On the Nature of PLoS....

I know that you know that I work for PLoS. So, I know that a lot of you are waiting for me to respond, in some way, to the hatchet-job article by Declan Bucler published in Nature yesterday. Yes, Nature and PLoS are competitors in some sense of the word (though most individual people employed by the two organizations are friendly with each other, and even good personal friends), and this article is a salvo from one side aimed at another. Due to my own conflict of interest, and as PLoS has no intention to in any official way acknowledge the existence of this article (according to the old blogospheric rule "Do Not Feed The Trolls"), I will only send you to the responses by others who felt compelled to comment about the article. You can also, if you wish, post a comment on the article itself.

Peter Suber:

Declan Butler last used tax records to investigate PLoS' finances in June 2006. See some of the comments (first set, second set) generated by his investigation.


Since they are in science however, we can expect Nature to be totally objective and to eschew blatantly self-serving editorials and news focus pieces that gratuitously bash the competition. Can't we? Yeah right.

Jonathan Eisen:

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.


Hmmm...but tell us how you really feel. In case you're wondering, the "bulk, cheap publishing of lower quality papers" takes place in PLoS ONE. Sigh. I'm an author on one such "lower quality paper". I'd break down and cry if it weren't for the feedback, citations and media coverage we received on that paper.
In the words of my labmate who chooses to go unnamed:

"maybe Nature, at the end of their articles, should write Competing Interests: The authors have declared that competing interests exist and we like to talk bad about a competitor's economic model"

Seriously though, I wonder if Nature realises that their article comes across as being extremely one-sided and very childish.

Greg Laden:

Some will say that the Nature piece by Butler is negative or even cynical regarding PLoS. Maybe. But on close examination, perhaps Butler is just doing his job as a journalist, asking questions, probing, seeking clarity. In the mean time, PLoS clearly stands up well against these questions.

One thing that does bother me a bit about the Nature piece is this: To the extent that it can be seen as negative, it must be seen as negative about a competitor. Normally one would expect a discloser statement indicating that where PLoS loses financially, Nature gains. The sources cited by Butler who have negative things to say about PLoS are also either competitors or simply anti-OpenSource.

I am absolutely confident that Butler and Nature will address (or even redress) this apparent misstep.


I won't really get into the details here. I think the article makes some good factual points, but they're stitched together in a manner to depict PLoS in a rather unfavorable light. The kicker of course is that Nature has some major conflicts of interest here.'


PLoS, does it suck? (check the comments thread)


Wow, have you read Declan Butler's nasty little hatchet job that was just published in Nature about the Public Library of Science (PLoS)? My jaw hit the top of the table in my little coffee shop where I am ensconced -- why would Nature demean their journal by publishing such a snotty little screed where they attack the normal, but probably painful, financial ups-and-downs of a new journal?

Alex Holcombe:

Nature has published a news item by Declan Butler on the finances of one of its competitors: the open-access PLoS journals, using language that puts the organisation and its journals, especially PLoS ONE, in a negative light.

The fact that PLoS does not meet its costs exclusively from the author publication fees, as Nature focuses on, is interesting, especially from the point of view of an organization like Nature Publishing Group, whose purpose is to make a profit. But....

Mike Dunford:

A story that fairly examined what PLoS ONE has done so far, how it's perceived by other scientists (or even how aware other scientists are of it), and whether the increased number of articles appearing there means that more scientists are using the journal's articles as resources would be an interesting read. It's sad that Butler and the editors at Nature decided to go with the snide hatchet job instead.


Ok, so I think I agree that the article is sort of unnecessarily rude and demeaning, but I wouldn't really expect anything different from a for-profit publisher. The worst part is that everything Dr. Butler tries to imply is a failing of PLoS has been done many times over in the closed-access for-profit journal community. Right, so let's try to look past the blatant attack and take a look at the actual facts, shall we?


Nature has some news to tell the world about their rival PLoS (Public Library of Science). Open source publishing by PLoS thrives on charity funding. Does the business model needs a redesign of it's aims, goals and strategies? Or is it a cheap trick from scared Nature publishing? Judge yourself....

Bill Hooker:

This clumsy hatchet job from Nature reporter Declan Butler is beneath him, a poor excuse for journalism and an affront to the respect with which many of his colleagues are regarded by the research community.

Let's start with the title: "PLoS stays afloat with bulk publishing". Loaded rhetoric, anyone? The clear implications are that PLoS is floundering (Butler's own numbers show otherwise!), and that "bulk" is somehow inferior (to, one presumes, "boutique" or some such). PLoS is "following an haute couture model of science publishing" sniffs our correspondant, who goes on to clarify: "relying on bulk, cheap publishing of lower quality papers to subsidize its handful of high-quality flagship journals".

This emphasis on "quality" and the idea that the same somehow equates with scarcity continues throughout: "the company consciously decided to subsidize its top-tier titles by publishing second-tier community journals with high acceptance rates", "the flood of articles appearing in PLoS One (sic)", "difficult to judge the overall quality", "because of this volume, it's going to be considered a dumping ground", "introduces a sub-standard journal to their mix".

