The problem with PLoS now is ... wait for this ... the success of PLoS One. PLoS One it turns out is publishing a lot of papers (including one by me, today). And bringing in a decent amount of money to PLoS apparently (note for full disclosure - I am involved in PLoS Biology as "Academic Editor in Chief" and PLoS Computational Biology as an Academic Editor ... although I should note I am not involved in financial discussions at PLoS in any way).
So why is the success of PLoS One a problem? Well, because it allows Nature to do the old good cop bad cop routine and to write, again, about the "failings" of the PLoS publication model. Now, mind you, the article does not quote a single source for what the PLoS publication model is. But they do say it has failed. From what I can tell here is the logic of the failure argument:
- Nature believes PLoS' model for success revolved solely around PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine and some of the other other PLoS journals being self sustaining after a few years.
- Analysis of some financial information suggests that PLoS Biology and Medicine currently are not breaking even
- PLoS One is apparently wildly successful and thus is brining in some money to PLoS.
- PLoS One publishes a lot of papers (they discuss this a bit and imply that this is a bad thing because some of the papers must be bad. Note - they do not back this up with any evidence. Silly for me to ask a science journal to use evidence)
- Therefore, the entire PLoS Publication model is a failure.
The problems with this logic are, well, large. Here are some:
- Does Nature really think that there ever was a single "model" for how PLoS should be evaluated?
- If so, where is the documentation of what this model actually was?
- Even if there was a PLoS model and even if it turns out to be not exactly what PLoS is doing now, what is the big deal? If you were a stockholder of any company and they told you "we are never going to change our business model no matter what happens in the world around us" I would recommend you not buy their stock. It is simply farcical to expect any entity to stick to a single simple model forever.
- Does not Nature supplement some of their bigger journals with their higher volume other journals?
- Most companies these days use high profile entities such as PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine to attract attention to other portions of their company in order to help bring in money. Is this somehow not allowed by PLoS? Doesn't Nature do the same thing?
- If you look at the figure Nature shows of PLoS $$$, it shows income rising in 2007 and expenses going down. How did that get turned into a bad thing?
So - I still do like Nature publishing because much of the time it has high quality stuff. It even has high quality stuff commenting/criticizing the Open Access movement and pointing out some of the challenges with it. But this article by Butler is not an impressive piece of work. I really wanted to give him an award but could not think of what to give.
See also (thanks to Bora for pointing out a bunch of these links)
- Drug Monkey: Nature offers a completely objective and unbiased review of PLoS.
- Greg Laden
- Peter Suber
- Alex Holcombe/Ceptional Nature targets financial weakness of PLoS journals
- Plausible Accuracy
- Bora at Blog Around the Clock
- Bill Hooker
- Health Science and Libraries Blog
- Questionable Authority
- Neurotic Physiology When Journals Pounce
- Class of the business models from A Man with a PhD
- Bjorn Brembs
- Hank at Scientific Blogging
- Timo Hannay at Nature
- Nature Re-Attacks Open Access and PLoS
- Nature vs. PLoS by John Dupuis
- Commentary: Open access equals bulk publishing? by Lars Jensen
- The ‘threatening’ success of PLoS; now heard aloud!
- Science Literature and Changing Times
- The future of scientific publishing
- PLoS, Nature and the community backlash
- PLoS In Nature : The Big Picture
- New salvos in the publishing wars
- Science Commons’ John Wilbanks on the Declan Butler article
- PLoS and the future of publishing - as framed by Nature
- OA and the broader social good
- The economics of open access, part two
- What’s the deal with PLoS One?