A problem at PLoS ONE

As you know, Dear Reader, I have been pondering the role of the open access journal PLoS ONE of late. In particular, pondering whether my subfield of science should use this journal more and, obviously, whether I should use it for any of my various publishing purposes. This pondering includes paying attention to peoples' experiences with the journal, in both online and real life settings.

On the Twitts today, @Bashir_Course9 indicates that he's had a little problem in the course of a submission to PLoS ONE.

6 wks after submitting to @Plosone have yet to even be assigned an editor. I guess technically amazing the review process hasn't started.

You may assume, Dear Reader, that I would not be posting about this if it were the first time I had heard of such a thing.

What I have come to appreciate about the PLoS ONE Academic Editor* system is that it is opt-in. In other real** journals, there is a shorter list of Associate Editors, they have reasonably well defined areas of coverage and the assignment process is more directed. I mean sure, one can always beg off on workload but there are certain expectations.

The upshot of this is that with PLoS ONE submissions there can be a bottle neck / slow down in the assignment of a submitted manuscript. Much slower than I've experienced at my usual venues.

Six weeks is a ridiculous amount of time for a paper to be bouncing around without assignment to an editor and a decision to send out for review or reject it outright. I don't know what the problem is with any specific paper. I have heard of at least one case where it is clear that there are some administrative/procedural problems in which nobody on the administrative side so much as notices a paper is languishing in limbo. This latter issue motivates me to advise PLoS ONE submitters to stay in contact with the head office if anything seems funny. Like the status bar reading "editor invited" for more than a week. Send an email.

I do not know what happens when the administrative staff has trouble finding an Academic Editor to take the paper. As I noted before, coverage can be spotty in some subfields of science, e.g., mine. It's the Field of Dreams/Catch22 problem being played out. The authors won't come until they build it (a stable of AEs in each subfield) and AEs won't volunteer unless it is seen to be a worthwhile effort for their subfield. Since the AE assignment is opt-in, you furthermore have to have someone in your subfield that is at least interested in taking the paper for review.

Is the inability to find an AE the PLoS ONE equivalent of a desk reject? Maybe. Is there ever anything that actually gets returned to the authors as rejected because PLoS ONE can't find an AE to take it? This I don't know. Perhaps one of my readers knows more.

Since this post is a bit critical, let me end on the upnote. Just so long as you stay on top of the journal staff and make sure they are actively trying to find an AE for your manuscript, the addition of a week or three to the process (relative to journals where the assignment is nearly automatic) is no big deal. If we assume the most obvious merits of PLoS ONE are valid (acceptance on quality, no rejection based on importance, impact and other more-subjective reasons) then one has to assume one is saving on a round of getting rejected from one journal and having to resubmit to another. Also a gain in terms of not getting demands for more experiments (again, in design if not 100% in practice). In this context, a few weeks delay in AE assignment still leaves you ahead of the game with PLos ONE.

There is one more benefit of the opt-in system which is that you are going to be slightly more likely to get an AE that has at least some interest in the topic. And you will minimize the chances*** of an AE who is resentful of having to manage the review for a manuscript she finds uninteresting, boring or crappy to begin with. That seems like a pretty good plus to me.

The ultimate takeaway message for me right now is that it is essential to understand this bottleneck at PLoS ONE that doesn't exist at many other journals. Minimizing the bad effects requires a little more active attention on the part of the submitting author to make sure assignment doesn't fall into a blind hole.
__
*roughly the function of an Associate Editor at most journals. These people select and invite reviewers and make the primary decision on publication acceptance. They are peers, this list is here.

**staffed by working scientists volunteering their time (or nominally paid) as editors.

***I may be naively projecting here. I don't see where I'd want to waste my time managing the review of a manuscript that bored the crap out of me based on the Abstract or Title alone. I guess there may be some people who look forward to putting in that work just to rip a paper apart and eviscerate the authors' egos. That isn't me though.

90 responses so far

  • miko says:

    Every week there is an email of unassigned papers in your field. This is outside the normal assignment queue and there is no explicit pressure or expectation of taking them. I have suggested that some time period without an editor accepting it should be a desk reject for "technical" reasons, i.e. not a reflection on the submission. Ideally, this should not happen and it violates the P1 ethos.

    From what I can tell from the weekly languish email is that some fields are hugely over-represented in the submissions -- cognitive neuro, social neuro, psychology -- at least relative to AEs. I get these because I'm "neuro" but I know nothing about these fields. I would guess the AE neuro people skew mol/cell/phys. Though I have no idea.

    You are allowed to suggest AEs when you submit, I think this is a good idea. I will take a paper 100% of the time if the authors requested me as editor.

  • I do not know what happens when the administrative staff has trouble finding an Academic Editor to take the paper.

