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What drives us: Ensuring fair opportunities for all authors

Please tell us a little bit about what you do at PLOS.

Emily: I am the Editor in Chief of PLOS ONE. This means that I have overall responsibility over the content that we publish, as well as ensuring that our editorial policies and procedures are robust, efficient, and free from bias. I work with the editorial team, as well as colleagues in other departments, to ensure that the review and publication process is as impartial and transparent as possible. We achieve this by regularly reviewing our workflows and policies to ensure that the review process is fair for authors, reviewers and Academic Editors

George: As the Deputy Editor in Chief, I work closely with Emily, overseeing the development and implementation of the journal’s editorial vision, our editorial strategy, and the journal’s editorial activities to engage with our communities. I also work with other teams supporting PLOS ONE to ensure efficiency and quality of manuscript handling by the Editorial Board and the quality of the published output

During your time at PLOS, what initiative/s have you been involved with to ensure fairness in science (policies etc.)?

Emily: I would say PLOS ONE, as a journal, was developed in order to embody fairer practices in research publication. It was the first journal to publish all rigorous science research and make it openly available to the public. By eliminating criteria for novelty or impact, PLOS ONE changed how we assess high-quality research and created opportunities for researchers to publish and get credit for their work. Each of us who work for the journal play a role in continuing that legacy, striving toward fairer practices across each stage of the publishing process at PLOS ONE.

As a recent example, we’re currently working on simplifying our appeals process. The appeals process exists to ensure that authors have the ability to challenge decisions that they perceive to be unfair or incorrect. The changes that we will be introducing to the appeals process will help ensure that it is straightforward for authors and that it provides support to PLOS ONE Academic Editors in handling potentially tricky manuscripts.

George: I think one of the most important initiatives I’ve been able to work on is the development of a PLOS-wide policy, Inclusivity in Global Research, which launched in September last year. The new policy aims to address concerns related to a practice called “parachute research”, also known as “helicopter” or “neo-colonial science”. Parachute research occurs when researchers travel to under-resourced communities, conduct their research, and leave, often with little understanding or involvement of the communities they studied, and few direct benefits to local participants. As part of the policy, authors conducting research in other countries or communities are asked to complete a questionnaire that outlines ethical, cultural, and scientific considerations specific to inclusivity in global research. 

The policy itself was developed collaboratively, with members of the research community across different countries. Our aim was to improve awareness of the concerns related to global research, laying foundations for future development of additional policies in this area.

Why do you think this is important for science?

Emily: I think it’s important that scientific progress is a dialogue – where authors, reviewers, editors, and the community discuss ideas and build consensus. Fairness helps instill trust in science. If the community perceives a policy (or a person or a journal) to be unfair, they won’t engage with it, meaning that the important process of agreeing, arguing and eventually coming to a shared understanding that allows decisions and further discovery to move forward won’t happen. So I think it’s really important that PLOS ONE pursues policies that are grounded in principles of inclusivity, anti-bias and fairness to enable everyone to engage with the process of scientific communication and discovery.

George: I agree and I think our new policy is a good example of this. Research is better when it involves members of the local community; these individuals can add knowledge and expertise that others cannot. It’s important that their perspectives are heard and given due weight in the scholarly discourse. I hope the policy raises awareness of these concerns and encourages better and more meaningful international collaboration in research, especially with those in low- and middle-income countries. This can bring long-term benefits as knowledge is shared between research teams, building local, individual and institutional research capacity.

What does it mean to you personally to be involved in work like this?

Emily: I care very deeply that PLOS ONE continues its mission to support the advancement of research by focusing on rigor rather than perceived impact, and I strongly support efforts to increase fairness, transparency and trust in the review and publication process. Asking reviewers and academic editors to focus on objective measures such as the inclusion of proper controls and whether the conclusions are supported by the data reported eliminates a source of bias in the publication process. I really enjoy being part of a journal and community that has taken active steps to move away from the tyranny of a very small minority determining what’s “hot” or important or worthy in scholarly communication. I want research to be reviewed and published rapidly, and openly accessible to all, so that we as a society can benefit from these advances in knowledge.

George: It’s been a fantastic experience to work on the Inclusivity in Global Research policy as its implementation has the potential to change the way in which research is conducted, something that can be difficult to achieve with editorial policy. I strive for equity in research and its dissemination and hope that this policy has moved the needle in ensuring fairer research collaboration. 

By the end of your career, what do you hope people will think about your contribution?

Emily: In a way, I hope I’m remembered by what people didn’t see published in PLOS ONE – for example, studies that didn’t have appropriate ethical approval, or research funded by tobacco companies. I hope that the community will think that PLOS ONE had fair policies applied in a consistent manner that supported its mission. But I also hope that my contribution towards this is not highly visible. The policies and workflows that we have on PLOS ONE have been co-developed with our communities and are designed to address specific needs that have been raised by different groups. The journal does not operate in a top-down manner such that I will place any particular stamp on it–rather, I want my time as Editor in Chief to be marked by increased collaboration and communication with all groups who access the journal, and the recognition that PLOS ONE exists solely to serve the needs of the community.

George: I think everyone should have equal opportunity to access and contribute to the publication of academic research. I hope that my contributions to PLOS ONE will ensure that everyone can publish well-conducted research, regardless of where they are from, the topic studied, or the perceived novelty of their work.

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