Sunday, October 23, 2011

How Does PLoS ONE Have Such a High Impact Factor?

The journal accepts 70% of papers, so how come it has an ISI impact factor of more than 4? The journal accepts all papers that are technically correct, irrespective of significance. That's why we sent our recent paper on malaria and climate change there after dealing with reviewers who didn't like the work or claimed it not to be important at other journals.

An article from last year says that it is due to the $1350 publication fee. Authors who have the money are probably stronger as they have research grants or work at well-funded universities.* Though as the article points out they will waive the fee for anyone who claims they can't afford to pay. Also impact factors are higher in biomedical areas than others. The typical medical article in an ISI journal gets 6 citations after 2 years, which implies an impact factor of 3. I think another reason is that the journal is open access.

The author, Phil Davis, thinks that PLoS ONE could face a problem if they get a flood of low quality articles chasing the impact factor, which would impose costs on the journal as they would have to reject them and not get paid. At the moment the academic editors are volunteers and so the costs of rejected articles are lower than that of accepted ones. But they could move to a submission fee model in that case and only waive fees for developing country authors or not at all.

In 2010 PLoS ONE's IF increased despite publishing more articles.

(HT: Tom Kompas)

* There is an assumption that an author won't pay the fee from their private funds. We paid the fee using my coauthor's funding from the Wellcome Trust who mandate open access publication.

13 comments:

  1. I just came across a newly published article in Plos One, the same article that I had rejected due to poor methodologies (among things) when it was being considered by another highly respectable (conventional) journal. The authors made no attempt to address the issues raised. The published article is virtually identical to the one I reviewed before. It is somewhat disquieting to witness this new trend of scientific publishing.

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    1. Frank, the same thing happens with conventional journals. I recommended rejection on a paper, and then with a month I got the same paper to review again from another (respectable) conventional journal. The authors had fixed the typos, but nothing else. Maybe now the paper is with a third journal, and they get lucky and have a less particular reviewer, who knows? Lots of crap gets into press, the only real test of quality is if anyone still cares in 10 years time.

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    2. Disquieting, perhaps - but scarcely new, Frank, and scarcely unique to any one particular outlet.

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  2. I feel, may be you (as reviewer), might have rejected it but the other reviewer(s) find no issues! This happened to me also where the rejected article for lack of support of a particular methodology might be acceptable in other journals. In contrast, several papers we discuss in our laboratory that are published in reputed journals missed, sometimes trivial, most of the time vital or other controls which have not been thought by the referees. We always wonder how such learned reviewers never bothered to ask for them? Finally, it is all about "reputations", never mind what the work is?

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  3. From my experience, i can say that some reports indicates that the reviewer could not really understand the paper or he is not close enough to the subject, hence he decides to attack the work under consideration using some silly argument without really spending some time to learn about the topic. Take for example, the paper on the ferroelectric soft modes which later became very famous in the field with more than 800 citations. it was reject by a few journals and one of the reviewers said "this paper basically says nothing". Another example is the first paper in nonlinear optics where the reviewer rejected the paper and described it as “rubbish”. At the end, the peer review process is a human procedure that works most of the time and sometimes fails terribly to value once work and effort. Luckily Maxwell decided to Published his wonderful set of equations in his own book and did not send it to a journal where some fanatic reviewer can simply reject his work asking him to compare his results with experiment as lazy reviewers always prefer to say .

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  4. Reviewers views may vary, depending on perception, depth of understanding, biases etc., many times, two persons revieving a paper have opined to the contrary, for example, a reviewer said the paper is well writen whereas second reviewer says it is poorly writen? We need to be considerate and my views and openions need not be the final.

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  5. David,

    Out of curiosity, is this still true (ie. the content of the post), as of May 2012?

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  6. It's true, there hasn't been a new release of the Journal Citation Report since I wrote this post.

    Elsevier's SNIP is issued more often and PLoS ONE has a much lower impact factor there as do all biomed related journals, because citation rates are much higher in the biomed literature than in other fields.

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  7. most of reviewer are serious, but there are some really ignorant reviewers who give really silly comments because they do not really understand what the paper talks about, to hide their lack of knowledge on that particular field,

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  8. i been reviewed many papers. but the interesting note is we people need a solid conclusion for their work to get published. but in plos one they were not at all interested in conclusion and scope of work. just they look whether the paper is technically sound.......

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  9. I had a paper rejected by 9 journals, because reviewers disagreed with the methods, the suitability for the journal, the significance. Then the reviewers in PLoS one (including an expert in the field) heard our justification and accepted the methods. Many reviewers are stuck with a conventional view of what methods should be used that they sometimes entirely miss the point of what value the data has to offer in terms of new ideas. If there is any sign that the methods were less than perfect, the data is discredited as untrustworthy.

    The point should be, given the methods, does this data push our understanding forwards.

    PLoS ONE seems to be successful because it understands this philosophy. They are doing a service to science, by publishing everything that shows good data produced using justifiable methods for the aims of the research, and therefore needs to be communicated to scientists and anyone else that wants to freely have access to it.

    We need journals like PLoS ONE to help us communicate science without the snobbery that most journals have. The 70% acceptance rate shows that there are a huge amount of good quality papers being rejected from conventional journals - why? The quality of the paper should be judged more by how many researchers cite it, rather than the opinion of two (possibly biased) reviewers.

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  10. I recently submitted a paper in PLoS ONE and was impressed with their strict and precise submission and review process. PLoS ONE has very strict criteria for publication than I found in other journals. The difference between PLoS ONE and other conventional journals is that PLoS ONE takes all the pain to look at the paper and review the paper but other journals sometimes return it without having any serious look. I believe that PLoS ONE review process is very strict and they don't publish any article without strictly assessing the quality of work.

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  11. Folks any scientist worth their salt, with a cursory knowledge of statistical method, would know that discussion of a skewed analysis as impact factor of a journal should not be done for any purpose other than idle gossip. I hope plos dont give a flying toffee about theirs
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v423/n6939/full/423479a.html

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