    Weekly, the staff sends out a message basically saying "Please, please, won't you handle one of these papers?" with a list of papers that multiple AEs have declined to handle. Sometimes I see something that I can handle that wasn't sent to me earlier.

    Basically, I decline to handle invitations for four reasons:
    1) I have a upcoming deadline (grant proposal, etc.)
    2) I'm already handling too many (>4) manuscripts at the time
    3) I don't feel comfortable handling it because it is too far from my expertise.
    4) The manuscript looks really bad (AE's can read the manuscript prior to deciding to handle it, unlike reviewers). In principle, AE's have the power to reject papers outright without review, although I don't think I'd have the courage to do that unless it was Creationist nonsense or something -- I get enough flack from angry authors of rejected manuscripts even when I'm just the bearer of bad news from the reviewers.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Ok so there's like a repechage round...but then what? Conceivably there must be papers for which nobody steps up. Does that trigger a reject? Does it sit there for 6 wks? Do they take a more active persuasion position with you (beg)?

    miko you raise an interesting question...if the AE list is mismatched with the submissions in a subarea, is PLoS ONE going out to actively recruit a couple of new AEs? Seems as though they should do that.

  • miko says:

    Yes they should. It's possible that I have been asked to recommend people for the AE board by email... rings a bell.

    Unless pub fees aren't covering the annual mug/tshirt costs.

  • drugmonkey says:

    But if you don't have the expertise, why ask you? They should maybe ask the submitting authors for suggestions of people who are not already editors. Or pull from the suggested reviewers or something.

  • Pascale says:

    What do AE's at PLoS ONE get? Payment? Reduced submission costs? Glory?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Open Access Wackaloon Cred?

  • becca says:

    Open Access Whackaloon Cred is more valuable than you might think! It can be redeemed for hookers and blow in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

  • Bashir says:

    When writing up this paper, I narrowed things down to PLoSOne and another OA journal. I did have concerns about the research fit with PLoSOne since I didn't know a ton of papers in my immediate area published in PLosONE. I checked my Mendeley library and found two papers of the same topic published in the last year. So I went ahead with the submission, listing the two editors from the papers as suggestions. There was maybe one other editor I found that seemed reasonable.

    I'm guessing that it's just the case that none of those three feel like doing it. Perhaps the paper is uninteresting to them. Still I'm surprised that nothing was communicated to me and wonder how long they would have left me hanging had I not complained via twitter (emailed inquires had not yet been responded to).

    Part of the reason I sent the paper to PLosONE was the supposed efficient review process. Hasn't worked out that way so far.

  • tam says:

    Our recent PLoS submission got list in the cracks for a couple of weeks. After that, we got an AE and the process was about normal. After acceptance the administrative details moved along as expected. Well, since that's when they get pizzaid, I'd expect no less 🙂

  • zorroesque says:

    I submitted my first paper to PLoS ONE over 5 weeks ago. After a week or so of "technical checks", it was finally assigned a manuscript number on July 9th (approx. 4 wks ago). The status bar has listed "editor invited" ever since then. So, after reading this blog I've just fired off a polite email to the journal staff. Fingers crossed! Thanks for drawing my attention to this.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I wonder if we are seeing a summer vacation effect?

  • Definitely in terms of the Europeans, at least. I've learned from experience that it is pointless trying to get one to review a manuscript this time of year, and probably it's the same for the AEs. Why can't they be like Americans and have only 3 weeks of vacation (and make it a point of pride for some reason not to even use all of that)?

  • zorroesque says:

    I take it back. Status has suddenly changed to "with Editor". I'll stay on the case though..

  • juniorprof says:

    Europeans are a total pain in a** this time of year. Can't even answer an email while on vacation much less review a paper.

    So if PLoS ONE has an apparent shortage of AEs in some subfields why aren't they working to fill the gap by inviting AEs to cover those areas. And why haven't I gotten an invite? I would certainly help out and my subfield is another with a glaring lack of representation (and few papers being published in the journal).

  • In their defense, PLOS did send out an email a few week ago (I deleted it otherwise I would re-post here) stating that delays are to be expected throughout the summer due to conferences, vacations and #TeamGB.

  • zorroesque says:

    Sorry, but leave the Europe-bashing out of this! Don't you know we've all been busy watching and attending the Olympics these past few weeks to respond to emails?!

  • Juniorprof, any AE can recommend you as an editor. I think many people get in that way--friends/colleagues of other AEs. I'd be happy to send along your info but I don't know who you are. 🙂 If you have another colleague who's an editor, just tell them to recommend you.

  • drugmonkey says:

    And apparently you can simply volunteer.

    Please contact plosone_aerecruitment [at] plos.org if you are interested in joining the PLOS ONE editorial board as an Academic Editor. Our international editorial board is comprised of working scientists who are established principal investigators/group leaders with extensive publication records. Please provide a link to your home page and/or a copy of your Curriculum Vitae (CV) and we will evaluate your suitability and respond in due course

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    I have advocated as an AE for failure to find an AE willing to handle a paper to constitute a "desk reject". My opinion is that if the shitte you submit is so fucken boring that no AE will take it, then that's a you problem.

