Saturday, May 16, 2009
Rankings of "Open Access"-journals: PLoS ONE rocks!
As several of you might know, I have been complaining about how conservative attitudes some of my colleagues have towards "Open Acess"-publishing in general, and towards PLoS ONE in particular. This is quite frustrating, as me and several of my colleagues in the Editorial Board are doing our best to promote this new "revolutionary" journal, with the hope that it will in the long run change the entire publication landscape - to the benefit of both scientists, readers, taxpayers and the general public.
There are two classical objections against PLoS ONE by ecologists and evolutionary biologists. First, some of them are afraid to publish in PLoS ONE since it is not yet listed in Thomson's databases (ISI), such as "Web of Science". This is the database from which Impact Factors (IF:s) are calculated, and Thomson actually has a monopoly (!) on how to calculate IF:s. Since Thomson has up until now refused to list PLoS ONE in their data-base, some of my scientific colleagues are afraid that work published in that journal will be "forgotten" or not appreciated by the scientific community.
This objection partly shows a lack of knowledge and the misunderstanding about citation data-bases as reflecting some kind of "objective truth". In reality these data-bases are run by commercial companies with their own agendas. ISI is certainly not the only data-base, and it is one of the slowest to list new publications and it does only cover a small minority of all scientific journals. Scopus, for instance, covers more journals and so does probably also Google Scholar and PubMed. Thus, there is luckily severe competition among different data-bases, and hopefully ISI will soon become outcompeted and run out of business by better and faster alternatives with better litterature coverage. ISI is for the scientific world what Microsoft is for the computer world: a mean big company that we should all hate!
The second objection is that PLoS ONE has a publication policy that aims for "technical quality", rather than arbitrary and subjective criteria for acceptance of papers, such as "novelty". In that respect, PLoS ONE differs significantly from all other journals, including Science, Nature, PNAS and PLoS Biology. The philosophy of PLoS ONE is that it is the future scientific readership that should judge whether a paper is "significant" or not, not a few subjective referees or journal editors. The scientific process does not end with the publication of a paper, it starts. This is when a paper is read, discussed and (hopefully) gets cited and thus "accepted" as being important by other scientists.
Some researchers consider this as a weakness of PLoS ONE, and fears that it will become a "dumping ground" for poor quality papers that have not been published elsewhere. I, and many others, on the contrary view this as as strength of PLoS ONE, and I can honestly not say that I think that PLoS ONE has become such a vehicle for bad papers that some feared that it would become. But I am of course biased in my views, since I am involved in the journal, and it is up to others to decide about this.
Given the inherent problems with impact factors and how they are increasingly becoming "corrupt" and the arbitrary parts of traditional publication (biased referees, commercial data-bases, unfair editors etc.), I think we probably all agree that there is a need for newer ranking criteria of journals. These criteria could be based on things like number of downloads of articles, number of citations, more or less informal "ranking lists" by the scientific community, blog coverage, coverage in media etc. None of these rankings are likely to be perfect or reflect the final "truth", but they would provide a nice complement to the traditional measures, such as impact factors of journals.
The blogger "The Open Source Paleontologist" have done some such ranking lists of OA-journals, and you can read about them here, here and here. Although these ranking lists have their limitations and only deal with the paleontological science community, they are nevertheless interesting and revealing. I predict that we will see many more of these lists in the future, and I bet that the traditional "impact factor" hysteria, will soon go away (to the benefit of all science).
Not surprisingly, and pleasingly to me, PLoS ONE does very well in these ranking lists: it is always in the top 15 list of journals, and often among the top 5. Way to go, PLoS ONE!!! I am delighted. And the young scientists among you who reads this should of course not be afraid of publishing in PLoS ONE in the future, it will benefit your careers.