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A PLOS Response to Open in Action with Open Science

With the theme of Open in Action, International Open Access Week 2016 served as a call for researchers, policymakers, funders and publishers around the globe to take “concrete steps to open up research and scholarship.” In direct response to this call, PLOS thought carefully about Open Science and what it means for us.

Reflections on Open Science at PLOS

PLOS has proven that making quality research openly available for anyone to read, download and reuse is a viable business model. Our collaborative efforts with like-minded organizations have inspired others – from individual researchers to the larger publishing industry – to move toward a more open ethos. In this environment, Open Access is no longer constrained to free access to research, it’s also about open data and a more open way of working together. Examples of this at PLOS include our pioneering a forward-thinking data policy at scale and contributions to the community-developed open-standard taxonomy of contributions – the CRediT Project – that provides specific and comprehensive attribution on research articles for all who participate in generating a published work.

We are proud to be Open in Action collaborators with other publishers including The Royal Society, eLife, Science journals and EMBO Press in making a public commitment to implement persistent identifiers such as ORCID iDs by year end. These iDs enable researchers to receive credit for a wide range of research outputs in addition to publications (for example blog posts at PLOS) and we are well on the way to meeting this goal. With many of these same collaborators (The Royal Society, eLife, ScienceEMBO Journal, Nature and Professor of Structural Biology Stephen Curry and Associate Professor of Information Science Vincent Larivière) we committed to publish citation distributions of our journals to demonstrate a key flaw with impact factors—they simply do not reflect article citation rates. In publishing this data, PLOS hopes to “strengthen a call for action originally voiced by Stephen Curry, one of the authors, and to encourage other journals to follow suit.” The original paper and dataset are posted on bioRxiv for all to access.

Open Policies and Open Research

Data sharing and Open Access are a matter of course for PLOS authors, providing open and rapid dissemination of their original research in all areas of science. PLOS supports authors who wish to share early versions of their research manuscripts to receive feedback before – or in parallel to – formal peer review, and encourages researchers to share via preprint servers either before or after submission to a PLOS journal. PLOS has a long-standing policy of accepting manuscripts previously posted to preprint servers, however we have eased the process for authors for this rapid dissemination vehicle that also brings transparency to the review process. Authors can now use bioRxiv’s direct transfer to journal service drop-down menu to submit directly to PLOS.

We have exemplified Open in Action as the first publisher to react to the Zika outbreak with a Call for Research and The Zika Collection. This placed PLOS on the map for rapid dissemination and discovery of results during the outbreak. As a result, work of authors who published with PLOS caught the attention of legislators: The US Capitol called PLOS to ask for additional information regarding the PLOS Currents: Outbreaks article, “Travel Volume to the United States from Countries and U.S. Territories with Local Zika Virus Transmission” as they were considering this information for use in upcoming legislation.

The practical impact of Open Access and open data may not always be immediate. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), publishers of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, voted in September 2016 to adopt the Environmental Impact Classification for Alien Taxa (EICAT) for classifying invasive species, work originally published in PLOS Biology in 2014. Author Tim Blackburn stated “IUCN has approved the motion on our method for classifying alien species impacts…The adopted text requires a consultation before EICAT becomes an IUCN standard… [but] it is an extremely positive development… Getting the paper published somewhere so high profile (and open) really made a difference, so thank you!”

Actionable knowledge on an international scale extends beyond conservation efforts to inform human health and disease initiatives. The WHO Estimates of Foodborne Disease Collection reports the first estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group of the incidence, mortality and disease burden caused by 31 foodborne hazards. Outcomes reported in the Collection – from PLOS, WHO and F1000Research authors – can contribute to improvements in food safety throughout the food chain when incorporated into policy development at regional, national and international levels.

If you choose to be Open in Action with PLOS, you can also have a bit of intellectual fun. The PLOS Paleo Community held a competition for the paleontology research community for the Top 10 Open Access Fossil Vertebrates of the year, to honor researchers that have thought long and worked hard to provide our community quality research that is openly available to all. Articles represent the vertebrate diversity published in Open Access journals, from PLOS ONE to PeerJ, Science Advances and Paleontologia Electronica.

Encouraging the Next Generation of Open

PLOS supports the growth of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) as they build skills in science communication, become champions of Open Science and develop into ambassadors of change for a future where all research is freely available, all work is evaluated fairly and all members of the scientific community have opportunity to participate in the dialogue of and about science. To support the efforts of ECRs, we are continuing to offer our Early Career Researcher Travel Award (ECRTA) program, launched in 2015. For its first round in 2016, applicants were asked to describe characteristics of the optimal peer review process and how they might build this in a way that makes science more transparent and research more rapidly available. Winners were profiled and we’ve now completed a second award round asking what ECRs consider to be the value of a preprint server and how its broad adoption might benefit the scientific community and society.

As a participant in OpenCon 2016, a conference focused on educating and empowering the next generation in the areas of Open Access, Open Education and Open Data, PLOS will have the opportunity to hear directly from participants regarding their desires and concerns for the future of science communication. In a video welcoming address, Publisher Louise Page acknowledges the inspiration provided by this annual gathering of Open Science thinkers and presents highlights of the past year at PLOS that reflect how the organization is Open in Action.

“PLOS was founded with the researcher foremost in our minds and we want to work with you to continue our journey from Open Access to Open Data, Open Source and ultimately to Open Science,” says Page.

The brief video is an introduction to an OpenCon Community Webcast with Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication. You can also listen to the OpenCon 2015 video address by PLOS Executive Editor Véronique Kiermer on The Future of Science Communication.

Open Access Is Open in Action

In an increasingly vibrant research world where multimedia data, new types of research outputs and real-time online discussions are altering the way the community works, communicates and cooperates, Open Access is more than ever Open in Action. PLOS is proud that our founding core principles exemplify Open in Action. What makes us notable among other publishers is that we were Open in Action from the start: 24/7, 52 weeks a year.

Our View of Open Science

As a leading Open Access publisher, PLOS pursues a publishing strategy that optimizes the openness and integrity of the publication process by aiming to ensure that research outcomes are discoverable, accessible and available for discussion and that science communication is constructive, transparent and verifiable. We strive to implement policies and innovations that promote reproducibility, credit and accountability, as these priorities support establishment of an Open Science culture, with open data, early sharing of work and clear contributor recognition. We see the benefit of Open Access content in relation to future advances in machine-readable formats and text and data mining.

We look forward to hearing your Open Science stories and the outcomes, large or small, that you have achieved. Leave a comment here or email to


Image Credit: SPARC

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