  • I reviewed a paper for PLoS ONE a few months ago and it was utter shit so I rejected it and provided my justification for doing so. Turns out that there were two other reviewers who felt the same as I did. The AE turned it back to the authors as a major revision and then asked me to review the resubmission. It was still utter shit so I declined citing the fact that the authors didn't appear to have improved the manuscript one iota and that it was a waste of my time to review it again. I was still on the email notifications and saw that it went back to the authors for a third and then a fourth time as a major revision despite the other two reviewers continuing to think it was shit.

    At what point does PLoS ONE reject a paper? Are three unanimous reviewers not enough? Maybe that's where the bottleneck is ...

  • Bashir says:

    I wonder if we are seeing a summer vacation effect?

    That is indeed what they have suggested.

  • miko says:

    That happens everywhere, PiT. There was a reviewer at a name brand journal who thought my paper was total shit all three or four time s/he saw it before eventual acceptance essentially over his/her dead body.

    Editors everywhere actually have very little incentive to accept (why piss off/ignore a negative reviewer who might be right?) and very little incentive to reject once your in the revision cycle (maybe you will eventually revise it into a brilliant citation machine). Easiest thing is just keep kicking it back. Some journals have a 2 revisions max rule, but others will string you along forever.

  • Physician Scientist says:

    What do you expect with a journal on track to publish 26,000 papers this year?

    Perhaps they need to franchise the operation like McDonald's has. One McDonald's couldn't sell a billion burgers, but thousands can. Just franchise PlosOne. Give Plos 15% of profits and let the franchisees keep the rest. That way PlosOne can be on track to publish 1,000,000 papers in 2022.

    I'm being sarcastic, but quite frankly, the number of papers published there is getting to be a bit embarrasing.

  • drugmonkey says:

    What the hell does it matter how many papers they publish?

    Have they reached the scale of Elsevier yet? Just because they call it one journal at PloS an divide it into a bazillion journals you can't remember at the Elsevier doesn't make a difference does it?

  • I did a brief stint as an AE at PLOS One, as I was interested to see how it works, and I support the general idea of Open Access.
    I think they have a problem with AE assignment, though, as illustrated here. There is really not much benefit to being an AE. You get deluged with requests to take on papers, and, as noted above, you may then have to put up with angry authors if you reject them. One advantage of being an editor is seeing work at the cutting edge earlier than anyone else, but there are a lot of papers out there that clearly aren't in that category. There may be some kudos to having the AE role on your c.v. if you are young, but there's really precious little incentive to be an AE if you are more senior.
    I suggested a simple fix to Pete Binfield, but it was not taken up: maybe time for a rethink? I think the journal should pay AEs. Say you got $50 for each paper you processed: most AEs would be more motivated to handle papers. The money would not come anywhere close to covering the time of an AE, but I think would have symbolic value and make AEs feel appreciated. The cost, of course, would need to be passed on to the authors, and there'd be costs also in implementing the system. But let's say it leads to an additional $100 on the publication charge: PLOS One's charges are still less than half of many other journals, so I think this would be acceptable.
    Can anyone see any drawbacks to this?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I've always thought the "incentive" was primarily service to your field rather than cash, seeing papers on the cutting edge first or even the CV cred. The fact that PLoS ONE lets the AE dictate her own workload seems to make it a really easy gig, no?

  • Thanks for the post, DrugMonkey – I thought I would clarify a couple of things (I'm Executive Editor of PLOS ONE, by the way):

    1. The median time it takes for a paper to go from submission to 'AE assigned' is 6 days. Not as fast as we would like, but not dreadful considering the volume of papers we are currently handling (3,700 submissions last month)

    2. Yes, we are seeing a summer slowdown (in combination with a surge in submissions as everyone submits their papers before going on holiday themselves). See http://blogs.plos.org/everyone/2012/07/16/summer-service-update-2/

    3. Our process is basically as follows:

    - send invites to most suitable AEs

    - after a week, send a list of papers to all AEs who approximately match the topic of the paper (staggered over the course of a week)

    - after another week, re-evaluate the queueing and send personal requests to the best suited AEs

    - after another week, assign to an internal Associate Editor, who will invite reviewers and then get an AE on board to make the final decision (it's easier to find willing AEs if the external review has already been conducted).

    So the vast majority of papers are assigned within 3 weeks, although clearly the system is not yet perfect, as demonstrated by Bashir's experience.

    4. Of the fifty-odd thousand papers that've crossed my desk since I've been at PLOS, only a few dozen have been rejected because we can't find an AE, and those papers have generally been on the edge of what is considered to be ‘the sciences'.