The intent is obvious, and the illogic is boggling. Where does Butler think the majority of science is published? Even if you buy into this nebulous idea of "quality" (one knows it when one sees it, does one not old chap? wot wot?) there can be no "great brand" journals without the denim-clad proletarian masses. All the painstaking, unspectacular groundwork for those big flashy headline-grabbing (and, dare I say it, all too often retracted) Nature front-pagers has got to go somewhere.

Greg Laden:

My own criticism of "peer review" is really meant to be a broader critique of the publishing process overall. Furthermore, my belief is NOT that the situation with science publishing is totally screwed up, but rather, that there are some real problems that must be addressed, and PLoS as Open Access and PLoS as on line is an important model for what I see as a good approach to solving some of these problems.

Dave Munger:

My goodness! PLoS has received $17 million in grants! This is obviously a signal that things are going badly for the revolutionary open-access publisher. They're resorting to handouts! When a charitable organization continues to earn the respect of more and more foundations, increasing its bottom line year after year, it's clearly a sign of impending doom!


Clearly this demonstrates that Harvard is in dire circumstances, just like PLoS. Don't let Harvard and PLoS's impeccable reputations fool you. When granting institutions and other donors want to give non-profits large sums of money, it's a sign of their inevitable decline. Fortunately we have private institutions like Nature, the University of Phoenix, and DeVry University to take their place.


Several blogs over at ScienceBlogs are discussing a recent review of PLoS, a major open access organization, in Nature. Their opinions of the piece are not very high. Here's Gene Expression, whose post lists out several others on the subject; here's Greg Laden's Blog, which brings a broader discussion of peer review into the discussion; and here's Living the Scientific LIfe, which has what I think is the best summary of the main points in the review, and the problems with them.


Personally, I think Nature has as much right as any business to take potshots at the competition. Whether they are wise to do so remains to be seen. I doubt that true believers on either side of the open access movement are going to persuaded by the article or the reactions to it, so it's difficult to see what they gain. And as Britannica learned when it challenged wikipedia, such challenges can come back to haunt you later. Britannica endured an extended comparison of the accuracy of its articles versus those in Wikipedia, and now includes wikipedia-like features. Will we see Nature Publishing Group journals change as a result of this discussion?


I wouldn't know one thing or another about PLoS' financial status. I can barely keep my own bills straight without looking at other people's. But I do know that there's no shame to be had in publishing in one of PLoS' "lower level" journals. They're pretty well respected in my department. As for PLoS ONE, my own advisor told me just yesterday that she'd LOVE to have a PLoS ONE article. Grad students in my department present PLoS ONE articles in Journal Clubs, and many of the respected people in my field send papers there.


Nature does really well at the first section but does it really ensure that the results are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world? Or does charging for access fulfill the 'fashion that conveys their significance'? if you pay for something does that enhance its significance?

Interestingly, Nature did not make a profit for more than 30 years:


In closing, I'd just like to say a few words about science in developing countries and open access. I hope that as scientists we can all recognize the important role that science and researchers can play in helping developing countries achieve their goals. Research is a powerful tool in the repertoire of education. Moreover, many developing countries have urgent research needs that don't register on the radar of countries that have reached industrialized status. Even if institutions in developing countries receive discounted access to pay journals it is money spent that could be dedicated to other aspects of research or education. These researchers must have access to literature to succeed and they must also have as many research dollars as they can get their hands on. Open access can be a powerful tool in this fight. My personal opinion is that open access journals, and PubMed Central in particular, can and should be key aspects of how we can bring science, education and research to developing countries. Think about that when you're putting off depositing your papers in PubMed Central or when you're considering the appropriate venue for your next publication

Bruce Sterling:

I also really love it when scientists abandon all reserve and objective dignity and start backstabbing and eyegouging in public.

Bjoern Brembs:

It needs to be pointed out here that publishing in these "non-light" journals decides over grants, tenure, promotions and thus peoples' careers and livelyhoods. So one could paraphrase the current system of publishing in science in the following way: If the scientific community were a large corporation, it would be out-sourcing it's hiring and firing to a group of ex-employees who either left the corporation because they didn't like it or were fired themselves. Now how many managers would implement such a system in their company?

Instead, we should have one single, decentralized, publicly accessible database where the current assessment by editors (i.e., the "non-light" component of peer review in e.g. Nature) comes after publication as one of many measures of post-publication review and assessment. The first review should be done by scientists on the science - whatever happens to the paper afterwards is open to debate. I, for one, value the input of professional editors and their expert judgement of scientific newsworthyiness and would not want to miss it.

John Dupuis:

As most science librarians, I am somewhat critical of Nature's tendency to charge boatloads of money for their journals and journal backfiles, but I do accept that what they do costs money and that they have a right to run their company as they see fit. I don't have a problem paying for stuff that has real value.

