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Week One Reactions

We’ve been really pleased by the interest there has already been in this blog and by the number of comments that have been posted to it in its first week. A number of these cover similar ground so I’m going to reply to several in one go here.

First of all Jason Kelly and PhilipJ have made some interesting points about providing credit to open-referees. Certainly “What’s in it for reviewers?”, is a question whose answers I have never really been satisfied with even in respect to conventional journals. Standard peer-reviewers don’t usually get paid in any formal sense. Some journals have been known to give bottles of wine to referees who have been particularly helpful and I believe that medical journals frequently pay their statistical reviewers, but that hardly seems to me to be sufficient compensation for the time and effort put in by reviewers. It is true that referees do get to see work before it’s published but really the motivation is altruism and a desire to keep the system working.

There ought to be better, and more explicit, rewards for good refereeing and we are certainly intending to allow rating of users of PLoS ONE, as well as the papers themselves. Such a system is going to be very helpful to readers when deciding on the provenance of comments. The model we are looking to is based on Slashdot’s ‘Karma’ but as Jason says it could be much more influential than that if it’s use can be expanded beyond a single journal, even one as inclusive as PLoS ONE. Richard Jefferson of Biological Innovation for Open Society (BiOS) has thought a great deal about this in respect to providing scientists with status independent of their publications, although I can’t find a link to him writing on the subject. For technical reasons we can’t have user rating on PLoS ONE when it launches, but we should get the system online pretty soon after wards.

This brings up another good point, that PLoS ONE is going to be continuously developing. My wish list of things that I would like to do is very long but we don’t want to promise you things until we know when we can deliver them. Something else fitting into this category is the idea of allowing the commenting and rating systems of PLoS ONE to be applied to other journals. It would be very worthwhile and I would definitely like to do it. At the launch of PLoS ONE the tools will only be working on PLoS ONE content as we learn exactly how the system works but it is definitely our intention to go beyond PLoS ONE content in the relatively near future.

When considering moving the commenting/annoytation systems of PLoS ONE beyond PLoS content we run into a problem raised by Alex Holcombe. How can all the comments and opinions about a paper be discovered and tied together? There could be comments in a number of places: Postgenomic, CiteULike, Connotea, at HubMed, one’s personal blog, and others. Alex is suggesting that science on the web needs the equivalent of the bloggers ‘trackback’. This is a development we at PLoS aren’t likely to be able to acheive all by ourselves but we hope that we can help. My opinion is that organizations like science commons, with which PLoS is involved, stand the best chance of getting such things running. Also the open source publishing platform under development, and which PLoS ONE will be adopting, should provide a catalysts for such technical developments.

Another technical development that would be a huge step forward to facilitating the discussion of science on the web would be a Unique Author Identification Number (UAIN). Matthew Falgas describes this concept really well in a correspondence in PLoS Medicine and further elaborated in an eLetter from Etienne Joly. In order to evaluate a persons contribution to the scientific endeavor we will need to know who they are and that we are not looking at an amalgam of works produced by an unrelated collection of people sharing the same name.

So these are a few of the things on my wish list for future developments. What’s on yours?

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