PLoS E-Newsletter for Institutional Members

November 14, 2006

Table of Content


Shaping the Future of Scientific Scholarly Communication: PLoS One

Discussion with Chris Surridge, Managing Editor of PLoS ONE and Mark Funk,
Head of Collection Development at Weill Cornell Medical Library, President-Elect of the Medical Library Association, and new PLoS ONE Advisory Board Member

Introduction by Mark Funk:
Hello Chris. I know librarians are very interested in PLoS and its new venture, PLoS ONE.  I’d like to ask you some questions based on some of the topics we'll be discussing at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.

MARK: Can you briefly explain what PLoS ONE is?

CHRIS: PLoS ONE is a journal which will take full advantage of the functionalities that the Web offers to make the publishing of primary research as efficient, effective and just plain useful as possible. ‘Journal’ may in fact be the wrong word to use. When we were designing PLoS ONE we tried to forget what we traditionally understood to be features of a ‘journal’. We wanted to create a way of publishing research to satisfy the needs of today’s scientists.

It turns out that a lot of things that are associated with journals are at best redundant and, at worst, actually unhelpful. For example, PLoS ONE isn’t going to cater to any particular subject area. Scientists already find the papers they need to read from a large number of journals using search engines.  They don’t worry about the individual scopes of individual journals, and yet the editors of those journals spend a lot of time deciding which submissions fall within the scope of their journal.  Having a large and broad corpus of material in a single venue makes the job of searching for the papers you want to read, and discovering papers that you didn’t realize that you needed to read, that much easier.

For PLoS ONE we are looking at creating the broadest possible journal. PLoS ONE will be happy to consider submissions from any scientific discipline. Given that PLoS’ other journals and its reputation are focused around biological and medical research, it is little surprise the bulk of submissions are from those areas, but we are open to all. In fact we have just received our first submission in geophysics.

That is just one example of how PLoS ONE, by not being a slavish recapitulation of a standard journal in electronic form, can meet the needs of readers far more effectively. In a sentence, PLoS ONE is a high volume, inclusive and highly efficient medium for publishing research from any scientific discipline

MARK:   What makes PLoS ONE unique compared to other journals?

CHRIS:  I guess that the most radical thing about PLoS ONE is how we will select papers for publication. As we are publishing on the Web and have the capacity to handle extremely large numbers of papers, the subjective decisions that often dominate the decision making on other journals aren’t needed. PLoS ONE could publish every paper submitted to it. We don’t need to ask “Is this paper good enough to be published in this journal?” We need only ask “Is this paper good enough to be published?” As long as a paper makes a valid contribution to the scientific literature, it can be published in PLoS ONE.

MARK:  Is PLoS ONE peer-reviewed?

CHRIS:  Yes. Absolutely. The editorial decisions on PLoS ONE are made by a Board of Academic Editors. When papers are submitted they get assigned to one of these editors based on the content of the paper and the editor’s specific areas of expertise. The editors then review the paper concentrating on objective technical criteria. Often times this will involve obtaining reports from external experts in a completely conventional manner. But the editors are themselves experts so if they are confident in making a decision based on their own knowledge and expertise that will also be possible. The academic editor who handled the paper is identified on every published paper.

The difference in the editorial decisions isn’t the process, but instead the question being asked which focuses almost exclusively on objective concerns.

Of course subjective opinions are important. But we think that the opinions of all interested parties have a value and should be accessible to everyone. Consequently all papers published in PLoS ONE will be open for online commenting and discussions. This will form a type of post-publication open peer review. If anything, papers in PLoS ONE will be subjected to more review than papers in conventional journals.

MARK:  Will it be indexed?

CHRIS:  Yes. Papers will be deposited in PubMedCentral. This will mean that the papers will be searchable and indexed in PubMed. We will also be applying for the papers to be indexed by Medline and see no reason why this will not happen. In the same way, we anticipate ISI to index PLoS ONE. It is difficult to be definitive because places like ISI will not make a decision on whether to index a journal until it has launched and accumulated content. Nevertheless I can’t see any reason why PLoS ONE will not meet the criteria of such indexers. 

