by PhilipJ on 25 July 2006
- a peer-reviewed publication that publishes all rigorously performed science
- a vibrant online forum that encourages scientific dialogue and debate
- a “hassle-free” process that gets your work online within weeks
which sounds great. Rather than having subjective criteria by which referees are to judge a paper (e.g., is this of high enough impact for this journal?), the only requirement is that the science methodology is sound. A commenting system to promote dialogue on the submitted works will be the real judge of a paper’s impact, and will create a better sense of community: it will be easier to foster international discussion—with the authors—about important results without having to wait for an upcoming conference or meeting. These are all good things, as I’m surely not alone in feeling that many articles I read are missing something when it comes to explaining methods, or details in a model, or what have you. And we’ve all heard horror stories of “unfair” referees.
So what’s my issue? I’ve raised it before, over at the PLoS blog itself, so I may as well simply quote myself, with some minor adjustments:
[G]iven the broad nature of PLoS ONE – everything from nuclear physics to cell biology under the same roof, I think PLoS will (potentially) have a hard time getting the critical mass of people from all disciplines needed for good over-publication peer review and discussion. With PLoS having focused on biological and medical science so far, I suspect that these areas will have a reasonable representation in the beginning, but I’m not sure how easy or hard it will be to grow in, say, physics (my own background).
My worry hasn’t changed (and wasn’t really addressed by Chris), so I’ll expound on it here. PLoS journals have come out of nowhere and made a splash, depending on how you value the impact factor ratings from Thomson Scientific. PLoS Biology is quickly becoming a top tier journal for research in biology, and PLoS Medicine seems to be doing fine as well—not at the level of the New England Journal of Medicine, but having launched these journals just a couple of years ago, their growth is impressive.
The splash, however, hasn’t yet reached any of chemistry, mathematics, or physics. Given that PLoS ONE is trying to be a journal for all disciplines, why would someone with an interesting result in any of the traditionally “hard sciences” risk publishing there? The open access nature of the journal is going to appeal to many, but I fear that isn’t going to be enough to draw in a substantial group from non-biology and non-medicine backgrounds, either for submitting important work or being there to comment on the papers of others. The biology and medical communities have already come to trust PLoS journals, but I find many of my physics colleagues know next to nothing of the journal offerings at PLoS.
My other fear, which is the inspiration for the title of this post, is that the open access movement is going to get diluted before it has properly established a foothold in the world of scientific publishing. If I have an exciting result from my biology lab, and I am a firm believer in open access, should I try publishing in PLoS Biology or PLoS ONE, or even PNAS with the open access option? Will many scientists want to take the gamble publishing something in PLoS ONE when PLoS Biology is already becoming a respected and highly read journal?
I feel that the ideals of PLoS ONE are a step in the right direction for the open access movement, but by creating two different open access options (from the same publisher, no less), as is currently the plan, the whole movement may take a step in the reverse direction. I think “open access 2.0” shouldn’t require it’s own journal, and should instead be applied to the already up-and-coming offerings from PLoS, gradually expanding into other areas as financial stability and a demand for a high quality open access option from these disciplines increases. In any case, I hope the PLoS succeeds beyond my own imagination!