On publishing in PLoS One, and what's the matter with ecology?

[ Note: I wrote the following e-mail to the Microbiology (MMG) department faculty mailing list here at MSU. I'll post any interesting responses that I get. --titus ]


Hi all,

I'm an unabashed proponent of Open Access publishing, as well as the idea of decoupling correctness from estimated impact of a paper -- the latter is often used to reject papers on the basis of perceived importance, which (in my opinion) cannot often be guessed in advance. Moreover, there have been some troubling studies showing that the desire to up the perceived importance of the paper by increasing statistical significance or by making stronger claims is leading to more bad science (including retractions and irreproducibility). This concern is one of the things driving the increasing use of PLoS One, which asks no questions about perceived impact of the work -- PLoS One is only interested in correctness, at least in theory.

Despite this, I've heard a number of misunderstandings about PLoS One circulating here at MSU, and talked to several faculty that had been told that PLoS One papers wouldn't "count" -- even going so far as to claim that PLoS One papers aren't reviewed or rejected, which is objectively false (speaking as a reviewer who has rejected PLoS One papers :) -- the acceptance rate is high, but not 100%, and many papers go through multiple rounds of review. I would be happy to further discuss such concerns in private if people are interested.

With this in mind, I was interested to read the attached paper from an ecologist, who looked at the increasing tendency of high profile journals to reject papers to maintain selectivity. The money quote is here:

"The result that stands out is that ecological papers published in PLoS ONE on average have a comparable or greater impact to those journals that have acceptance rates of 15–20%, despite rejecting only a minority of submissions. Indeed the only journals whose ecological papers consistently have a much greater impact than those in PLoS ONE are Science and Nature."

The whole paper is worth skimming. I think this kind of consideration is important for the future of science, not to mention as the future of MMG and MSU; scientific publishing is rapidly transitioning into a different beast due to the Internet, and it would be a shame to have MMG be unduly conservative in acknowledging this.



p.s. While I'm proselytizing, let me encourage everyone to submit their papers to arXiv.org as well; this is a preprint server that makes your paper widely available prior to peer review or publication, and it is common in fields outside of biology. It is generally regarded as establishing priority. It is also a citable archive; my first paper had two citations before it was accepted (read my blog entry here http://ivory.idyll.org/blog/science-f-yeah.html) and my second paper will probably have a dozen or so.

Attached paper: On plummeting manuscript acceptance rates by the main ecological journals and the progress of ecology

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