Two of the most enjoyable parts of my job in PLoS Communications are noodling around with statistics and giving people good news.
The other day I got to do both sequentially when I discovered through Google Analytics that this paper Ionizing Radiation Changes the Electronic Properties of Melanin and Enhances the Growth of Melanized Fungi has the most unique page views of the more than 2200 we've published to date.
I immediately emailed the corresponding author Ekaterina (Kate) Dadachova and the Academic Editor Julian Rutherford to try and find out more about their scientific story and publishing experiences with us – as Kate replied "the publication of this paper was a 3-year long scientific adventure for us and there is much to learn from our story."
One of the most interesting parts of their responses was that the reasons the Academic Editor gave for accepting the paper and the motivation of the Authors to publish with PLoS ONE, mirrored each other, although (as can sometimes be the case in scientific publishing) there was some additional effort required from the authors to get to the final published version, with Science, PLoS Biology and PLoS ONE all being involved.
On accepting a paper, after review, Julian said "I will accept a paper for publication in PLoS ONE if the work has not been published elsewhere and if it is of a good scientific standard. Generally, I am not concerned with questions relating to the significance of the work, which, in my view, is for the readers to decide and is one of the strengths of PLoS ONE. This allows the general readership to judge the significance of the work rather than a select few and allows the dissemination of work that may not otherwise be published. I think the paper in question is good example of this editorial policy. This work described some intriguing observations with regard the relationship between fungal growth and radiation. Although it is far from clear what is happening at a mechanistic level, I thought that these observations would be of interest to microbiologists who study the interaction between microbes and the environment. In my view, the published version of this paper contains some interesting observations, the significance of which are far from clear. "
On publishing this paper, Kate (and colleague Arturo Casadevall) said "We chose PLoS ONE because it allows the publication of work which is technically sound leaving it to the scientific community at large to judge the merits and to discuss the research results. Our paper was revised two times in Science, we performed a lot of additional experiments demanded by the reviewers which benefited the paper enormously but at the end the editor did not take it. The history repeated itself in PLoS Biology – again, additional work done as a result of the review improved the paper but it was probably too unconventional for the editor to accept it. Then we submitted the paper to PLoS ONE- it was also reviewed twice – but the final result was very different this time. We think this paper is so widely read because it challenges two dogmas: first – that only green plants and algae are capable of transducing energy of the light in the photosynthesis process. We showed that it might be possible that presence of melanin which is a different pigment allows fungi to transduce the energy of ionizing radiation. Second – ionizing radiation is perceived as something harmful which can only damage and destroy living cells. We showed that some cells are actually capable of harnessing for their benefit the enormous energy of ionizing radiation. We are now in the process of studying the ability of melanin to harness the energy of electromagnetic radiation along the wide range – from visible light to ultra violet to ionizing radiation which will hopefully help us to decipher the mechanism of the energy transduction by melanin. We hope that our work has also inspired other groups to investigate this fascinating phenomenon and we are looking forward to read about their findings."
What these comments appear to illustrate is that (as many of us know) the path of scientific publishing rarely runs smooth, none the less PLoS ONE is pleased to have brought this paper to the community in keeping with the editorial objectives of our peer-reviewed journal.
Far from being deterred by her experience, Kate went on to sumbit and publish another paper with us, in her own words…"Our experience publishing with PLoS ONE was very positive, and we did it again – in October last year PLoS ONE published another paper "Treating cancer as an infectious disease – viral antigens as novel targets for treatment and potential prevention of tumors of viral etiology" which caused huge interest of the scientific community and popular press".
I hope this post has gone some small way to explaining the background to the publishing experience here at PLoS ONE and that our community will feel inspired to send us even more of their work.