Is PLOS ONE falling out of favour with Palaeontologists?
By looking at a simple plot of publications through time, it would seem that the zenith of PLOS ONE has been reached after a surge in increase as it dominated the market, but is now in sharp decline. There have been a couple of such blips, with subsequent recovery phases, but the overall trend would seem to be one of a decline since 2014.
Here’s the simple R code I used to do create this plot:
# Using R to visualise Paleontology publications in PLOS ONE through time # Install package from within R install.packages("rplos") # Load package from library library("rplos") # Search for the term 'paleontology' searchplos('paleontology', 'id,publication_date', limit = 10000) # So there's a lot of data.. # Let's try plotting it! # Plot results through time, no limit on data plot_throughtime(terms='paleontology',limit=10000) # You can try this with any field really plot_throughtime(terms='political science',limit=3000)
Well, I’m going to guess that this trend it’s because of the rise of Nature Communications and it’s little cousin, Scientific Reports, as well as PeerJ. Or an expansion of the ‘megajournl’ market.
Now, the research published in any of these journals is objectively no different than if it were published in PLOS ONE, or any other venue. But it’s a marketing thing, isn’t it. PLOS ONE has a bit of a reputation of a sort of ‘dustbin’ for research, publishing anything and everything that’s scientifically sound. For some reason, many equate this as the peer review being less rigorous (“peer review lite”..), whereas its proponents will simply state that it is more objective, as it doesn’t do weird things like trying to assess research impact before it’s had a chance to even make an impact.
PLOS ONE also doesn’t exactly have the greatest reputation after a couple of Editorial ‘SNAFUs‘, and issues with the publication process (e.g., it still doesn’t offer page proofs). I will say that while many journals suffer from these sorts of issues, PLOS ONE definitely gets a skewed amount of researcher angst when a mistake is revealed, for some reason. I don’t know why this is, but all you have to do is look at the relative amount of social media ranting when a PLOS ONE paper gets retracted compared to when it happens in Nature.
If this seeming trend of decreasing PLOS ONE papers were a cost thing, then all of the research being lost from PLOS ONE ($1495 per article) would be going to PeerJ ($1095), depending on membership fees ($399/author for 1 paper/year for life), or another cheaper venue (many Palaeo journals such as APP or Palaeo Electronica are free to publish in and still Open Access). Both Nature Communications ($5200) and Scientific Reports ($1675) largely do the same thing editorially as PLOS ONE too, although the former is more selective, but have the advantage of having the Nature brand attached to it. And many researchers are suckers for brands, forgetting it is the value of their work which builds the brand of a journal, not the journal conferring some sort of quality mark on their research.
But I don’t think we’ll see that PeerJ or these other cheaper/free venues are exclusively ‘snaffling’ PLOS ONE’s authors in the data, as we’re still seeing many Palaeo papers appearing in a whole range of venues. And this is because the cost of publishing doesn’t matter to researchers – most of the time it doesn’t make a difference if it costs $100 or $5000 – they either can or cannot afford it, and for those who can, they are rarely accountable for the funds which they draw upon to do so.
I’ve even got two papers in Nature Comms, one in PeerJ, and one in PLOS ONE. In my experience, the entire publication process was no different between either journal, except that the former was around 4 times the cost per article than PLOS ONE (we got a fee waiver for PeerJ because they’re awesome).
So, I don’t really know what to make of this so far. It seems like the ‘megajournal’ market is well and truly open (no pun intended), and I would hazard a guess that researchers care more about journal reputation than the cost of submission, because generally our incentive, financial [in]equality, and accountability systems in research are all pretty messed up.
I’ll keep tracking the data and update this blog whenever something interesting happens. Incidentally, is it possible to get the same data here for Nature titles and PeerJ? Would loooove to do that comparison!