However, I do have to say I am very disappointed with this turn of events. Notwithstanding their journal business, I have always been very impressed by the web group at Nature and the fine work they have done on products like Scintilla, PostGenomic, Precedings, Connotea, Nature Network and others. Those are, for the most part, fine products that are really pushing the edges and trying new and exciting things. They are of of the few commercial publishers that really seems to get doing science on the web and I've been happy to promote those products and services in my community here and to present about them to a wider audience. Of course, OA is a very important piece of the puzzle of doing science on the web and PLoS is also trying new and exciting things and really seems to get it. There's a real conflict there. Perhaps Nature's left hand should be telling it's right hand what's really going on out here.

Hank (this one is difficult to understand as it is full of misunderstandings of who the players are, how they operate, what the relationships between them are, etc. - the tacit knowledge that people on the inside take for granted and do not realize sometimes that people on the outside do not know - yet sometimes those on the outside feel compelled to comments as if they know - welcome to the blogosphere, this is what makes it vibrant and good! Who knows, someone may take time out of the holidays and go there and explain the complex networks of publishers, bloggers, etc, and who is who, and how Nature works, how PLoS works, etc., though all that information is findable on the web via, for instance, Google search):

Should Nature writers with integrity be a fan of all open access publications? Well, no, not if it is a free-for-all just to make money. Nor should we. Declan Butler taking what he knew what would be an un-popular stand, especially given his employer and the claims of bias it would engender, is to be applauded. Not saying anything would have been the easier, diplomatic road. And completely wrong.

Timo Hannay:

To look on the bright side, none of this may matter very much in the longer run since truly widespread open access to scientific content is coming about through funder-mandated archiving, not open-access publishing. Nevertheless, the ironies and misunderstandings are just too stark to pass them by without comment.

Greg Laden:

A number of bloggers, including myself, had suggested that Delcan Butler's anti-PLoS writup in nature constituted an attack of one company against another. How silly of us to have done so. Here's what we should have been thinking instead:


Notice how this dude unquestioningly equates the "lowness" or "highness" of a journal with the quantity of "editorial input"? This is totally fucking ridiculous. Journal editors do the best job when they identify good reviewers who understand the importance and reliability of a particular piece of work, and then stay the fuck out of the way.

Michael Meadon:

I like open access. In my opinion, the serials crisis is an absolute travesty and, despite my 'capitalist' instincts, the spectacle of huge companies making profits from the efforts of academics who (a) are not in the companies' employ and (b) are funded (largely) by taxpayers, utterly disgusts me. So it rather pisses me off that the august Nature magazine (which, I should note, I have difficulty accessing because my institution can't afford the subscription fee) has published a bloody screed against PLoS, the best known open access suite of journals. The screed opens thusly:

Greg Laden:

The flap that started with the ill advised commentary by Delcan Butler started out looking like it MIGHT be an Orwellian, perhaps Nixononian attempt by a well established publishing icon in the fields of science to damage an up and coming competater, the Public Libary of Science in particular, and the Open Access Movement more generally. As time goes by, however, I start to get the impression that it does not merely look this way, but may actually be this way.

Lars Juhl Jensen:

I want to be the first to point out the caveats of this analysis. First, the analysis above did not take into account that each journal does not publish the same number of papers. However, weighting the journals by number of papers when calculating average impact factors shifts the balance in favor of PLoS (9.79 for PLoS vs. 9.46 for NPG). Second, the journal PLoS ONE does not have an impact factor yet and was thus not included in my analysis. Third, the criticism by Declan Butler was mainly targeting the fact that much of PLoS' revenue is due to PLoS ONE. However, until NPG chooses to make available detailed financial reports like PLoS does, it is impossible to tell how much of their revenue comes from lower-impact journals.

Greg Laden:

The House of Commons (U.K.) Select Committee on Science and Technology investigated Open Access publishing alternatives, and pursuant to this obtained written evidence from Nature Publishing Group consisting of answers to specific questions about "pay to publish." Here are excerpts from the document. Given the current discussion on Open Access publishing, this may be of interest to you.

Mike Dunford:

Timo Hannay just responded, over at one of Nature's blogs, to the hordes of bloggers who were somewhat displeased with the tone and content of Declan Butler's recent Nature article. Now that someone from Nature has returned fire, and other bloggers have fired back, it's likely that this whole thing is going to turn into one of those multi-day, multi-article kerfuffles that do so much to maintain blogging's reputation as the WWE of the scientific world. Which is cool, as far as I'm concerned. It's been a while since I've grabbed a folding chair and climbed into the Cage of Death. I'm ready to go.

Pedro Beltrao:

Going back to one of Timo's main points, I don't agree that PLoS creates barriers to market entry to other OA publishers. At least certainly not because they used philanthropic grants until they reached break even point. If there are barriers in the market they are due to perception of quality and strong brand name. Here OA publishers have the added advantage that creating a strong brand is easier when most people perceive OA as something good. From the example of PLoS and to some extent BMC there are now clear paths for any publisher (specially one with a strong brand name) to set up a viable business OA model.

