1 year ago today..I published in PLOS ONE

Today marks the anniversary of my first paper in PLOS ONE with Joe Olechno and Antony Williams (Dispensing Processes Impact Apparent Biological Activity as Determined by Computational and Statistical Analyses). This was quite an event probably for all the wrong reasons in that the evolution of the paper was shaped by rejection after rejection elsewhere and then finally a disagreement on a press release. Getting this work out was about as tough as it can be. In the background a second unrelated paper at the same journal had a rocky time, and that’s putting it mildly. I have not given up on PLOS, but I am avoiding PLOS ONE for a while longer, I am happy to review for them and have done recently. The ‘dispensing paper’ as of today has 9205 views, it will be interesting to see how its cited.

Getting the paper published was followed by a brief wave of interest from blogs and a few journalists but besides a recent highlight in Nature Methods honestly thats about it. All efforts to get other screening groups or companies to do what we did on a bigger scale have basically been met with negative responses (with the odd exception). So is this burying heads in sand collectively something I expected? Well perhaps yes, when faced with something that makes you question the quality of the data you have been working with on such a huge scale, its probably human nature to say “well this is just something we already knew about but its ok, lets just dismiss it”. Unfortunately that’s probably not the best response. Issues with reproducibility of data aside, when its just plain wrong data, there are no two ways about it.

Honestly, I think if the paper had made it into Science there would have been a lot more calls to action, there would be some serious discussion on how we could just keep ignoring issues like this, maybe. Believe me its not sour grapes. Like it or not (and I do not wish to sound crass saying it) PLOS ONE just does not have the impact (or impact factor) of a Science, Nature or Cell. Then again neither do any of the other open access journals. We have to change this situation, we need an open access journal with a whopping impact factor to challenge the supremacy of Science, Nature and Cell. Will this happen soon, probably not unless we start citing PLOS ONE papers like crazy and perhaps at the same time they increase the threshold for acceptance and probably publish fewer papers. In my lifetime it might happen.

I am definitely committed to trying more open access journals, budgets permitting. Our recent foray into F1000Research was prompted by a freebie submission for rare diseases, and honestly the whole process was such a pleasure it renewed my faith in open access. I think this needs to happen more broadly. Open access may want to engage scientists more broadly, make it cheaper to publish but at the same time be stringent in what is accepted.

So what will I predict in a year on the dispensing paper, maybe there might be some follow up, maybe some additional data might be found to increase the scope of comparisons across dispensing techniques. Alternatively maybe it will just become a footnote, something referred to in a decade when another scientist makes the same observation independently and is rejected from publication in the highest impact journal, which just happens to be open access too.


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  1. Adriana says:

    But this is not the scientific conummity’s task: this is editing! The scientific conummity’s responsibility, and that is why we do it without being paid, is to acknowledge the scientific quality of the papers and their contribution to the increment of knowledge. The rest is left for editors and publishers. Publishers, open access or traditional, have the wrong idea about the role of researchers in the publishing process: we are being transformed in a unpaid workforce to edit papers. This is just not our job.

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