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2022 PLOS accomplishments

It was a banner year for PLOS. We set some ambitious objectives and worked diligently and passionately in achieving them. And, our goals all have one core question: how can we best serve researchers and the scholarly publishing ecosystem in which they work. 

Here are some highlights:

As you can see, our goals can be placed in broad categories: expanding and accelerating our journal offerings, advancing Open Science adoption, establishing a more global presence, expanding our institutional partnerships and creating efficiencies in our infrastructure.

Expand and accelerate journal offerings

Two years ago, we made a momentous decision to expand our journal portfolio. We had not launched a journal since 2007, when we introduced PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. But as we considered how best to effect change in communicating research, we saw an opportunity to work with communities to co-create opportunities for Open Science. Launching more focused journals like PLOS Water enables us to address the challenges facing researchers in those fields. Our journal offerings were prioritized by titles in which Open Science could have the greatest impact in increasing the visibility of research to key stakeholders and facilitating an exchange of knowledge across disciplines studying social, economic, and ethical aspects of some of the world’s biggest challenges. In 2022, the journals[1] began publishing their first papers.  We are happy to announce that collectively these five journals have already published over 1,000 papers.

Advancing Open Science

Our journals are not static. We continue to innovate every year and provide our authors with new opportunities for openness. While PLOS is a publisher first, we also have a mission to change the scholarly ecosystem, and the way we best achieve this aim is through our Open Science offerings and practices. Our goal in 2022 was to increase adoption of Open Science practices around data, methods (such as code and protocols), and preprints, especially in disciplinary communities with diverse geographic representation.

To help us reach our goals, we partnered with DataSeer, who are collaborating with us to create a suite of  Open Science Indicators, which will enable us all to understand how Open Science is being practiced. We recently released the first set of Open Science Indicators results, and are seeking feedback from the community on their development. We’re studying PLOS content from 2019 onwards, as well as a comparator set of 6,000 publicly-available research articles from PubMed Central. These indicators will initially focus on three Open Science practices, expanding to other practices in 2023:

  1. Data sharing: As part of a project funded by the Wellcome Trust, we are experimenting with solutions designed to increase sharing and discovery of research data. Earlier this year we launched a solution intended to promote the use of data repositories for data sharing and the linking of data to publications. It’s an ‘Accessible Data’ feature deployed on articles that link to research data in one of several repositories. This complements our dryad integration, which allows authors at PLOS Pathogens to deposit data in the Dryad repository for free, right from our submission system.
  2. Code sharing: We shared the results of the first year of PLOS Computational Biology’s mandatory code sharing policy, which showed rates of code sharing in the journal have reached 86% since the policy was introduced. In addition, PLOS published research and supporting data on research conducted to understand the needs and habits of researchers in relation to code sharing and reuse as well as to gather feedback on prototype code notebooks and help determine strategies that publishers could use to increase code sharing. You can learn more about our findings in this blog.
  3. Preprint posting: We expanded our commitment to preprints with facilitated posting to medRxiv this year, and EarthArXiv in early 2023. Research suggests that early sharing via preprint is associated with increased attention and citations for the corresponding peer-reviewed publication. In addition, we are engaged with the evolving landscape of preprint review through our participation in Review Commons. We’ve now published more than 150 articles submitted through this initiative, which makes the review process more efficient and reduces overall burden on the reviewer pool.

Other Open Science progress 

In October 2022, PLOS shared the results of a first-of-its-kind survey that aimed to understand researchers’ practices and priorities around sharing detailed methods information, such as protocols. We also expanded the protocol entry service available to authors of Lab Protocols, who can now get support for formatting step-by-step protocols on protocols.io at no charge and at any stage of the writing or review process, even prior to submission.

PLOS’ journal offerings and Open Science aims all ensure that research quality, rigor and integrity are at the forefront of our decisions. This is exemplified by our (PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology) partnership with Cancer Research UK to improve quality and reproducibility in cancer research through preregistration. Preregistration is a practice of depositing a study design with a repository (and, optionally, submitting it for peer review at a journal) before experimentation and data collection begin. PLOS Biology has now published two registered reports, and PLOS ONE has published 17 registered reports. 

Partnering globally to drive change in research communication

We now have an established presence in Singapore (following establishment of a presence in Germany in 2021). These virtual entities will enable PLOS to embed ourselves in, learn from, and be influenced by, local communities. This will enable us to form networks and relationships with key stakeholders in local research ecosystems: governments, funders, policymakers, institutional leaders, as well as librarians and researchers. We are already up and running and achieving this in Africa via our partnership with TCC in Kenya. 

Here are some tangible ways that PLOS has made global progress:

  1. Key initiatives include our collaborations with high-level stakeholders in Africa, including the African Association of Universities, and the East African Commission for Science & Technology with our partners TCC Africa. These organizations are looking to increase education and awareness around the benefits of Open Science with institutional leadership, national research councils and higher education commission, with a view to increasing Open Science policies and mandates at institutional, national and regional levels. Our work in Africa has brought the support of UNESCO and they are involved with the majority of our activities on the continent.
  2. Our Regional Directors (in Europe and Asia) advocate for Open Science at a local level and via the networks and relationships they form, aim to advance Open Science adoption. This is Open Science adoption in its broadest sense, whether engaging with the philosophical principles of Open Science and its potential to increase equitable participation, or from a purely practical perspective. The UNESCO Open Science recommendation provides a handy (and broad) reference point here that can be applied globally.

Removing barriers to Open Access publishing

One challenge that we’re still tackling, and with great success, is how to fairly allocate the cost of Open Access publishing. PLOS was part of the vanguard of publishers who demonstrated that Open Access publishing could be sustainable, but we only had half the equation right because the APC business model was so biased towards highly funded regions and disciplines. In short, we weren’t fulfilling our entire vision for an open and inclusive research ecosystem that facilitated the exchange of free and unrestricted knowledge. Anyone could read the research we published, but the cost of publishing in an Open venue was–and continues to be–a barrier for many authors. To solve that riddle without the use of subscriptions, we developed new, more equitable  models to reduce or remove financial and administrative burdens on authors. We have models that target specific challenges in the Open Access ecosystem—keeping costs low for selective journals through Community Action Publishing, reflecting regional economic differences through Global Equity. And our Flat Fee model similarly aims to make Open Access publishing easier and more accessible for researchers while being flexible and granular enough to suit many different communities. Though we still have more work ahead of us and many more conversations to be had with research stakeholders around the world, as of today, 181 institutions in 26 countries have partnered with us, that’s up from 93 and 6, respectively from last year.

Infrastructure progress

Efficiency in PLOS’ infrastructure is not a topic that stirs people’s passion, but it’s really important for authors in an unseen way. The more inefficiencies we remove from the publishing process, the faster we can get papers published. One of our goals this year was to improve author experience through a less time-intensive submission process. Papers submitted to PLOS undergo a rigorous technical check before undergoing review. We wanted to reduce friction in the technical check and formatting stages to speed up the time these papers move to review. As a result of many internal improvements, manuscripts submitted to PLOS ONE are assigned an Academic Editor under ten days of submission, and the time to first decision has decreased by more than 20%.

Looking ahead

We are really excited for what we have in store for 2023. We’ll have more data to share on Open Science Indicators, our partnership with EarthArXiv will take effect, and we’ll be announcing new institutional partnerships, among other things. Watch this space for all of our updates.

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