Mario Pineda-Krch:

It's nice to hear Timo Hannay's view of open content (actually rather refreshing after reading Declan Butler's tantrum piece). I am a bit puzzled, however. Does Hannay's views represent the view of the Nature Publishing Group as a whole or do they represent only his own views? And, how does all of this fits in with the Nature vs. PLoS runaway train of Declan Butler that has been whipping up a storm in the blogosphere over the last few days (see Bora's post for a succinct summary). The pieces by Declan Butler (he actually has two stories, the second and the first) unequivocally give a impression that Nature is (as Timo puts it in the clip) on of those "hostile" and "reactionary" publishers that are in a "defensive mode" towards the Open Access publishing model that "give the whole industry a disservice".


Many critics are complaining about either the appropriateness of Nature criticizing a competing journal (without explicitly discussing conflict of interest) or for criticizing open-access in general. I think it is entirely appropriate for Nature to write well-argued, well-reasoned articles on science publishing, even discussing competing models critically, but the Butler article under question does not pass these criteria IMO.

Niyaz Ahmed:

I found the overall tone and spirit of the news article quite disturbing and distasteful. Especially, their painting of PLoS ONE journal as a 'dumping ground' and mention of its peer review process as 'light' is not at all correct and ignores facts. I see it as an unsuccessful attempt to dump all the ground-breaking work that PLoS ONE has been publishing since its launch in 2006 (see these posts for exmple; here, here and here). As I said in my response to the story, it is a simple fact that the ~300 scientists who publish in PLoS ONE every month and the 500 Editors who devote their time on rounds of peer reviewing are certainly not the fools out there.


My only comment for now is to repeat the mantra that led me to start this website. Ideas that spread, win.

Stevan Harnad:

Nature's reply states that "Nature isn't anti-open access," but it neglects to mention that Nature back-slid in 2005 -- from having at first been Green on OA self-archiving by its authors to rejoining instead the minority of journals who still try to embargo access. Nature's reply also misses the real growth region of Green OA mandates, which is now institutional and departmental mandates like Southampton's, QUT's, Minho's, CERN's, Liege's, and now Harvard's and Stanford's, rather than just funder mandates.

Greg Laden:

The following are excerpts from the journal Nature regarding the Public Library of Science. These were located with a simple search for the phrase "Public Library of Science." For each item, I provide the source, and a selected bit of text. I have no selection criteria to report, but I do have a reason for doing this: To give an interesting view of the history of PLoS as a concept and an entity, and to some extent, the reactions to PLoS from various quarters.

Peter Suber:

Stevan is right to correct the impression that all OA is gold OA (through journals), and to remind everyone of green OA (through repositories). But "free online access" is itself only part of the story. Stevan links from that phrase to a more complete discussion. But because he doesn't elaborate in his post, I'll elaborate a little. The term "OA" is now used in at least two ways: (1) to remove price barriers alone ("free online access" or gratis OA) and (2) to remove both price and permission barriers (libre OA, which includes BBB OA). The gratis/libre distinction is not the same as the gold/green distinction. The former is about rights or freedoms, and the latter is about venues. Gold OA can be gratis or libre, and green OA can be gratis or libre. Just as we can't afford to forget about green OA, we can't afford to forget libre OA.

Oca sapiens:

Cosa gli ha preso a Declan Butler sull'ultimo Nature, di attaccare in quel modo la Public Library of Science? Che il gruppo open access non faccia profitti, si sa, ma davvero PLoS ONE rastrella qualunque articolo, senza tener conto del suo valore? O pubblica risultati interessanti e qualche volta discutibili, ma dando la possibilità a tutti di discuterne? Commenti.

Be', vado a Modena, dove "Oltre i giardini" mi ha messa nella sezione scienza, ma dev'essere un errore.


Mittwoch publizierte der renommierte NatureNews-Redakteur Declan Butler eine - allgemein als nasty bezeichneten - Artikel über PLoS: PLoS stays afloat with bulk publishing: Science-publishing firm struggles to make ends meet with open-access model. Die Kommentare dort sind mehr oder weniger einhellig der Ansicht, dass Nature einen Wettbewerber "gedisst" hätte. Stellvertretend hier zwei Kommentare:

Bjoern Brembs:

Editors of schorarly, peer-reviewed journals often claim that somehow their choosiness is the most important verdict on the quality of a scientific manuscript. Points in case are Nature Neuroscience's peer-review policy, a recent Nature News article or a follow-up on the Nature blog "Nascent". However, data on the 'impact' or quality of papers published in these very choosy journals varies greatly. Therefore, I have a suggestion on how to judge the performance of an editor. My suggestion requires that all peer-reviewed scientific primary literature is deposited in some database before any subjective editorial choice has been made. An example would be PLoS One, but any such database would do. Then, editors can thumb up or thumb down papers after they have been vetted by peers and promote or demote papers according to their judgement, very similar to acceptance and rejections in so-called high-end journals of today. Since all choices (also rejections!) are recorded, each editor (or goup of editors) will establish a track record. In a way, this is similar to the concept of the Faculty of 1000. Obviously, this will provide a great incentive to maximize their reliability as gatekeepers of scientific quality. How can their performance be measured? By counting downloads, citations, trackbacks, comments, ratings, media coverage, Fac1000 mention or any other measure deemed relevant of the papers they accepted/rejected.
That way, everybody would get their cake and eat it too: seemingly objective performance measures for both scientists and editors. Wouldn't that be fair?

Ricardo Vidal:

What I find to be the most notorious aspect in this whole string of events is that there is quite a large community of science bloggers that are ready to offer their "peer-review" in situations such as these. Is this a good thing? I would like to believe so...

Philip Davis:

In an expository news piece released in last week's issue of the journal Nature, Declan Butler describes how the Public Library of Science is attempting to stay afloat by using lower-cost, "bulk publishing" with PLoS One to offset mounting costs of publishing PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine.

Bjoern Brembs:

I'm sure nobody ending up on this obscure blog could have missed the current frenzy about a Nature news article by Declan Butler attacking PLoS. In the meatime, there has been a follow-up by Nature publishing director Timo Hannay, also with comments and a reply by Timo. I think what we see here are the labor pains of a new scientific publishing model. People realize that things are not working effectively, some would maybe even claim that the entire system is broken and needs to be replaced. A good overview can be had from Coturnix in his post, but there are also comments worth noting individually such as Pedro Beltrao, Greg Laden, Lars Jensen, Mario Pineda-Krch, DrugMonkey or Bill Hooker.

Mike the Mad Biologist:

That's why I almost never review articles for these journals anymore (as opposed to Open Access journals, which I do--two in the last month alone, and that's during grant season). Seriously, if they ever did want me to review, then they have to pay me just like any other business who wanted to consult my expertise would. If enough of us did that, well, things would get very interesting....

donham nise:

If you haven't already, take a look at the PLoS Biology or the new journal PLoS One (a direct competitor for Nature since it accept all sorts of articles). From an occasional reader perspective, the articles are authoritative, attractive, and visually appealing.

While Nature remains one of two pre-eminent science journals (the other is Science), it is clear that "the times they are a changin." The Nature editorial staff clearly recognizes this-and maybe they are a bit worried.


A recent foofaraw (including offerings from YHN and PhysioProf) arose over an ill-advised tone struck in an attack editorial thinly veiled as an analytical news item published in Nature. The discussion has brought Open Access science [several tomes on OA linked here] back to the blog-table for discussion. I have another thought, beyond my reaction to the sneering tone of the aforementioned attack editorial. One of the ways I think the Nature piece may possibly have gone astray is in not recognizing the depth to which their customers, research scientists, are reflexively sympathetic to the notion that our product--the primary scientific observation--should be freely available to all. I have been interested to hear some perspectives on why Open Access trips the trigger from some bloggers not previously on the OA Nozdrul or wackaloon lists.

John Wilbanks:

And, speaking as an entrepeneur, criticizing a startup for high-flying rhetoric and missed revenue projections in its first five years of operations is kind of ridiculous. If we did this kind of fisking on every web company - or even on Nature's web 2.0 operations, which I doubt pay their own bills with ads and revenue - we wouldn't have very many startups left to kick around.


The final takeaway is that everybody involved probably needs a deep breath or five. The article wasn't that bad. Inartful, yes. Inaccurate, probably not. But the real story here is that the data in the article tell us PLoS is figuring out a path to making it, and has investors in it for the long run. How can that be bad?

Greg Laden:

This item is to be found at the blog called The Scholarly Kitchen. This is a blog of the "Society for Scholarly Publishing" ... which is presumably a trade organization supporting the evil, pirate-like publishers. The piece makes a couple of absurd points and one major, major mistake. I have visited the blog and corrected it. They may not like it.

My Biotech Life:

I like the idea of PLoS as a startup that is keeping to it's original goal while trying to work out the kinks regarding the open-access publishing model. And I agree, they have produced high quality peer reviewed science.

Stevan Harnad:

In other words, while appearing to be doing OA a service, this Nature policy is actually doing Nature a service and only giving OA the minimal due that is already inherent in the NIH and kindred mandates.

Anders Norgaard:

One perspective which has been overlooked a bit, as far as I can tell is that Nature has managed to frame the debate. Intentionally or not.

The framing can be summarized as "the problem is that top tier journals can't be profitable as open access - author pays, in competition with Toll-Access journals". This framing is advantageous to Nature as it implies that "the author-pays principle must generate all revenue for OA journals - subsidies are not ok". Equally advantageous is it when "top-tier journal" is defined not only as "high rejection-rates" but also "high overheads". Nature has an interest in making the two things seem inseparable.

