One twice. The data in one case was top shelf – it needed to be published to establish our presence in a field that is dominated by old school scholars (e.g., protecting their turf). The second was the other ‘contrary’ data studies… Again, I think very high quality that will stand the test of time.

  17. Forgive me for being a bit out of touch with it, but please would you elaborate why exactly is PLOS Once considered a less good journal? (I do not believe in the term “career suicide”)

  18. As an editor at PLOS One, it’s easy to explain the high acceptance rate; most papers are rejected from most journals for novelty or impact, not for technical merit. Of course, if a paper lacks novelty, itis stiill important at the work be put in context. For instance, ifit replicates others’ work, it needs to discuss that.

  19. Interesting post. As someone who is not young AND has published in PloS One, let me make a few points, not all of which are new. Although PLOS One professes to publish only based on technical merit, there are reviewers who do question the novelty, significance, and potential impact. Here I speak of personal experience. I have also noticed several outstanding scientists (including Nobel laureates) who regularly publish in PLOS One. Some PLOS One papers do get noticed (obvious from citation rates)–this depends somewhat on the field. Some fields are mostly populated by old-fashioned scientists, who pay less attention to e-journals, such as PLOS One. In other fields, such as genomics or computational biology, which tend to have relatively younger people as practitioners, do read PLOS One papers and cite these (thankfully!). I think it is probably less a factor of not accepting the philosophy of PLOS One publishing and more of it being an e-journal as to why the former group of people tend not to read or cite PLOS One articles. I am optimistic that in ten years or so, journals such as PLOS One will be more mainstream than they currently are. This has already occurred in Physics and computer science. I will definitely continue to publish in PLOS One.

  20. PLOS is what science should be. If someone cannot appreciate that science needs to be open access and judged on technical merit , then quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to work for them.

  21. I for one review all papers published by PLoS (yes all of the journals) every week. I love the journal and what it stands for. There are some absolutely innovative and super cool papers published every week by PLoS that I simply can’t find anywhere else. One reason I find it fantastic is because, as you have suggested, PLoS will publish a good paper if it is good technically and scientifically sound – and not worry whether it is ‘sexy’. As for inferior quality – I’m not saying that it never happens at PLoS, but I also regularly find papers in my field that I consider inadequate in even the ‘top’ or high impact journals – and they publish far fewer papers every week. Furthermore, have you tried to follow the slick (word compressed) methods styles found in Science or Nature in your own lab? Then sifted through the online materials to fill in the gaps? Were you successful? This is a way to advertise your science – sure, but not a way to truly share it. If PLoS gets a bum wrap it is because of us scientists and no one else. Scientists are the ones to be pushing the envelope and developing ‘new’ and ‘better’ ways to do things. As for risk. I’m an early stage scientist with a lot to loose. I teach at a liberal arts college, am still relatively young, have a fledgling lab that is still hoping for a first grant, I’m still searching for tenure and definitely want to move through the ranks. One paper is submitted and other is on it’s way. I’ll take my chances if I’m lucky enough to have my papers accepted, and let ‘them’, aka the powers that will decide on my future prospects – know what I stand for. Take courage! Change begins with us.

  22. Rejection by prestige publishers, book and film script reviewers, and talent scouts happens in every field. Arundhati Roy’s novel “God of Small Things” , which went on to win the Booker Prize, was rejected by all mainstream publishers, and was eventually published by her husband’s fledgling press. Chomsky’s “Syntactic Structures” too met a similar fate at the hands of all major American and European publishers, and was published by Mouton on a no-risk basis. The reviewers who rejected the manuscripts probably never stopped wringing their hands in regret and disgust at themselves throughout their lives! There are stories of world class athletes and artists who were judged to be without any promise by several coaches and critics. The moral of the story is “excellence” of intellectual content asserts itself eventually no matter the vehicle in which it is presented to professionals. Then again, only true excellence will survive.

  23. Nice article Andrew 🙂 I will agree with all your points, and with Terry McGlynn when he said that we define PlosOne as a community. PlosOne is well regarded around me in Japan (as I work there since 4 years now). As a young Post-doc, my opinion is that Plos One may also benefit young researchers to let people know about them and their researches. Here, I would like also thanks researchgate for providing sharing options! haha!
    As Andrew said, PlosOne can be beneficial to publish in certain fields, such as plant taxonomy. Its true for me as I work on symbiosis, and except Science/Nature/PNAS, there is no high-impact factor related to this field. Here, I would like to add that the impact factor is arguably an important card for the future of young researchers, although I don’t know in which extend the recruiters consider the impact factor of PhD’s publications.
    On the other hand, I regret to have not enough founds to publish in PlosOne. As Alex Bound pointed out, the cost of publishing can be a strong limit, especially for young researchers. Many Japanese teachers depend on their graduate schools to get a relatively small research found, we got no university found to cover the open access fees! Let’s hope that the publishing fee will be more and more covered by the institutions and publications expenses reasonably reduce in the future (although I understand that publishing and server maintenance has a cost).
    I only hope that with the creation of more open access journals, we will not only spare trees, but also share science for free!
    Here, limiting all authors to share their work online is arguably a potential solution. To provide new elements to debate on, I also heard that a new type of publication appeared recently on the web, which may have a promising future: you post online your paper, share, browse, and the whole community can post comment/review. You got an example here http://www.paper.edu.cn/en_about_us.html. On this website, they propose you to be reviewed here, then you can publish elsewhere. (so you can have plant taxonomists reviewing your astrophysics paper? haha! no, let’s hope that people will be reasonable!). Your opinion?

