SPARC, a coalition of academic and research libraries, wants to improve the scholarly publishing system. To bring attention to individuals and groups that are doing just that, they started the SPARC Innovators program. The most recently named Innovator is a journal from PLoS, a group I’ve mentioned before.

In 2006 PLoS ONE was launched as a new Open Access (OA) journal. OA wasn’t the innovation. Their new idea was to publish articles that meet objective standards, not subjective standards. They basically wanted to eliminate these kinds of subjective judgments from the review process:

  • Is this an important topic?
  • Is this new/unique/game-changing?
  • Does it fit this journal’s area of interest?
  • Will it be cited often?

These questions of importance and impact are left to the readers.

The reviewers and publisher make sure the science described in each article is sound (those objective criteria). The review process is shorter, allowing for speedier publication. Technology allows for as many articles to be published as are accepted. The journal is Open Access, so anyone with an Internet connection can access the articles. Authors of accepted articles pay for publication, and that keeps the enterprise rolling.

Are researchers publishing in PLoS ONE? You betcha! According to the 2010 Journal Citation Reports from Thomson Reuters, PLoS ONE published 6714 articles in 2010.

Several publishers (Nature, BMJ, Sage) are starting journals with similar procedures. Is this the start of the mega-journal? Peter Binfield of PLoS thinks so. What do you think will happen in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics journal publishing?

2 thoughts on “PLoS ONE: The Newest SPARC Innovator

  1. Hi Deborah!
    These are all great questions.
    Open Access business models are gaining popularity in STEM publishing for a few reasons.
    * Science is built on sharing knowledge, so authors are willing to pay in order for everyone to read their research without having to be associated with a large library.
    * Most STEM research is funded and the funding can be used to pay the author fees. A few funders, like the NIH, have mandated that research they support must be made publicly available within a certain time frame.
    * Most Open Access publishers will waive author fees, so that important information doesn’t go unpublished. Many universities are also setting up funds to help their researchers pay these fees.

    Your second question about the firehose of information we all have to deal with is the real innovation behind this award. PLoS One seems to have answered the question about whether researchers will publish in this type of venue. They do. Now we’ll have to see how researchers deal with this kind of journal when they use the literature. Do they use social networking tools like Mendeley, CiteULike, etc., to share what they’re reading with each other? Will their blogs help with the increased number of articles? Will they rely on Google Scholar searches? Do indexers like Web of Science, Scopus, and Pubmed offer the searching and filtering functionality to deal with this increase in articles?

    What do others think will happen?

  2. Wow, this leaves me with a lot of questions:

    Is it right to make authors pay to have their articles published? How much will it cost them? What if valuable findings go unpublished because the cost is prohibitive?

    As for the objective vs. subjective criteria, what is the value of publishing information that is unimportant or reiterates past findings? Given the amount of information coming at readers daily, how can a journal sell itself if it’s publishing articles outside its “area of interest” (which I read as an unfocused stream of information)?

    Any insight, library staff/fellow readers?

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