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It takes a village

In the 10 months since we launched Ratings, some folks have readily used them to score papers – we'd like them to be joined by more so that we can build a critical mass of opinion about the relative importance of papers, and allow ratings to highlight the ‘best’ papers. The opinion of one person, two peer reviewers or even a group of Board Members may not be as relevant as the opinion of a group of interested and motivated readers – and that is what we are seeking to encourage with this post.

All PLoS ONE articles are peer-reviewed using criteria which measure the technical merit not the perceived importance – therefore all PLoS ONE papers are worthy of being published, but clearly some are more ‘important’ than others. We believe that deciding how ‘important’ or ‘good’ an article really is should be done in public by as many of those using the work as possible through ratings (and comments).

Ratings are therefore the quickest and easiest way for users to indicate to the world where they believe a piece of work sits in the spectrum of importance. When you rate a paper, you score it on Insight (how thought provoking it is), Style (how elegant it is) and Reliability (how secure it is) – these combine into an "at a glance" feel for the importance of the work indicated by five stars. It takes less than two minutes to rate an article and if enough of us do it, the results will form a useful indication of whether the work is influential, saving time and effort down the line.

1. To help out your colleagues and yourself – if you've spent a considerable amount of time reading an article, it makes sense to spend two minutes rating it at the end. That way next time you are trying to figure out whether to spend time reading an article, hopefully someone you trust will have rated it and shared their opinion helping you to make a faster decision. It's the "what goes around comes around" philosophy.

2. To build a critical mass of opinion – the next time you see an article with one rating and you think that this is not enough information on which to decide its importance and you read it, add your rating to it.

3. To change the way science is done – if you believe in a fairer more open system where researchers decide the importance of what they read then please contribute to making this a success.

4. To build yourself a solid online reputation – in the interests of transparency, ratings are not anonymous (although it's worth knowing that it is only the ‘user name’, not the user’s real name or their email, that is publicly disclosed). and that's to the good for thoughtful contributors who should have the confidence to share their opinions (even if others publicly disagree there are rules of engagement on the site and a moderator to enforce them). In the future of scientific and medical publishing, where we hope open access is the gold standard, different ways of evaluating a person's contribution to science will emerge and this could become one of them.

Of course, it would be nice if rating brought money, power and prestige and maybe in time it will but for the time being we're asking you to rate for the same reason as many of you undertake peer-review, because a better future depends on it. 

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