For society and everyone who is not Nature (or other Toll-Access, high overhead journals) the framing does not make sense. The debate is part of a broader debate of the future of scientific publishing. And it is unreasonable to assume that a future of efficient digital publishing must be hobbled to serve to needs of businesses adapted to the past of high cost of paper distribution. Or that it must be measured by the same criteria of success (high profit from monopoly priviledges) as old businesses.

Georgia Harper:

Well, I will leave it to all of you to figure out if you have sufficient "rights" to read the article itself, but do go read the comments. Too bad about whatever data supports the whole conversation. We pobrecitos don't have access to that, just to the rants about the results. Ah, transitions.

Of course, I could spend some of my very limited time today clicking my way through the variety of screens I must click through to get to my library's walled garden where I suspect this article is cached away. Maybe it's worth it. Maybe not. Today it's not. It's summer, I'm on vacation. Only minimally attentive to tedious things like journal article search interfaces. And why is it that publishers do this to libraries? Oh, yes, I'm so sure they have their very good reasons. And I have mine for ignoring authors and their writings whose publishers make their work hard to find and read. So much to read, watch, listen to. So little time. There's the basic fundamental of Open Access. The business models will follow.

David Crotty:

It's certainly good news that PLOS has found a way to cover their costs and continue the noble experiment they've undertaken. I'm not sure how good the news is for other publishers interested in experimenting with open access and author-pays models. Publishers and societies may not be able to drum up the large amount of donation funding needed to keep a highly selective journal in the black. They may not be all that interested in running streamlined, higher-volume journals to cover costs. It's also very unclear how many of these type journals the market will bear-if every publisher starts one, will there be enough material/interest to continue to cover costs in other ventures?

Corie Lok:

Reading through some of the comments and blog posts about the article reminded me of a real-live discussion I sat in on at Scibarcamp back in March in Toronto. One senior, high-profile physicist at the event said how disillusioned he was with the science blogosphere. He said he's been really turned off by the nastiness and divisiveness he's seen. He said the science blogosphere has not fulfilled its promise of being a forum for serious scientific discussion. (Not to say that all blog posts and comments about the Nature article were mud-slinging; I saw some very good discussions. And not to say that all science bloggers engage in ranting. I've seen plenty of blogs that do engage in high-quality conversations but I'm sure many bloggers have stories to tell about the nastiness they've read or experienced online.)

Now, maybe it's a generational thing. Those of us who didn't 'grow up' with blogs might be more easily taken aback by what goes on in them. Those of us who did grow up with them perhaps have learned to take the bad with the good.

But still, I wonder how many other scientists out there would agree with this physicist? If there is a critical number of them out there agreeing with him, what does this mean for science blogging?

Charles W. Bailey, Jr.:

What the Nature article misses is that the scholarly evaluation of PLoS ONE articles does not end with the initial screening review for compliance with the stated Criteria for Publication. Rather, it begins there. PLoS ONE is using a radically different model of peer review than traditional journals. Whether it is a success or failure is not primarily determined by how many articles it publishes, but by the effectiveness of its post-publication review system in assessing the value of those papers.

If PLoS can reduce costs in what the article terms its "second-tier community journals" by using larger academic editorial staffs, there does not appear to be anything intrinsically wrong with that. To the contrary. The issue is not the editorial strategy, rather it's whether the author fees are unjustifiably high in relation to journal costs and whether the excess profit is being siphoned off to support other publications. Although comparative author fee data is given in the article, there is not enough economic evidence presented in the article to make any informed judgment on the matter.

Regarding grant support, I presume that Jerram understands the issue better than outsiders, and, if he believes that PLos can become self-sustaining in a few years, then there is no reason to doubt it, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Annalise Paaby:

Perhaps I am biased--perhaps my work is generally free of serious methodological flaws--but my experience revealed the PLoS One editorial process to be the most rigorous of the three journals to which I sent my first paper.

It was disappointing to get rejected twice before publishing in PLoS One. But the real frustration was that of the five reviews from the first two journals, three of the referees did not understand the work. (One was downright insulting.) The two reviews from PLoS One, however, were thorough, detailed and clearly by researchers who understood the work. A reflection of an editorial process of high integrity, certainly, and not an unusual one.


Da kann man als Wettbewerber wirklich neidisch werden und als Bibliothek durchdrehen... War Nature nicht auch derjenige Verlag, der seine kürzlichen exorbitanten Preisanstiege (40% in einem Jahr, gnädig verteilt auf 2-3 Jahre für Konsortien) mit dem Argument verteidigte, man wäre mit zu niedrigen Preisen am Markt eingestiegen und müÃte diese nun nach oben anpassen, weil man sein Marktziel (sprich Profitmarge) nicht erreicht hätte. Oh, könnte ich nur mit meinem Dekan auch mal so sprechen!! Aber dafür muà man wohl 3 Jahre auf eine Sprachschule für Marketingdeutsch...