    5. We're always looking for more AEs! We're recruiting as quickly as we can, but it's not always easy to keep up with the growth in submissions. If anyone is interested, send your CV to PLOSONE_AERecruitment@plos.org and we'll evaluate whether you meet our criteria.

    Dorothy - the issue of paying AEs is a complicated one, and perhaps deserves its own forum. We're currently working on a project to improve engagement of AEs, so I'll write something up when we have a more concrete plan.

  • miko says:

    As a junior scientist, it is good for my CV. At P1 it is ridiculously easy... do as much as you want. Handling reviewers and authors is good experience and has lead to professional interactions.

    A notional payment is not a bad idea.

    Only once have I had to reject a paper in which an author was on the search committee of a job I had applied for. So that was weird.

  • tam says:

    DB-

    Why only a brief stint? I just read your post on the Elsevier boycott...if we don't commit our effort to initiatives like PLoS ONE then how is anything to improve?

  • @drugmonkey - yup, all those things you mention are important, but the fact remains that some papers are really really deathly dull and/or pointless and nobody wants to be the editor handling them. I speak as someone who is less motivated by money than most people I know, and who has done a fair bit of 'public service' reviewing and editing over the years, but I think here a bit of incentive for AEs is needed to crack this problem and keep up PLOS One's reputation.
    Yes, you could just reject papers if no editor will touch them - in effect tell authors to go away and write something a bit more appealing. Maybe the co-ordinating editor could just ask for one-sentence replies from AEs as to why they don't want to take a paper on and relay these back to the authors. But it's a sad reality that often the authors don't realise just how dull they are and have slaved away. One thing I have learned is that there's often little relationship between how much effort has been expended on producing a paper and how good it is. I think authors in that position do deserve to get timely feedback from reviewers, even if they don't end up getting published.

  • drugmonkey says:

    DP-

    Are there mechanisms to identify subfields where your AE coverage is less than extensive? Do you actively seek AE expertise in new recruiting?

  • zb says:

    Rather than the notional payment, how about a build up of publication credits? That could be valuable, especially in fields where external funding is less available. Yes, the scheme would still have to shift costs to authors, but seems like it could be valuable to me.

    My worry is still what the value of doing your job (reviewers, and AE's is). When systems become too honor system dependent, I think they break down. I believe this has largely happened already with grading in non-quantitative fields in university (teachers really have no incentive, other than their honor and professionalism, to give poor grades to poor students). I can see the same issue arising with reviews and AE positions (as people are detailing above, with bad papers being difficult to reject).

    I don't believe the for-profit/closed access journals do this job better, but I do think we have to think hard about what value is being offered by the reviews as we move into the future. Scientists are selling the idea that peer-review is a gold standard (the the journalists, at least), but my confidence in peer review is pretty low these days. I fantasize about the system in physics (but, hey, a more quantitative field + quite potentially a big fantasy).

  • AP Saygin says:

    I am an AE at Plos One and I have definitely noticed a huge increase in the number of papers I get asked to take on, plus the weekly "AE needed" e-mail. I was wondering why this was and guessing it's the summer. I myself have not been great about taking a lot on due to my load right now.

    As an author, my experience with Plos One was generally good. There was more hassle in getting the paper to comply with their requirements than some other journals but I did not have to wait long for an AE. My field is well represented now at Plos One but a few years ago I had had a hard time suggesting AEs.

    AE's currently get nothing. We just do it to support OA. I agree if there was an incentive like reduced publication fee perhaps more people would choose to be AE.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I am now wondering if I should be surprised that my usual Readership seems so heavily populated by people who are serving as AEs at PLoS ONE?

  • AP Saygin says:

    Professor in Training, at what point does Plos one reject? I reject as quickly as possible. I guess AE's differ in their behavior. My acceptance rate at Plos One has been very low - but this has always been due to reviewer comments and my assessment of those comments wrt to the publication criteria and determining that the paper really does not meet those criteria. I don't ask for a revision if it is unlikely to address comments (e.g., experiment was poorly designed and confounded in the first place - no amount of rewriting can fix that).

  • AP Saygin says:

    That is interesting. It's possible that people who read blogs and comment on them are more likely to also be into OA? They're both take things in your own hands kinda thing. Also internet embracing.

  • Drugmonkey-

    Yes and yes. We look out for topics that regularly come up on the list of papers over 7 days old, and try to prioritise recruitment in those areas. This doesn't really help for the papers that are outside our traditional scope, though, so we also try to maintain low-level representation in as many disciplines as possible.

  • juniorprof says:

    Thanks for the info DM and Damian. I volunteered to be an AE. Hoping to be onboard soon

  • I am now wondering if I should be surprised that my usual Readership seems so heavily populated by people who are serving as AEs at PLoS ONE?