  24. I have enjoyed reading the original post and the comments in reply (I would like to see more). I recently published my first paper at PlosOne http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0077552
    And overall have been pleased with my decision, but the jury is still out regards eventual citation of the specific paper.
    I have usually stuck with topic based journals, not academic discipline based journals (e.g., psyc, sociology, medicine) for a couple of related reasons,
    1. A wider and more diverse readership in topic based journals which typically accept work from all disciplines.
    2. Much higher Impact/citation (bigger audience in multidisciplinary, and scope for the work to be applied in other disciplines).
    3. The avoidance of ideologically/theory fixed editors and editorial board thinking. Unfortunately, I too often find that editors have direct collaborators/friends/former students making up their editorial teams, thus, a single blinkered view of the world/issue, driven by a single preferred theory, can result. This is especially a problem in the softer sciences that struggle with measurement of realistic and/or solid outcomes/behaviour, instead relying on problematic surrogates.

    Primary reasons for choosing PlosOne:
    1. Speed of review process. I wanted my study out ASAP, if you think the work is impt why wouldn’t you. I question how serious some jnls are when the review and publishing phases often result in the new and supposedly important research they have chosen to publish, does not reach the light of day within two years from submission (common in the social sciences, psychology, political science, sociology etc).
    2. Impact: Look at the Google metrics, lots of people clearly read this journal everyday, and good research can expect rapid attention and high-citation. It is also clear via the journals own metrics that many people have gone and viewed/read an individual article, saved/downloaded, and tweeted/shared them.
    3. Perceived openness to new or challenging ideas and data, that other journals might be scared to touch.
    4. Open access, and preference for jargon free papers with simple communication, making the papers amenable to the general population.
    5. PlosOne is a multidisciplinary on an enhanced level.

    My experience:
    1. Slower to get reviewed than I expected or is touted by PlosOne (I’m asked to review papers within 10 days, but we got our first review back in 6 weeks, second in 4 weeks, still quicker than 80% of jnls mind).
    2. A tough rigorous but professional review process, 1 review by two reviewers and the editor, 1 re-review and review again by the editor; an additional review by the editor after external reviewers happy.
    3. Excellent handling and communication by the handling editor. I must say that although we felt we were being made to jump through unnecessary and overly cautious hoops, it was done very professionally by the handling editor.
    4. Because the editor has to publicly list their name with the published output, it adds a level of pressure on the editor to get it right if only for their personal reputation (explains the hoop-jumping).
    5. Poor communication and slow-handling by the non-academic side of the journal, especially noticeable when compared to the professionalism of the review process.
    6. We have received communications from academics in lots of different disciplines. And the work certainly reached the general public, 99% of which were enraged members of the US public who didn’t really read the paper, just the headline, specifically, angry Tea Party members, Republicans, Gun Owners, NRA members/supporters, and other expected sections of the US community, prone to paranoia.

    Outcome: We are yet to see whether our work will receive the citations that, if truthful, every academic craves, and of course we can never know if it would do better in another journal.

    Would I publish again in PlosOne:
    1. Yes, if the work needed to reach a very multidisciplinary audience, and be easily and quickly accessible to the general population.
    Overall, I would recommend publishing with PlosOne, and will do so with work that I think fits. My experience was that there was a quality review process, and the jnl is impactful beyond citations. Non-academics read the journal!

  25. I agree with your post and most comments but, I think that publishing a scientific paper must be free. There are many new open access journals every year, and maybe they are making too much bussiness with science.

    • Publishing costs, and someone has to pay; with paywall access journals, it still costs — you pay for the publication costs with your copyright, which the journals then use to sell to libraries.

      The question is not whether we pay or not, but how we pay, when we pay and how much we pay. My answers are: with cash, not at the time of reading and a lot less than now.

  26. Hi Andrew,

    Great blog post!

    As an early career ecologist I have published in PLoS One twice already and here’s why: I got rejected by ecological journals not because the papers were not scientifically sound, but because they never fit into the journal mission’s statement (although I of course thought otherwise, else I wouldn’t have submitted them to begin with!). Maybe it was just an excuse and my papers were not novel enough for the journal (though again, those arguments were never made by the reviewers or AEs), but I think more likely because my publications were more interdisciplinary in nature and did not fit one journal or the other…

    In any case, I agree that the review process in PLoS One was rigorous (I too reviewed several PLoS One papers since and never compromised my review standards because it was not “premier” ecological journal!). While the review for my papers was super fast on my first PLoS One pub (2011), it was much slower and matching the review times of traditional journals on the second pub (2014). And I too liked the fact the articles will be open-access and was able to use funds from my institution to support the second pub fees.

    It seems the ecological community has a tendency to look down upon open-access journals even if they are out of our own ESA publishing house. Case in point, Ecosphere, which I hope will fill the PLoS One niche for papers like mine. A great blog on the topic was written by Morgan Ernest at: http://jabberwocky.weecology.org/2012/08/09/the-future-of-ecosphere-the-journal-a-suggestion/ I urge you all to read it.

    Finally for full disclosure, I did get a job despite (at the time) having one PLoS One publication on my CV, but it was not in academia. I now work as a research scientist at The Nature Conservancy in a team that highly values peer-reviewed publishing and more than once has published in PLoS One for all of the good reasons mentioned above.

  27. 70% acceptance rate is quite high. The more they accept the more cash they make. I like the idea of open access but in terms of page charge, it is ridiculous.

  28. A tenured professor from a top university feels that their career will be hurt if they publish in PLoS genetics. If we start along this road, we might end up reading just news and views, advertisement, and fashion magazines! As your post and the comments clearly show, opinions vary much on this topic. I feel very strongly that the ultimate criterion, at least for me, is whether a research article stands on its own merit and makes a substantive contribution. Among those of us who know about the Kreb’s cycle, how many know the name of the journal in which the seminal work was published? I would be very happy if my colleagues know my work and not the journals in which it is published.

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