Nearly a year ago, I wrote a blog about a group of scientists who decided to break the stranglehold research journals have in deciding whose work receives public recognition and whose work doesn’t (Blog 1/1/13) What emerged was a suite of journals covering all areas of science and medicine called Public Library of Science (PLOS). PLOS shares papers with the scientific community without peer review for the purpose of expanding the depth of material that otherwise might never break into print.
The journals began in 2013 and by most measurements the experiment has been “a smashing success.” (The Duck Penis Paradox,” by Alice Robb, The New Republic, September 29, 2014 pg. 13.) Researchers have responded with enthusiasm and PLOS has become the largest of the scientific journals by volume, publishing 31,500 papers a year or 90 articles every day, “more than Science puts out in a month.” (Ibid pg. 13) To be fair, the result hasn’t been perfect. One contributor admitted that, “to pay up to $13,50 to be published [in PLOS] just doesn’t carry the same weight as a paper in Science.” (Ibid pg. 13)
That criticism calls into question whether or not this democratic arena will withstand the test of time. Because the strategy is to publish first and critique afterwards, some dubious research has found its way into the spotlight. In one widely circulated paper readers were amused to learn that a duck’s penis is spiral. That discovery may be of dubious value but the publishers are quick to point out other promising ideas have emerged in areas like dementia, autism and breast cancer — work that otherwise might never have seen the light of day.
PLOS’ founders are satisfied with the value of their experiment, though they admit it needs tweaking. Having democratized scientific communication, they intend to improve the quality of the material.