Why PLoS?

I’ve pub­lished a paper with PLoS One which should be out today. The most com­mon ques­tion I’ve been asked so far is: Why there? I’m apply­ing for jobs in Archaeology and Ancient History, so why would I want to pub­lish in an online journal that hardly any­one in those fields has heard of? Surely pub­lish­ing in one of the big journ­als would be bet­ter? Here’s a few reasons.

  1. It’s fast.
    The paper was sub­mit­ted on the 8th of September and I got the accept­ance, sub­ject to revi­sions on the 30th of September. I wouldn’t be quite so happy if it had been rejec­ted, but you have to be pre­pared for that. The faster there’s a decision the quicker you can work on the revi­sions or else re-write for another journal. The rapid response means that I can cite the data in this paper in other papers imme­di­ately rather than delay­ing writ­ing about fur­ther work.
  2. It’s access­ible.
    Research might be inter­dis­cip­lin­ary, but not so many journ­als are. For this paper the altern­at­ives would be pub­lic­a­tion in spe­cial­ist archae­oastro­nomy, clas­sics, archae­ology or astro­nomy journ­als. I can do that and will do that in the future, but writ­ing for those journ­als means writ­ing for those spe­cific audi­ences. If they’re subscription-based they also lock out a large pro­por­tion of the poten­tial audi­ence. If an astro­nomer is in a uni­ver­sity without a clas­sics depart­ment then it’s going to be hard for him to get a copy of the paper. Likewise many uni­ver­sit­ies don’t carry archae­oastro­nomy journ­als. PLoS One gives me a plat­form to intro­duce the work and then I can pub­lish tailored art­icles devel­op­ing ideas in the spe­cial­ist journals.
  3. It opens con­ver­sa­tion.
    You can com­ment on the paper. So too can any­one else. This is par­tic­u­larly handy for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work. I’m hop­ing the con­ver­sa­tion doesn’t end with this one paper. The article-based met­rics will included some of cita­tion search. Hopefully in a couple of years people read­ing this paper will be able to see where they can find cri­ti­cisms and devel­op­ments in other papers. That’s amaz­ingly use­ful for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work where sub­sequent papers could be in journ­als in a vari­ety of disciplines.

I’ve decided some form of open-access is essen­tial for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work. The paper stands or falls on whether or not the bino­mial dis­tri­bu­tion is the right tool for the task. That means for aca­demic hon­esty I have to sub­mit it to a journal where the I can be reas­on­ably sure it will be scru­tin­ised by people famil­iar with basic stat­ist­ics. Scientists might laugh at that as the math­em­at­ics in the paper is very simple. I think any clas­si­cist could fol­low it, but some could quite reas­on­ably be wary of it. Is it stat­ist­ical sleight-of-hand? They can read any com­ments left by stat­ist­i­cians or astro­nomers and judge how con­fid­ent they should be in the find­ings. Likewise people unfa­mil­iar with the Greek mater­ial can read the clas­si­cists’ and archae­olo­gists’ com­ments and see if the human aspect of the research is sound.

It’s also import­ant for me because I might learn some­thing, and indeed I did. This is a bet­ter paper post-review than it was when I sub­mit­ted it. I’ve re-thought how I pro­cess some of the data and that will have a pos­it­ive on the next pro­ject I do.

After going through the pro­cess I’m impressed with PLoS. I think I hit every bump in the sub­mis­sion pro­cess, most of it due to the order­ing of the paper being dif­fer­ent to how I would nor­mally write it. Still, the every­one was very help­ful along the way. If you’re a recent PhD or grad stu­dent with a need to put out some pub­lic­a­tions, I’d recom­mend pub­lish­ing with PLoS One. Of course I’m writ­ing this before I’ve seen how the paper has been received, so you can check on my art­icle met­rics your­self to see if it’s being read or else sunk into obscurity.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

7 Responses

  1. AJCann says:

    I’m not clear if PLoS (and PLoS One spe­cific­ally) counts towards REF?

  2. Kevin Levin says:

    Congrats on the art­icle. Glad to see you are using DISQUS. What do you think so far?

  3. schrisomalis says:

    It’s a great art­icle, one that I think will be widely read and used in research meth­ods courses in archae­ology, etc., in addi­tion to its schol­arly impact within your field. Archaeologists may not know PLoS (although many do) but more broadly it will have an enorm­ous effect on the people who would be hir­ing you.

    All your points are quite valid. My con­cern is that $1300 is an awfully steep price to pay for open-access pub­lic­a­tion in PLoS ONE for schol­ars in the human­it­ies and social sci­ences. The grants simply aren’t big enough and fund­ing agen­cies aren’t cog­niz­ant of page costs. Especially for people on the job mar­ket, that may be a huge chunk of one’s income. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?

  4. alun says:

    I agree $1350 is hugely expens­ive for archae­ology, though there’s an open access option for some tra­di­tional pub­lish­ers of archae­olo­gical journ­als which is even higher. I’m on the job mar­ket now after com­plet­ing the PhD, and there is no way I could have pub­lished in PLoS One if I’d had to pay that fee. Another reason I should have added for pub­lish­ing in PLoS One is that their cri­terion for pub­lic­a­tion is qual­ity. That com­mit­ment makes it an attract­ive venue in com­par­ison to some of the other OA journals.

    I think the article-level met­rics could help. If I want to get fund­ing for pub­lish­ing I need to demon­strate that Open Access mater­ial is being used, and how much. Then I can go to the Society for the Promotion of Obscure Studies and show them exactly what it is that their money is likely to get them. That’s some­thing that I couldn’t neces­sar­ily do with a research pro­ject aimed at a sub­scrip­tion journal. That means remind­ing fund­ing bod­ies that pub­lic­a­tion isn’t the end of a project’s aca­demic life — it’s the birth.

    On the other hand if OA is as effect­ive as Michael E. Smith’s site sug­gests, then maybe I should dis­cour­age Open Access pub­lish­ing until I have a secure job, so I main­tain a com­pet­it­ive advant­age. 😉 http://​pub​lishing​ar​chae​ology​.blog​spot​.com/​2​0​09/

  5. alun says:

    At the moment I’m not see­ing a lot of dif­fer­ence between this and nat­ive WordPress com­ment­ing. But if it became a stand­ard through a cluster of blogs then the col­lect­ive repu­ta­tion man­age­ment and net­work­ing could add a lot more to all the sites. For example the abil­ity to reb­log com­ments on my site isn’t much use me when I’m com­ment­ing on my site. But if it was widely picked up amongst his­tory blogs then it could make a difference.

  6. Kevin Levin says:

    Good points. I’ve encour­aged my read­ers to set up pro­file pages, but it ulti­mate effect­ive­ness does depend on the num­ber of other blogs that util­ize the pro­gram. Luckily the num­ber seems to be on the rise. On the other hand most of my read­ers only read Civil War blogs and related sites and very few of them are util­iz­ing DISQUS.

    Although it may seem trivial, I also prefer this for aes­thetic reasons.

  1. November 23, 2009

    […] Salt sug­gests dif­fer­ences in con­text as a poten­tial source for the dif­fer­ences between the two sets of temples: while temples in Greece were often built on sac­red sites, in Sicily, there was no his­tor­ical pre­ced­ent to influ­ence the build­ing of the temples and so con­tem­por­ary cos­mo­logy was more likely to have shaped the con­struc­tion. The study has been covered by the Times, Anthropology​.net and Dieniekes’ Anthropology Blog and you can read Salt’s reas­ons for choos­ing to sub­mit to PLoS ONE on his blog. […]