MARK:   Will there be a volume or issue number assigned to them?

CHRIS:  PLoS ONE will be wholly online and publishing weekly (or more frequently) rather than assembling papers into explicit issues. However, volume and issue numbers are very helpful for referencing purposes so we will be giving papers volume and issue numbers to reflect their date of publication.

MARK:  Is it Open URL compliant?

CHRIS:  Yes we will be Open URL compliant, as we will be working with DOIs.

MARK:  Open access is an important new development in scientific publishing.  Above and beyond increased access, what else do you hope PLoS ONE can contribute to science?

CHRIS:  A large body of information such as the biomedical research literature is ripe for text mining by computers, which can find relationships between different pieces of information or data that have gone previously unnoticed.

This isn’t only a goal of PLoS ONE, but a goal of PLoS and the whole Open Access movement. It is very difficult for anyone to predict exactly how researchers want to search and otherwise interact with the literature so it is imperative that we make it as easy as possible for researchers to find their own ways. The first way of achieving this is to allow unfettered access to the literature and the right to make full use and reuse of what is found there. That is open-access publishing.

But it isn’t enough to allow free access to material published under a Creative Commons license. It is important that the text mining machines can interact with that literature. To that end we will be publishing PLoS ONE on TOPAZ, a newly developed Open Source publishing platform which will allow unprecedented access to the XML and PDF components of all papers. TOPAZ is an ongoing project, so new tools to interact with and use the literature will be constantly under development. Being open-source the whole community can be involved in creating exactly the tools that they need.

MARK:  Education in the health sciences has undergone a transformation in the past decade, moving away from traditional didactic lectures and toward problem-based learning, educational competencies, and other innovations. These changes in many cases have created a perfect storm of opportunity, generating openings for librarians to partner with educational leaders and to integrate concepts such as critical thinking, information management, and evidence-based practice throughout the curriculum.  How does PLoS ONE fit into this?

CHRIS:  The key to all these changes has been a breakdown in the distinction between the information producer/provider and the information consumer. On the Web this has been characterized by the growth of sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, and Flickr where the people using the site make the site. This is achieved both by them explicitly ‘uploading’ content but also by using their behavior on the site to refine the experience for others.

With PLoS ONE we are trying to achieve something similar in scientific publishing. The first steps in this are to allow users to make annotations onto the papers they are reading and encouraging online discussion of the work. This is just the beginning, though. It will soon be made possible to gauge the subjective ‘importance’ or ‘interest’ of a paper within PLoS ONE by how much it is viewed and how many people are commenting on it. Connections will be made between papers if their readership is similar, such as  “Other people who read this paper also read…”. Users will be able to rate papers on a number of subjective criteria. The helpfulness of comments will also be subject to rating allowing users to accumulate a ‘status’ within PLoS ONE.

We will also be developing ways for users to surround papers with additional content. These could be translations of the paper into a different language, digests of the papers for particular readerships, collaborative reviews of topics, or online ‘journal club’ discussions of specific pieces of work. We can’t predict even a small fraction of the ways that such tools will be used, but enabling an intimate relationship between user and literature will definitely provide powerful opportunities for learning and discovery.

MARK:  As physicians are turning more to evidence-based practice (EBP), librarians are turning towards evidence-based librarianship (EBL). For example, we are asking questions about our instruction methods, trying to discover what works and what doesn’t work based on empirical research.  Can PLoS ONE be a place for librarians to publish their research? 

CHRIS:  The role of PLoS ONE, and open-access publishing in general, in all forms of evidence-based activities is to ensure that the evidence is actually available. PLoS ONE is a hassle-free mechanism for validating and disseminating scientific literature, Open Access. How you use this resource of evidence is up to you.

Of course systematic reviews of the literature and other EBL activities can themselves be pieces of research. So why not publish them in PLoS ONE?

MARK:  Many librarians are concerned with global access to quality health information.  Is PLoS ONE doing anything in this area?