    I joined as an AE because Bora told me to. Once I started doing it, I realized that it was fun, rewarding, and the papers I was handling in my fields were truly excellent.

  • Juniorprof, there is no question you vastly exceed the minimum PLOS ONE standards for AE status, so you will definitely be onboard soon.

  • caveat says:

    It would be interesting to see if papers that readily found an AE has more readers down the road.

  • Virgil says:

    3.7k papers a month submitted, 26k papers a year published, comes out to around 60% acceptance, i.e., around 2x the acceptance rate of journals with similar impact factors.

    Here's a thought - triage more stuff earlier, so the AEs have a lower workload?

  • drugmonkey says:

    Do you have any idea what PLoS ONE is about, Virgil?

  • Physician Scientist says:

    yah virgil...there has to be a home for all the "me too" papers.

  • toto@club-med.so says:

    "Do you have any idea what PLoS ONE is about, Virgil?"

    Actually I believe that would be an interesting subject for a blog post.

  • drugmonkey says:

    There is already quite a lot of blather on the web about the PLoS ONE mission. They themselves spell it out in numerous places. So I'm not that interested in a primer. I figure I should write about the implications for scientists...

  • drugmonkey says:

    Re: PP's "vastly exceed" comment...it does appear that some AEs may not yet be of faculty/equivalent rank, yes? I wonder how that goes down with 1) invited reviewers and 2) those authors that get a reject decision.

  • [I]t does appear that some AEs may not yet be of faculty/equivalent rank, yes?

    Do you have examples of non-faculty-equivalent AEs? I have not really looked into this question.

  • drugmonkey says:

    They have self-identified on this very thread homes.....

  • Grumble says:

    Who (or what?) is "Bora," CPP?

  • soulphage says:

    With respect to all!!! i am currently a Ph.D candidate in molecular biology INDIA. Its really educational to read comments from all of you ("great AEs and saviors of scientific publication standards). Sir, story is all together different for less blessed peoples. none of you will ever accept that many peer reviewers are "biased " they reject manuscripts just coj they cant believe that authors (off course not his favorites) can do a quality research as he/she himself is doing. so they start rejecting manuscript giving silly justifications.... I cant accept this manuscript as it is badly written,, poor english,,,typos...whatever!!! I think PLOS is a nice concept and giving a fair chance to less blessed (scientists from less favored regions). but .... You can enjoy the trend ... AS MUCH AS YOU CAN , WHILE YOU CAN!!!

  • Mag says:

    Just to give the opposite experience: submitted yesterday morning to PlosOne (for the first time), current status is "under review" !
    I provided I think 6 AE names going with the keywords of the paper...

  • Grumble says:

    Hmph. Took about 2 weeks for my paper to get past "Editor Invited" to "With Editor". Then another two weeks to get to "Under Review". I'm not terribly impressed - although honestly, other journals aren't as transparent with the manuscript status, so I have no idea whether it just takes this long in general for a paper to get from submitted to in-the-hands-of-reviewers. If the reviewers take 2 weeks to return comments, then the whole process will have taken 6 weeks - roughly the same as at many other journals I have experience with.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Your timeline doesn't sound horrible to me Grumble. Well within expectation. It was the 6 wks to editor assignment that gave me pause. It is probably a rare event and really, my purpose here was just to recommend keeping on top of things.

    I also think the opt-in editor system is relatively unique and may have further implications. It dovetails with my prior comments about authors wanting to see their own community represented on the AE list.

  • drugmonkey says:

    soul phage-

    One of the reasons for enhanced scrutiny of spelling, etc is that there is no copy editor at PloS ONE. No proof-correction stage either. So you have one final manuscript version after acceptance to get it right.

  • soul phage says:

    Dear Sirs, i need your suggestions....., one month ago i submitted my revised manuscript (in PlOS-ONE) ,still manuscript status is 'Under Review"? what should i do? wait? or mail to the staff? i mean how long revision take to get reviewed?

  • Bob Futrelle says:

    Thinking back, I can see that one reason I opted out of being an AE was that I tend to be too conscientious when I review, too careful, offering too many detailed suggestions.
    It's difficult for me to just read a paper a couple of times and then zip out some comments and an accept/revise/reject decision. It means that I spend a lot of time on each paper.
    Then there's the issue of how much time I want to devote to reviewing. At age 75 I want to reserve all my time for finishing up some important (should I say "groundbreaking") research while I'm still productive. Lately, I've been reading little about the advancement of science, because I need all my time to advance science based on my particular knowledge and skills.
    I'm off to the coffee shop to continue developing (designing and coding) my system.
    -- BioNLP.org

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  • arya says:

    I had submitted my article at PLOS ONE, the editor as assigned within 1 week, but even after 40 days of submission, it says " with editor" and doesnt say under review or something.... is there something i should be orried about? should i mail them?

    your comments will be highly appreciated.

