Via a tweet from Chris Surridge (Chief Editor and Associate Publisher, Nature Protocols) I found Richard Poynder‘s potted history of PLoS ONE. Fair warning though: that link goes to a short teaser; the full, 42-page analysis is available as a PDF.
So no, I haven’t read it all.
Neither has Björn Brembs, but he has made a response on his own blog, and no doubt there’ll be more to come. (I have however read enough to sound a note of warning: physicists tell me that by no means all their papers go into arXiv—it varies greatly by discipline, and any paper that has a chance of getting into Nature, for example, won’t go to the arXiv first.)
Björn makes some interesting and downright provocative points (I wouldn’t expect anything less, to be honest). Unfortunately, and perhaps this is PLoS’s fault for muddying the water, no discussion of Open Access seems to be able to avoid running aground on the rocks of peer review. I often find myself explaining to people that open access does not mean poor, or non-existent, pre-publication peer review. Peer review itself has been getting a bit of a kicking recently, and it’s quite heartening to read his defence:
Peer-review is essential to science, whether it happens before or after publication and it is as alive and kicking today as it has ever been, as we can see whenever a ‘bad’ article is published: no matter where it appears, in Science, in Nature, in PLoS One or in the Journal of Cosmology: scientists spring to the fore and rip it to shreds.
Peer review in and of itself is a good thing: how it is done appears to be what is upsetting people these days. Richard Poynder is somewhat disparaging of peer review at PLoS ONE, and with some justification: the pledge that review would be transparent seems to have floundered in the swamps of ambivalence. We at F1000 have some ideas of our own about doing peer review in new ways, and our Posters archive is part of that project.
Björn claims that we need to cut out the middlemen: “for-profit publishers have become obsolete. All the libraries need in order to archive scholarly communications today is a $500 PC – not a 5 billion publishing industry.” Now while that may be true, I do wonder who is going to pay for the hosting; who is going to administer and pay for the DOIs; who is going to provide linkouts, citation tracking (as in ‘who has cited this paper?’), and, actually, who is going to copyedit and format your paper so that people don’t feel like tearing their own eyes out when they try to read it?1.
And of course, who is going to administer peer review in a clear, open and accountable way?
I still think2 all this is going to cost money, and within reason I don’t see why people shouldn’t attempt to run that as a business, just as the coffee shop across the road provides me with a valuable service and attempts to make a bit of money in the process. It’s easy to say ‘Evilsevier’, but we are a in a capitalist economy and history tells us it does better than the alternative, like it or not.
What do you think?
1 I should point out, here, that Peter Murray-Rust is running a hackfest in Cambridge that might address data publication, bibliography management and the formatting issue.
2 I also read enough of Richard’s article to know that what I say here might turn round and bite me on the arse in five years’ time. Oh well.