Joseph J. Esposito:

Declan Butler's recent piece on the PLOS business model was cited
on this list. I think Butler is attempting to hold PLOS to a
standard that few publishers attain, including Butler's own
employers at the Nature Publishing Group.

What PLOS is doing (whether you like the practice or not) is
simple brand extension. There are highly presitigious and
selective PLOS publications, whose aura is being transferred to a
new program, PLOS One, which has a different editorial
methodology. We are all familiar with this; most members of this
list work with Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Internet Explorer,
Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel; renegades may own an iMac,
iPod, and and iPhone. The Nature Publishing Group has been among
the most aggressive STM publishers in extending its brand to new
publications. Indeed, a rival of Nature wryly remarked to me
(enviously, perhaps?) that Nature had put its name onto so many
publications that he was awaiting the announcement for "Nature

PLOS is not above criticism, but let's not insist that an OA
service compete with toll-access publishers on what are truly
spurious grounds.

Tobias Maier:

In einem Nature Artikel der vergangenen Woche wurde der Rivale PLoS hart angegangen. Nature behauptet, PLoS (sieben unterschiedliche Journals werden von PLoS ausschliesslich open-access verlegt) würde ihr Konzept damit finanzieren, dass sie Artikel niederer Qualität ohne ausreichenden peer-review Prozess für einige Magazine akzeptieren, um mit Hilfe der so eingesammelten Publicationfees ihre Flagship - Journals PLoS Biology und PLoS Medicine, finanzieren zu können.

Einen guten Ãberblick über die Blogreaktionen zu der Debatte auf der ScienceBlogs.com Schwesterseite bietet Bora Zivkovic, Online Community Manager des kritisierten PLoS Jounrnals, hier auf seinem Blog around the Clock.

Mein Kollege Anders Norgaard liest viel auf ScieceBlogs.com, und hat einen besseren Ãberblick über die Debatte als ich. Er findet, dass Nature mit der Debatte eigentlich aussagen möchte, dass es für profitable high-profile Journals nur ein gutes Konzept gibt, nämlich das von Nature. Er ist damit nicht einverstanden:

Juan Carlos Lopez:

First, having previously commented on open-access publishing in this forum, I explicitly want to distance my journal and myself from any pejorative descriptors that might have been applied to the science published by the PLoS journals. I'm not an advocate of open access, but the quality of what open-access journals publish has never been an issue I have cared to discuss in public.

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tags: researchblogging.org, open access, publishing, life science research, Declan Butler Image: Orphan. Wow, have you read Declan Butler's nasty little hatchet job that was just published in Nature about the Public Library of Science (PLoS)? My jaw hit the top of the table in my little coffee…
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Heavyweight science journalist Sir Delcan Butler has published an update, of sorts, on the status of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), published today in the journal Nature.* In it, he presents a study carried out by Nature on the financial status of PLoS, and describes the ups and downs of…

I got it right - I found your post seconds before you commented here ;-)

They seem to have asked the opinions of many Nature experts, but have they asked the rank and file? I asked my advisor just yesterday about submitting to PLoS, and she said "Wow, they're really hard to get in to...I don't know...but I'd love to have a PLoS paper!"

PLoS articles are highly respected at our institution, and that includes PLoS ONE as well as the more "demin clad" (to use bill's expression) PLoS Medicine. And though I also highly respect Nature Publishing group's articles, I find it disappointing that they would publish something like this.

(according to the old blogospheric rule "Do Not Feed The Trolls"),

That's a usenet rule. Never have seen it followed on a blog, thought it's often cited. (Admittedly, it wasn't followed all that often on usenet either, but it was at least followed occasionally.)

You are correct - I remembered it from Usenet, but now that Usenet is a relic and blogs are alive, the rule lives on, and it is actually done successfully on some blogs, not all.


I left this comment over on DrugMonkey's blog, and realized it may be appreciated here as well.

Regarding PLoS One - a quick and dirty analysis using Publish or Perish (ISI doesn't index PLoS One) shows that PLoS One papers do get cited, at respectable levels. For the 1000 papers that came up for years 2006-2007, the h-index was 16; for 2007-2008, the number was 13. The highest cited paper was a 2007 paper, cited 52 times. For comparison, PNAS gave numbers of 54 and 28 for the same periods, and PLoS Biology (Impact Factor of 14.1) 11 and 6.

This is quick and dirty - PoP only returns 1000 papers per query, and I don't know how these are chosen when more than 1000 exist. But nonetheless it is very clear that PLoS One papers are read and cited. In fact, it's cited as often as the "higher-impact" PLoS Biology, and I suspect much more often than the second-tier journals associated with Nature Publishing.

As far as the quality of the reviews for PLoS One, I recommend that readers peruse the reviews that are posted. They don't pull punches, and often contain insights that readers should be privy to.

