Saturday, January 25, 2014

I Went Open Access: The Story So Far

This past week, one of my graduate students and I published a paper at PLoS ONE, a leading open access journal (if you are interested in politics and economic inequality, I suggest you head over and check it out here). I'm not the first researcher (or psychologist) to use PLoS ONE as an outlet for my work, but it's still a relatively new place for social/personality psychologists to publish their findings. Because of the "newness" of this whole venture, I thought it might be nice to tell you a bit about my experience, so far.

(1) Was the paper reviewed? Were the reviews fair?
The paper was handled by an editor (whose name appears on the publication) and one expert reviewer. The paper itself went through two rounds of revision before it was accepted for publication. I thought the reviewer comments were fair and reasonable in all respects--we were primarily asked to situate our findings more completely in the existing literature. This meant adding a few more citations, mostly of classic research.

The reviewer also asked us to conduct a few more statistical analyses, some of which ended up in the final paper, while the rest ended up in the supplementary materials. All in all, I was left feeling quite positively about the whole process.

(2) Why did you choose to publish in PLoS ONE?
We had received a previous rejection from a couple of glamour psychology journals. The reviewers for those journals had all basically said the same thing: "Interesting findings, but not a big enough theoretical advance for this glamour journal." Seeing this roadblock at two consecutive journals convinced us that a place like PLoS ONE would be perfect for our findings--after all, the journal explicitly evaluates research based on quality of methods rather than on novelty. Now I'm not saying our findings aren't novel--again, check them out for yourself and come to your own conclusion (here)--but it seemed like convincing people in glamour journals in psychology of its novelty was going to be a challenge.

(3) What was the process from acceptance to print?
In short, it was the fastest accept to print process I've ever experienced. Some context: Once a paper is accepted at PLoS ONE, the authors are charged a publication fee (which they can choose to wave if they cannot afford the roughly $1,500 fee). The paper then goes through a couple of rounds of formatting to bring the paper in line with the journal's style parameters. This is primarily handled by you, the author, with some guidance from the editorial staff. It was as straightforward as any copy editing process I've experienced at a journal.

After the files were formatted, we received an Email informing us of the date when our paper would appear online at the journal. Our final revision was accepted for publication on 12/3/13 and then published at the journal on 1/21/14. That's less than 50 days for those counting at home! Nice job PLoS ONE!!!

(4) Since this was a largely positive experience, why not submit every paper to PLoS ONE?
I very much enjoyed my first experience publishing at PLoS ONE. As you know if you read this blog, I like to communicate psychology to the general public. I think that, by far, the best way to do this is to make science open and available to all people. Publishing at an open access journal is one way to start this process. The good news about open access is that you can get many more eyes on your paper at a much faster rate than if the paper is stuck behind a publisher's pay wall. To wit, the article has already been read more than 400 times (that's 800 eyes) in less than 4 days! YOU GUYS, MY MOM DIDN'T EVEN READ MY DISSERTATION! 800 EYES IS AWESOME!!!

That's the good news, but now let's hear some reservations: First, though the typical review process at a social/personality psychology journal can be described as brutal--reviewers are largely negative and sometimes they ask for things that feel a little unrealistic--I can't help but feel that the gauntlet helps a paper reach it's full potential. So, while I loved that this paper was evaluated based on its methods, I do think that, under the right circumstances, fighting over things like novelty can force a paper to become better. Basically, I am wondering out loud if by publishing at PLoS ONE, we missed an opportunity to help our paper grow.

Second, I'm not sure that social/personality psychologists, seeking promotion and tenure, really benefit from sending their papers to journals like PLoS ONE--at least, not at this point in time. I've had explicit advice from a couple of people that I respect to not publish there before I've realistically tried most of the other social/personality journals. My colleagues might be giving me this advice because it isn't clear what the impact factor of PLoS ONE will end up being, given that publications there are steadily increasing. It might also be that, though the paper is read by more people, the people who I need to read it for promotion purposes (other social psychologists) won't find it because they don't read PLoS ONE. Anyway, something to consider.

Overall though I must confess that it was a very positive experience, and I'll definitely be going back there in the future. What were your experiences at PLoS ONE? How do you feel about open access in science? Share your thoughts!!!


  1. Nice account Michael. I shared similar experiences with a recent publication in a Hindawi journal. I found their handling of the article to be professional and I am please with the final result, but I sensed a lack of rigor in the peer-review. But what I appreciated was ability to publish what can be considered "negative results", which in other journals might have received little interest (I did not submit it anywhere else first). I shared a full account here:

    1. Thanks for sharing your account RMS. I didn't think the reviews were lower in quality though--I just feel that sometimes the exercise of fighting for theoretical ground can reveal something more profound about one's current research. Not dealing with tough theoretical questions (about novelty and unique contribution) during the review process makes the chance of that happening less likely, I think.