CHRIS:  There are two aspects to getting good information to developing countries. It is important that the scientific literature is freely and globally available, but more than that the information available in developing countries is relevant to those countries. We are very much hoping that the papers appearing in PLoS ONE will include many local studies arising from developing countries and speaking about their local conditions. Such studies are not of merely local interest, of course. Providing a forum for their publication also allows them to be included in larger meta-analyses which can inform global policies and initiatives.

We are making PLoS ONE an international journal through recruiting an international editorial board. The 190+ current members range over 21 countries including all continents. We are committed to ensuring that all aspects of PLoS ONE have global coverage.

MARK:  What can we do as librarians to ensure the success of PLoS ONE and use it to its fullest potential?

CHRIS:  PLoS ONE will only succeed with your help. We hope you will take an active interest in its development, not only by assisting us in encouraging researchers to submit papers but, as importantly, by contributing to the online discussions and by using the increasing range of online tools that will be provided by the TOPAZ publishing platform.  Even before the launch of PLoS ONE, you can be involved by reading and contributing to the blogs.  Participate and get involved!

Additional PLoS ONE link:

PLoS Medicine Editorial:
Access for Contributors: PLoS Expands Options for Publication of Research and Comment

PLoS Biology Editorial:
ONE for All: The Next Step for PLoS

Newest PLoS JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases

PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases will be the first open-access journal dedicated to the world's most neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), such as elephantiasis, river blindness, leprosy, hookworm, schistosomiasis, and African sleeping sickness. Editor-in-Chief of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases will be Dr. Peter Hotez, who also launched The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Disease Control (GNNTDC). PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases looks forward to collaborating with the network.

The 2007 launch of PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases is supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Most Recent Additions to the PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases Editorial Board Include:

  • Richard Feachem, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
  • Victoria Hale, CEO of the Institute for OneWorld Health

Additional Link:

Global Health Working Session: Neglected Health Threats: Silent Killers, Practical Responses
Dr. Hotez, Jimmy Carter, Former United States President, and Sam Zaramba, Director of Health Services, Ministry of Health, Republic of Uganda, speak on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative, September 2006.

PLoS Update

PLoS Genetics Feature Interviews by Dr. Jane Gitschier
PLoS Genetics, Editor, Dr. Jane Gitschier, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California.
Three new additions to the collection include an interview with Neil Risch, Nicholas Wade, and Tom Cech.

Participate in the NEW PLoS Medicine Blog
Post your comments to our new blog!

PLoS Medicine Board Member gets Diabetes Prize…
Leif Groop, PLoS Medicine Editorial Board Member receives Claude Bernard award at the 2006 European Association for the Study of Diabetes EASD Conference. The lectureship isawareded in recognition of an individual's innovative leadership and outstanding contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the field of diabetes mellitus and related metabolic diseases.

Open Access News and Resources

Take Action! NIH Public Access Policy
See what actions you can take at the updated Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ATA) Web site.

Deconstructing the Arguments Against Improved Public Access (12.7MB - PDF)
American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Newsletter, Vol.29, No. 11
As efforts to provide greater public access to the scientific literature gain momentum so does the rhetoric. Read how to correct some of the misinformation that has confounded these discussions, to enable more dispassionate and data-driven consideration of the issues.

CIHR OA Mandate
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) issued its draft OA mandate on October 10, and called for comments due on November 24

in-cites: Talks with Dr. Hemai Parthasarathy, the Managing Editor of PLoS Biology, About the Journal's Citation Record.
in-cites provides a behind-the-scenes look at the scientists, journals, institutions, nations, and papers selected by Essential Science Indicators.

Picked Off of Jonathan Eisen's "Tree of Life" blog:
Top 10 Novel Ways to Contribute to the Open Access Movement; Jonathan Eisen is an evolutionary biologist professor at UC Davis Genome Center.

New Downloads!!!

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PLoS Out and About

November 27-28, University of Minho - Braga
Conferência Sobre o Acesso Livre ao Conhecimento

May 18-23, 2007, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Medical Library Association Annual Meeting "Information Revolution: Change is in the Air"

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