  • Drugmonky says:

    Yes, send an email and ask what is up with that.

  • arya says:

    Thank you! Yea its just been 2 days now its "under review". This is really long!

  • lisy says:

    I sent my manuscript to P1 Aug 14 and finally got an academic editor assigned Oct 2 after a few emails to staff. Different excuses, summer slowdown -- too narrow a field -- school's starting... Now I'm sweating, because I suggested a good long list of potential reviewers. The status states "under review" but does that mean they'll go through my whole queue of suggested reviewers -wait a long time between no replies? I have no faith that they will follow up to get the reviews in a timely manner. Argh! I like P1's stated mission statement but I doubt I'll submit to P1 again.

  • drugmonkey says:

    why no faith?

    Although obviously I've heard a bunch about this lengthy time for the assignment of an editor it seems much less common to hear complaints about long review. So I'm assuming that that part is normal. Editors of my acquaintance have their stuff down and get through reviewer selection pretty quickly.

    Also, as I've mentioned, even if there is a slowdown of a few weeks this matches up favorably to a rejection and re-start at another journal. the stated intent of PLoS ONE should help to shortcut this process.

    in my personal view, one of the things that shifts you to submit to this journal is your own self-recognition that a particular manuscript might draw a specific type of difficulty in review that the promise of PLoS ONE would avoid.

  • Vincent says:

    I see that PLOS Genetics encourages their reviewers to turn the papers around within 10 days but I can't find the same info for PLOS one. Do you by chance know PLOS One's policy? I'm just curious since my manuscript is been "under review" comming up on one month.

    Cheers!

  • MDizz says:

    Since everyone here is recounting their experience with Plos, heres my share.

    I submitted my MS four months ago now to PlosOne. It went through to review very quickly and by the end of one month and a half I had my first set of changes (minor revision!). The reviewers both seemed to like it. Submitted revision and one of the reviewers suggested that I edit a single sentence in the abstract. Looked like the final change. Then all hell broke loose, for an unexplained reason my Academic editor was changed and my MS given to an anal retentive retard who still doesnt really understand what the paper is about. He sent my MS back with a major revision (the reviewers had a 2 minor revisions) to completely rewrite major sections of the paper (mainly to "repackage the story" was his reason). SO despite not aggreeing with most of it, we did the changes anyway, just to get done with it. And bang, back comes the MS with another major revision ("basically to undo all the changes that the same editor had asked in the previous revision"). I dont know what to do. I am very hesitant at doing another revision as it seems the editor is just delaying the paper for no apparent reason (besides wanting to re and re-re-package the story). The data is good and paper is well written (also reviewed by an anonymous reviewer as part of thesis research).

    I dont know if I should apply for an appeal. This is really confusing the paper by changing the layout over and over.

    Has anyone had a similar experience. If so, what do you think?

  • Spiny Norman says:

    I think you should withdraw your paper and send it to a real fucking journal. I would attach all correspondence and the reviews, and ask for expedited consideration.

  • whimple says:

    You don't have to withdraw it from PLoS1 to send it somewhere else. If they sent it back to you, you're a free agent with it. If you don't get it in elsewhere first, you can always send it back (yet again) to PLoS1. They will eventually administratively withdraw it for you if they don't hear back from you, but who cares?

  • If you don't want to give up on PLOS ONE, yes you should file an appeal. That process is actually very reasonable and expeditious. And if it turns out that this second academic editor is an egregious fuckewitte, the appeal will work out.

    If you are interested--and not worried about maintaining your pseudonymity--you can forward the manuscript, reviews, and editorial correspondence to me at physioprof@gmail.com, and I'll take look and bring this uppe with the managing staff if I agree that you are being unnecessarily dicked around. (It is, of course, formally possible that *you* are the delusional dumasse.)

  • antistokes (allison l. stelling) says:

    i had a bit of trouble with my 1st editor at PLOS One not being able to secure reviewers. (i am sort of going against the party line with my new paper, so it could have been that or the 1st editor just didn't have the rank to get refs to answer him.) i sorted it out by emailing the staff directly and suggesting a few solutions- and made a few polite remarks about their peer review process (i'm used to JACS/Biochemistry/JChemPhysB etc). they switched me over to a new editor who apparently has a bit more clout in the community and the MS just got done with production. all things considered, not too bad for a biojournal trying to deal with the folks that populate my narrow little field. all told, about a 4 month turnaround. besides, i never really liked the fact that my ACS work is hidden behind paywalls, for all their rapid referee process.

  • MDizz says:

    Thanks for the suggestions (especially Comradde PhysioProffe).

