I like PLoS ONE. I know a lot of scientists don’t. I think there’s a niche for what my PhD advisor called ‘bricks’: papers that may not be groundbreaking, but present rigorous results that contribute to building a larger structure (he was, BTW, describing one of my papers, and it wasn’t a compliment). It’s also possible that research that may not be obviously important when it’s done turns out to have big implications that weren’t at first obvious. PLoS ONE explicitly aims to ignore the ‘impact’ of a paper in accepting or rejecting papers, focusing only on the rigor of the results:
PLOS ONE will rigorously peer-review your submissions and publish all papers that are judged to be technically sound. Judgments about the importance of any particular paper are then made after publication by the readership, who are the most qualified to determine what is of interest to them.
But a couple of recent developments are worrying. First, as I’ve previously written, a recent article reporting a phylogenetic tree for eukaryotes was published in a form that never should have survived peer review (“A cautionary tale on reading phylogenetic trees,” “PLoS ONE responds“). The article contains numerous misinterpretations of the tree, unexplained contradictions in the inferred divergence times, and, most importantly, a choice of outgroup that pretty much invalidates all of the phylogenetic inferences.
I have contacted the editors by Twitter and by email, and so far I haven’t gotten much more than “we’re looking into it.” I am very interested to see what the journal does about this, because, as I said before,
The only thing that separates a high-volume, open access journal like PLoS ONE from the dark underbelly of scholarly publishing is a rigorous peer review process.
Now there’s a whole new reason to worry.
Okay, that line above is exactly how far I got before reading the paper I’m about to write about. I’m leaving it in as a caution against rushing to judgement.