The following ‘letter to the editor’ was submitted to Science October 4, 2013 and was published on Sciencemag.org December 5, 2013.
John Bohannon’s News story “Who’s afraid of peer review?” (special section on Communication in Science, 4 October, p. 60) incriminates many Open Access (OA) journals. Our journal, PLOS ONE, was not implicated. It rejected the fraudulent paper promptly and for the right reasons, as Bohannon acknowledges. Still, the “study” was disappointing: It was not controlled, which would have required seeking to entrap a matched set of closed-access journals, yet it claims that a source of the problem is open access. It then concludes that profitability for OA journals is driven by volume, without acknowledging that the same is true for closed-access journals. The issues raised by Bohannon’s exercise are not about open access journals; they are about science and technical publishing and the peer review processes used throughout the industry.
In the short term, all scientific publishers have a responsibility to reinforce and strengthen pre-publication review. We must improve the efficiency of peer review and continue to perform checks that uncover conflicts of interest, identify financial disclosures, confirm author affiliations, and ensure compliance with international standards of animal and human testing.
Even with these tools, peer review will never be flawless. As Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt points out, it is “time-honored” and “the gold standard” (Editorial, p. 13), but that doesn’t mean our methods of evaluation can’t and shouldn’t be improved. This is the real challenge. And this is why PLOS is working to transform scientific communication by developing better measures of scientific quality both before publication (currently traditional peer review) and after publication (currently the dreaded impact factor).
To this end, PLOS is developing Article Level Metrics (ALMs) that enable the scientific community itself to confer on a research contribution its credibility, relevance, and importance, independent of the journal in which it is published. Peer review at its best is a continual process of critique and assessment.
Elizabeth MarincolaChief Executive Officer, The Public Library of Science, San Francisco, CA 94111, USA. E-mail: email@example.com
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