    For the moment the path of least resistance seemed to be to do the second set of corrections, so myself and a co-author (in fact the research lead for our research group), sat down to have a knock at it. About half way down the comments of the editor, there were repeated inconsistencies between its comments from the previous version, and eventually after mucking around for 3 hours, we figured, 1, there is no way we were going to get rid of an entire section of new to science information about a relatively little studied group of organisms and 2, there was no guarantee that the editor wasn't going to turn around and re-revert his comments. The inconsistency of his reviews plus the constant "i would like to see it like this" and "I would like to see it like that" and re-re-restructuring of the manuscript seemed unnecessary. His previous set of comments seemed to improve a few parts of the manuscript, we give him that credit, but this set of changes is not only ridiculous, but in part undoing those improvements.

    So taking on board your suggestion, we are currently preparing a letter to the PloSONE guys, not sure who exactly as there are a number of people of the executive staff. Not even sure if we can appeal to the editor;s decision or do we ask for an editorial change. And if we have an editorial change would it go back out to review given that it has already been reviewed by two independent reviewers in the field.

    Besides that, it seems that if PLoSOne doesn't work out in the end, we may have to go somewhere else. That would be a bit of waste given all the work that went into getting it into Plos and that if it weren't for this editorial change, it would have possibly been published by now.

  • twwu says:

    FYI
    submitted April 2nd, showed "editor invited" the next day
    email them after 3 weeks and they said they are working on it
    got an email today (May 7th) saying "sorry, can't find anyone, please withdraw (or they will do the same in 3 days)"

    And thanks guys, got a lot of useful info from here.

  • drugmonkey –

    sorry for posting my comments so late here. I just found your blog today. And – yes – I am annoyed enough by the discussion to respond, although late:

    1. Among the ‘open access’ journals that I know from my field, clinical medicine, P1 is perhaps the most consequent one in that it accepts all submissions that are methodologically sound, meaning that the methodology applied (study design and conduct, data analysis, support of conclusions drawn by data presented) is sufficing an accepted standard. If so, it comes as no surprise to me that P1 is overwhelmed with submissions, as they actually are. I guess it is a giant task both to handle the amount of submissions and to distinguish sound papers from all others on the market.

    2. This brings me to the important point: Who is deciding upon the ‘accepted standard’, who is doing all that work? I tried to engage myself in peer-review as well as editorial work since the beginning of my scientific career. Apparently, I am belonging to a minority of scientists. At least in my field, I find much more colleagues who try to publish than engage voluntarily in (OA) publishing. If lack of academic editors and the difficulty in finding reviewers in time is the problem, P1 is in my view suffering the major problem of the scientific community: that most of us are less willing to serve than to demand.

    3. Finally, just to bring into play another major OA publisher: Did anybody make experiences with BiomedCentral? If yes, did nobody experience any difficulties? I myself can detail several examples of time delays, inconsistencies, avoidable problems and the like that are far away from being convincing.

    Criticism might be justified, to P1 like to several other OA publishers. Still, I am trying to refrain from blaming anyone engaged in OA. I think this initiative is extremely important and necessary for all of us. Without our assistance, however, they all are doomed to failure.

  • drugmonkey says:

    P1 is in my view suffering the major problem of the scientific community: that most of us are less willing to serve than to demand.

    An alternative hypothesis is that editors, for whatever reasons, tend to draw upon a smaller pool for reviewing than there is submitting. And so many of those who are requested to review feel that they get more than 3x their submission rate. (I know I feel this way at times)

    Still, I am trying to refrain from blaming anyone engaged in OA.

    My comments are relevant to PONE in particular and are not a general issue with Open Access. Unless, of course, other journals us the opt-in editorial assignment process and have a similar mismatch of submissions (number OR domain) with the available editors.

  • Another one facing delays says:

    I and a co-author submitted a computational neuroscience paper on Jan 7th 2014 to PLOS ONE. Even today, on Feb 4th, after about 4 weeks, the status line reads "Manuscript Submitted to Journal". No technical checks, no editor invited. We wrote to plosone@plos.org on Jan 18th and again on Jan 30th and got what seems like a stock reply that "Your submission is receiving our full attention and we are doing all that we can to expedite the review process."

    Does the status message mean that the paper has not even undergone a technical check let alone an editor getting invited for it? Any suggestions on what can be done about it? Who else can one write to? The current opacity of replies from PLOS ONE is testing one's patience.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Wow. They still haven't fixed this stuff?

  • Another one facing delays says:

    Yesterday (a day after I wrote the above post), a senior editor responded to our submission saying that the delay was because ours was the first case of a transfer of reviews from a specific journal. Hopefully, things will proceed smoothly now.

