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Open Access and The Dramatic Growth of PLoS ONE

by Graham Steel.

This week saw the government unveil plans to make publicly funded scientific research immediately available for anyone to read for free by 2014, “in the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the internet.” Open Access has been the driving force behind some big changes in the academic publishing world.

Frank Norman very recently posted a most informative post entitled “Megajournals”, go and check it out if you haven’t already. One aspect that I wanted to delve a little bit deeper into out of the six Journals covered was PLoS ONE. Since its inception in December 2006, PLoS ONE has continued to grow in size and stature in a number of ways. Here’s a quick look at the number of articles published since 2006.

2006 (public Beta) 138
2007 >1200
2008 2,800
2009 4,406
2010 6,749
2011 13,798
2012 Estimated at ~25,000 [1]




A large part of the reason for the spike in the dramatic rise since Q1 & Q2 2011 is the fact that that was the time that PLoS ONE received its first Impact Factor. That opened the floodgates in a big way and it can clearly be seen from above that this fact has led to a significant effect.

In December 2011, Catriona MacCallum from PLoS wrote “why ONE is more than five” which was published in PLoS Biology:

“Indeed, by publishing so many papers, PLoS ONE has an opportunity to help set reporting standards in science rather than follow existing ones. (Some countries and institutions, for example, have no independent ethical committee overseeing animal studies; although assessed on a case-by-case basis, such papers are generally rejected.) Every article submitted to PLoS ONE, therefore, goes through a series of rigorous checks to ensure that appropriate standards have been met, before an academic editor or reviewer even sets eyes on the paper”.

The concept of OA “Megajournals” appears to have started around June 2011 as per this post by Mark Patterson (at that time with PLoS, now with eLife):

“Remarkably, PLoS ONE became the largest peer-reviewed journal in existence inside four years (and will publish as much as 1.5% of the articles indexed in PubMed in 2011), and over the past 12 months has been emulated by many other established publishers in various disciplines”.

So in light of the above, where does PLoS ONE go from here in the next 1 - 2 years? Most probably within the next month, the PLoS Progress Update for 2011 will be due out. Here is the 2010 report.

Going back to the MacCallum article, Table 1 identifies a number of open access publishers at that time that were deemed to be similar to PLoS ONE.


As PLoS co-founder Michael Eisen stated in his 2011 post entitled PLoS Won:

“When Pat Brown, Harold Varmus and I started the Public Library of Science (PLoS) 10 years ago with the goal of making the scientific and medical literature a universally freely available resource, most people in the science publishing industry dismissed us as naive idealists who didn’t understand that publishing is a business that has to make money, or derided us as dangerous radicals hell-bent on destroying them.

So it has given me considerable pleasure to watch, over the past year or so, as one traditional publisher after another has responded to the smashing success of PLoS ONE by launching direct rip-offs that seek to capitalize on the business model we have established”.

Most recently on 10th July, on the Official PLoS Blog, it was announced that PLoS had recently published their 50,000th article. “This milestone represents a significant contribution toward the public resource of unrestricted scientific research now open for discovery,” said Peter Jerram, CEO of PLoS. “We are proud to publish high-quality, peer-reviewed research that anyone can freely access at any time.”

If PLoS is anything to go by, then the future of open access is indeed bright. They fit the criteria of open access that the UK government is pushing for, and as their video below illustrates, they share some key ethos with figshare, that is that: ‘knowledge x access = progress’.

Comments (14)

  • Follows some input from Dsmian Pattinson, Executive Editor at PLoS ONE on where they are hoping to go from here. (posted with his permission)

    "Websites- undergoing a redesign at the moment so that content can be more easily discovered, commented upon and shared by readers.

    Article-Level Metrics- taking them to a level where they can actually be used by scientists in their grant proposals and job applications. We've recently included counts for Facebook likes and Tweets, in addition to adding PMC usage stats, so that people can quickly see the impact a paper is having on the community. There's lots more of this to come…

    Peer review- working on ways of focussing the reviewers to the 7 criteria for publication on PLoS ONE, with the aim of streamlining the review process and removing some of the extraneous revisions that reviewers often request".

    17/07/2012 17:40    by Graham Steel

  • Thanks for the rousing post! It's nice to see the inflection point in the data when PLoS ONE received cultural buy-in.

    I wonder what fraction of PLoS ONE papers were conceived for PLoS ONE vs. rerouted to PLoS ONE? And is this ratio changing over time? I confess that I shopped around my lab's recent PLoS ONE paper at a few "high profile" biology journals - who shall remain nameless - before submitting to PLoS ONE. I remember my frustration when rejection email after rejection email came down from the editorial gatekeepers, whose argument amounted to (and I'm paraphrasing) "this is scientifically sound but not important enough."

    After reading PLoS ONE's publishing manifesto I was instantly sold. I'm so sold on the idea that editorial gatekeeping is a relict of the pre-Internet Age that one day I'll self publish all my research outputs in the Journal Wordpress, i.e., on my own lab website. But I'll definitely take PLoS (or like-minded competitors) during this bustling transition.  

    17/07/2012 18:42    by Ethan Perlstein

  • Thanks for the link, Graham! I think it will be interesting to see whether the advent of the other PLoS ONE imitators will have an effect on the growth rate of PLoS ONE. Also, what will be the effect of PeerJ - will that eat into the megajournal territory or will it map out its own territory?

    19/07/2012 17:46    by Frank Norman

  • It's not unreasonable at all to say that the advent of the other PLoS ONE imitators/clones will have an effect of the growth rate of PLoS ONE. As we saw here in 2011, PLoS themselves welcome such entities.

    With regards to PeerJ. I guess only time will tell. Until they have an Impact Factor though, I suspect any effect will not be significant.

    20/07/2012 16:44    by Graham Steel

  • Another way to look at PLos ONE is with Article-Level Metrics, using a snapshot earlier in July (soon available here, the page still links to the last snapshot from April). The 37,267 PLoS ONE papers that had been published until that point had been viewed on the PLoS website 53,243,623 times, downloaded as PDF from the PLoS website 12,502,403 times, bookmarked in Mendeley 3,222,811 times, shared/liked or commented on Facebook 171,806 times, and cited in CrossRef 145,296 times. 

    23/07/2012 14:58    by Martin Fenner

  • Very interesting, Martin.

    I look forward to the release of the new data :)

    Oh, just noted this one just out by you !!!

    24/07/2012 17:48    by Graham Steel

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