Where Next for PLOS: Working Together to Make Waves in Scientific Communication

Sheryl P. DenkerWhat began as a ripple with the goal to make research accessible and free has propagated into over 157 funder and 500 university policies that provide millions of readers around the world increasing opportunities to make important, positive impacts on global health, scientific discovery, policy and education. This wave of Open Access–and now Open Science–moving through the scientific community has created a scientific publishing ecosystem that spreads beyond researchers, reviewers, editors and funders to include technologists, institutions, patients, entrepreneurs and librarians.

Concomitantly, the pieces of the research puzzle have become more complex: multimedia data, web-searchable genomic datasets and real-time online discussions alter the way people work, communicate and cooperate. The internet has driven a shift from readership to engagement, from the sole operator to an invigorated community, from hierarchical to networked feedback and from static publication to dynamic updates. This increasing complexity has resulted in insufficient coordination and integration of processes, making the sharing of research burdensome. Science, technology and medical (STM) journal publishers have struggled to fully leverage the potential of innovation and evolving work styles to enable and facilitate science communication.

Responsible Disruption

Traditional publishing is inadequate for the communication of science, as demonstrated by the increasing number of options that provide rapid routes to publication in alternative forms. Calls to disrupt the constraints of traditional publishing are constant and gaining in strength. At the same time, publishers and others are working to ensure that proposed reforms and innovations do not compromise the values of documentation, curation, and prioritization, sharing, archiving and integrity. The public relies on the belief that content published in peer-reviewed journals is trustworthy, despite the fact that this is too often not the case. We must do better. All stakeholders, including publishers, are accountable.

With these cautions in mind, it is critical for publishers such as PLOS to lead change and innovate to support the research enterprise. PLOS has a history of openness and innovation at scale that, when combined with engaged and collaborative stakeholders willing to provide feedback, have facilitated a revolution in research communication.

Shaping the Future

PLOS has redefined the publishing model and proved that making quality research openly available for anyone to read, download and reuse is a viable business model. PLOS redefined the concept of the journal and ignited change with the groundbreaking PLOS ONE —a forum for publishing all sound science and providing an expansive scope for researchers’ work. PLOS has redefined “influence” beyond the limitations of journal metrics with PLOS Article-Level Metrics that reveal a snapshot of an article’s influence and value before accumulation of citations and over time. PLOS is redesigning the discussion and extending article reach with The PLOS Blogs Network, PLOS Communities and the PLOS Science Wednesday on redditscience Ask Me Anything series. These opportunities move the discussion into the open to support a public dialogue that distributes knowledge, helps tell the story behind the research and fosters community for the benefit of working scientists and the general public.

PLOS is actively furthering its mission to accelerate science and medicine–from research and discovery to influence tracking and community building–through a suite of proposed new initiatives:

  • Ahead-of-publication posting and alternative forms of outputs for rapid dissemination of important research with consideration for integrity, quality and reproducibility
  • Collaborative and open peer review with broad community involvement, appropriate recognition and accountability
  • Priority submission in the case of public health emergencies
  • Advocacy for a shift within academia, industry, funding agencies and elsewhere to transform not just processes but also culture and credit

PLOS is also pursuing how pre-print servers might best serve the community while simultaneously building a more efficient manuscript submission system that provides flexibility for different author working styles, and streamlined submissions with enhanced automations and improved author, reviewer and editor collaboration.

“We are determined to drive progress toward Open Science by providing the community with a publishing experience that fully leverages the technical potential to advance science fast, openly and with broad participation,” says PLOS Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Marincola.

Merging Tides

PLOS cannot do this alone. Publishers, editors and reviewers wield only a fraction of the power to shift the tide.

“Together with authors, funders and other visionary leaders across sectors, we must act now. When we reach this potential, we will boost confidence in the scientific enterprise, from reproducibility to publication to reward,” says Marincola.

As with all transformative thinking and shifting behaviors, this process will not happen in one large splash. There will be ripples of innovation and shifting behaviors that disperse outward, sometimes quickly and other times less so. These ripples will intersect with those of like-minded organizations and innovators to once again push the boundaries of scientific publishing. Watch this space for news and updates as we continue to refine the definition, evaluation and recognition of scientific work. PLOS aspires to put researchers back at the center of science communication, working in the best interests of all stakeholders—for the benefit of science and of future generations.

Where Next for PLOS: Working Together to Make Waves in Scientific Communication was authored by Sheryl P. Denker and published in PLOS Blogs. It is being republished by Open Health News under Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license. The original copy of the article can be found here.