  • VS says:

    I submitted a MS about a month ago. The status changed from "manuscript submitted to journal" to "Editor invited" about a week ago, and two days after that to "under review". So it has been under review for 4-5 days now. Hope we get back some reviews within a month or so, I am really hoping not to go through what some here have (i.e., "under review" for months) because one of the main reasons I submitted this to P1 was the promise of a quick turnaround. I had submitted this to Science and PNAS prior to P1, and it passed the editorial board review at PNAS but an academic editor then rejected it (and got it entirely wrong of course, because he said that the MS was about a certain field of study and that it wasn't impactful enough for PNAS, when it wasn't even about that field! So he got the entire classification of the study area wrong). That really peeved me, which is why I went with P1 next because they claim to not make judgments about impact and only look at technical rigor (which both Science and PNAS said our paper had). So fingers crossed, this will be my first published paper if it gets accepted.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You have a paper that you think is worthy of Science and now it is going to PLoS ONE?

    Something is not right here.

  • VS says:

    Why do you think that? We felt like it was a fast way to get this out there and it isn't like there aren't high impact papers being published in PLoS ONE. The previous paper of this flavor that was published by my adviser was in PNAS, however that doesn't have many citations. The current paper is a step up from that, includes innovation in method and has stronger conclusions (and very unique data as well). Also, we have one more paper that needs to cite this one that is in the pipeline, so we needed to get this one out there ASAP without having to worry about editors exercising their personal interests in determining potential impact of this paper. Both Science and PNAS stated that they couldn't find anything wrong with the methodology. I should maybe add that to my PLoS ONE file. If they abide by their own publishing philosophy, the hope is that this will get published if they have very little to criticize about the methodology. I wasted 3-4 months submitting to three very high impact journals and I didn't even get back any reviews because editors didn't send it out for review because they felt like it was more suitable for a specialty journal. We however don't think there is an appropriate specialty journal for this particular paper, hence the decision to send it to PLoS.

  • VS says:

    Update: Time from initial submission to acceptance = < 3 months (including 2.5 weeks of revisions). Not bad. Of course, this is a sample size of 1 but I'm sure there are plenty of others who've had the same positive experience at PLoS. Also just FYI, the reviews were extensive and the "minor revision" that they requested took me over 2 weeks of additional analyses (and adding a new section with new plots). Based on this experience, I would submit to PLoS ONE again. However, as a beginning academic, I would also try to diversify but that has nothing to do with perceived worth of PLoS. I wouldn't submit all my papers to J. Specialty either.

  • kymm says:

    I'm surprised to see that this has been going on for so long! I've got 2 manuscripts submitted at PLoS One that haven't been seen by an in-house editor yet after a month of being submitted. Lots of apology emails though, from 3 different individuals, approx 1 per manuscript per week. We thought that they were the 'fast' journal. Uhum.
    ps I am also an active peer-reviewer for the journal.

  • newbie PI says:

    There was some question in comments above about whether AEs at Plos One had to be of a certain faculty rank. I recently volunteered to be an AE. I got a quick response after a day or two that I was not yet qualified and that I should try again in a year or two when I had more papers as corresponding author. Just FYI, I've been a PI for 2.5 years and have 24 papers, 5 of which are from my own lab with me as corresponding author. I was doing this entirely for my CV, but after reading this comment thread, I'm kind of glad I was rejected. I don't think the effort and potentially negative interactions are worth the marginal CV boost.

  • UCProf says:

    Is the inability to find an AE the PLoS ONE equivalent of a desk reject? Maybe. Is there ever anything that actually gets returned to the authors as rejected because PLoS ONE can't find an AE to take it? This I don't know. Perhaps one of my readers knows more.

    I'm an academic editor for PLoS ONE. They have a weekly e-mail with a plea to the editors to pick up overdue papers. The process is supposed to be that if no academic editor picks up a paper after some time (a few months?) the internal editors solicit reviews. Once the reviews are obtained, they just ask an academic editor to make a decision.

    I remember one e-mail in the past 3 years that said something like "we have too much of a backlog. we are going to send these papers back if no academic editor picks them up." So, they don't typically do a desk reject.

  • StressedPhDscholar says:

    I've submitted my paper to PLoS Pathogens, and its been 18 days that the status shows "With Editor". Now it gets really stressful being the first author and with my major experimental work for my PhD dangling just like that. I thought PLoS Journals would be professional enough to at least give a quick decision on whether the work I worth being sent for peer review. It would be really frustrating to have my paper sitting there with the editor and then being rejected without peer review.

  • mislam says:

    I ave submitted a paper in Plos ONE almost 20 days back. the status changed from "manuscript submitted to journal" to "editor invited" after 12 days. but now after 8 days status changed from "editor invited" to again "manuscript submitted to journal" instead of expected status "with editor". what would be the possible reason??

  • IamPostdoc says:

    I have submitted my paper to PLOS ONE ten days back, current status is Editor Invited. After reading this blog, I am confused about their editorial and review process. This blog post is old (Aug 14, 2012) but I am not sure if this is relevant with present situation of PLOS ONE also... Hoping that things have improved over time...

  • drugmonkey says:

    As far as I am aware, the issue of opt-in AE assignment at PLoS ONE is still a problem.

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