Disclaimer - I am a coauthor on a PLoS One paper.

This article is indeed a good example of bad journalism. It is condescending, biased and short-sighted. Furthermore, the article (in my opinion) seems to cross the line from reporting about finances, as the title indicates, to attacking the quality of the papers published within. I don't need Nature to tell me what is and is not a quality journal or science paper.

One of the best comments I've seen thus far is as follows re. Butler's 2006 "article":-

"We at the Public Library of Science would like to express our gratitude to all of you who have expressed their support in response to this obviously slanted and self-serving article. We would also like to thank Mr. Butler for inadvertently helping to further galvanize that support.

To assure everyone, the Public Library of Science continues to thrive and our base of support grows stronger every day. We are working hard to make open access a reality for everyone. As aptly stated by Phil above, the most exciting days of open access are yet to come. Please visit our website at www.plos.org to stay in touch with the latest developments and post to our blog."

Stephen M. Borostyan
Chief Financial Officer
Public Library of Science


Here is my comment, already posted with Nature well-known honesty on: http://blogs.nature.com/wp/nascent/2008/07/plos_one_take_two.html#comme…
PLOS is right, absolutely, and clearly. "Real" scientific progresses are nowadays so abundant, that they need the cooperation of the most famous PGs with their websites to be freely (free open) spread among "all" scientists around the world. At this point, I have honestly to underscore an highlighting event on the firsighted Editors of both PLOS and NATURE. Although, since 52 years I am a "solitary" Researcher in the field of physical semeiotics(now Quantum Biophysical Semeiotics), i.e.,independent of Ac�demy, University, National Institute, a.s.o., my researches have been honoured to be posted (due to my poor... English, properly edited!), helping them in spreading, because of their recognized usefullness. Interestingly, I have been demonstrating for decades that individuals are not born all equal, so that patients, too, are really different as regards disorder onset and outcome. For instance, not all patients, involved by Metabolic Syndrome, classic and "variant", the later I discovered, are suffering from type 2 diabetes. In fact, exclusively those with diabetic constituions and diabteic inherted real risk may become diabetic. Based on a long clinical experience, I illustrated in books and papers an original Theory on Single Patient Based Medicine, based on biophysical-semeiotic constitutions, that completes the well-known Evidence Based Theory. Well, since years, PLOS has posted it in his celebrated website:. http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=read-response
Posted by: Sergio Stagnaro MD | July 6, 2008 01:22 AM

Here is a message I just posted on the nature website:

I am the Founding Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Pathogens and take exception to the tone of the article as well as several of Declan Butler's assertions. The first is that PLoS Pathogens is a second-tier journal. The editorial board of that journal has always strived to make it a top-tier journal, one that is on a par with both PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine, so that authors could decide where to send a paper depending upon the desired target audience. The latest journal impact factors make it clear that we (and the other community journals) are accomplishing that goal even despite the inherent flaws that exist with that journal rating system.

The second assertion which I dispute is that PLoS One is a "dumping ground" for low quality papers. There are many fine papers published in PLoS One, some which have garnered the attention of many media outlets. I myself have published several articles in PLoS One and I consider these also to be fine pieces of work. If Mr. Butler would like to dispute this latter claim he is welcome to contact me for an open discussion.

In closing, one expects less bias and more objectivity from a journal like Nature.

By John Young (not verified) on 07 Jul 2008 #permalink

My thought is the Nature article was a mere missing word away from being an entirely ethical piece of copy.

The missing word was 'advertisement', right at the top of the page.

Butler did a hatchet job on the World Innovation Foundation and made assumptions that looked as though the Foundation was something that was not in the public interest. He appears to have an aversion not to do a balanced job and where this is a clear sign of ulterior motives. Indeed, he gives one good comment for every ten bad comments. Another sign that he has other things on his mind. Most probably financial for himself and his publication. He is a very obnoxious person who comes over in basically a threatening manner if you ever have the horrible experience of being interviewed by him (sorry did I mean interogated). Really not a nice person inside I would say.

We are now taking Nature to task about the highly misleading article that Butler published in January 2008. Indeed we have started at the top with giving submissions to the holding company where Nature are a division. It is hoped that Butler eventually learns his lesson the hard way from this growing rebuff by the Foundation and when all this comes out in the international press and most probably the US and European Courts. His side kick Oliver Morton supports him in whatever Butler does and therefore is no better in giving support to a balanced article. That is of course when the knives are out for you and where we have both now suffered from this experience In many ways therefore through this baptism of fire, we could say that we are now really like brothers in many ways. Conscientious objectors at least.

Therefore good luck for the future in your endeavours, but please do not upset Butler again. He does not like anything that is against his personal and company interests. You have been told so don't do it again or you will be very unpopular in certain previously stated circles. Nature thinks that it is big, but not that big when the world eventually fully learns about their unsavoury tactics and hidden agendas.

Dr David Hill
World Innovation Foundation Charity
Bern, Switzerland