Monday, January 08, 2007

PLoS ONE changing scientific publishing

It has been brewing for a long time: a different way of publishing scholarly articles. Roughly 15 years ago it took three to six months to get an article published. Part of the time was the peer review; the other part was taken up by the production process. With the digitisation publishers saw the opportunity to streamline the communication process with the peers and the production process as authors delivered their manuscript electronically by mail. Eventually the complete time was shortened drastically to six weeks on average.

But the production process did not only change, also the players started to change as well as the rights to the articles. Initiatives to review and access scientific articles openly started up. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians, was started up to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource; open the doors to the world's library of scientific knowledge by giving any scientist, physician, patient, or student - anywhere in the world - unlimited access to the latest scientific research; facilitate research, informed medical practice, and education by making it possible to freely search the full text of every published article to locate specific ideas, methods, experimental results, and observations; enable scientists, librarians, publishers, and entrepreneurs to develop innovative ways to explore and use the world's treasury of scientific ideas and discoveries. PLoS was well received and received many an accolade in the academic world and outside (e.g. WSA)

But not every experiment to open review and access succeeded. The well respected magazine Nature started to follow the Wikipedia line by bringing shortlisted articles online for open reviews. Everyone could review the article and send in comments. The experiment was held for four months and attracted only only 72 authors and 92 technical comments. Nature has closed the experiment.

Now there is a new experiment being launched with PLoS ONE, a scholarly research portal. PLoS ONE is posting research and will allow interactive review before and after publication for scientific articles via a very sophisticated publishing environment. By its launch PLoS One has published already 100 articles.

What is the secret? The Wikipedia approach gives access to anyone to comment. So an article will draw a lot of comments or not get any reactions. For useful comment trust is a factor. Son in the case of PLoS ONE a global editorial board of 200 scholars has been attracted, ensuring proper and expert comment.

With an open platform there will also be an open exchange of ideas through internet and e-mail. Peer review has not been replaced, but more peers and other scientists can comment. This will change the entire scholarly debate from an integer, but closed, secretive scrutiny to an open and wider debate. By setting up a full system for publishing scientific articles PLoS One will change scientific publishing.

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