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Concept: Open access


The assessment of scientific publications is an integral part of the scientific process. Here we investigate three methods of assessing the merit of a scientific paper: subjective post-publication peer review, the number of citations gained by a paper, and the impact factor of the journal in which the article was published. We investigate these methods using two datasets in which subjective post-publication assessments of scientific publications have been made by experts. We find that there are moderate, but statistically significant, correlations between assessor scores, when two assessors have rated the same paper, and between assessor score and the number of citations a paper accrues. However, we show that assessor score depends strongly on the journal in which the paper is published, and that assessors tend to over-rate papers published in journals with high impact factors. If we control for this bias, we find that the correlation between assessor scores and between assessor score and the number of citations is weak, suggesting that scientists have little ability to judge either the intrinsic merit of a paper or its likely impact. We also show that the number of citations a paper receives is an extremely error-prone measure of scientific merit. Finally, we argue that the impact factor is likely to be a poor measure of merit, since it depends on subjective assessment. We conclude that the three measures of scientific merit considered here are poor; in particular subjective assessments are an error-prone, biased, and expensive method by which to assess merit. We argue that the impact factor may be the most satisfactory of the methods we have considered, since it is a form of pre-publication review. However, we emphasise that it is likely to be a very error-prone measure of merit that is qualitative, not quantitative.

Concepts: Scientific method, Academic publishing, Assessment, Psychometrics, Peer review, Impact factor, Scientific journal, Open access


In the past few years there has been an ongoing debate as to whether the proliferation of open access (OA) publishing would damage the peer review system and put the quality of scientific journal publishing at risk. Our aim was to inform this debate by comparing the scientific impact of OA journals with subscription journals, controlling for journal age, the country of the publisher, discipline and (for OA publishers) their business model.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Peer review, Scientific journal, Publishing, Open access


Inaccurate data in scientific papers can result from honest error or intentional falsification. This study attempted to determine the percentage of published papers that contain inappropriate image duplication, a specific type of inaccurate data. The images from a total of 20,621 papers published in 40 scientific journals from 1995 to 2014 were visually screened. Overall, 3.8% of published papers contained problematic figures, with at least half exhibiting features suggestive of deliberate manipulation. The prevalence of papers with problematic images has risen markedly during the past decade. Additional papers written by authors of papers with problematic images had an increased likelihood of containing problematic images as well. As this analysis focused only on one type of data, it is likely that the actual prevalence of inaccurate data in the published literature is higher. The marked variation in the frequency of problematic images among journals suggests that journal practices, such as prepublication image screening, influence the quality of the scientific literature.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Science, Peer review, Literature, Scientific journal, Publishing, Open access, Scientific literature


In August 2015, the publisher Springer retracted 64 articles from 10 different subscription journals “after editorial checks spotted fake email addresses, and subsequent internal investigations uncovered fabricated peer review reports,” according to a statement on their website.(1) The retractions came only months after BioMed Central, an open-access publisher also owned by Springer, retracted 43 articles for the same reason. “This is officially becoming a trend,” Alison McCook wrote on the blog Retraction Watch, referring to the increasing number of retractions due to fabricated peer reviews.(2) Since it was first reported 3 years ago, when South Korean researcher Hyung-in Moon admitted . . .

Concepts: Scientific method, Academic publishing, Peer review, Review, Scientific journal, Publishing, Open access, Retraction


Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC, contributes to our Tenth Anniversary PLOS Biology Collection by discussing how the Open Access movement has grown up.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Board of directors, Open source, Open access, Executive director, Open access journal, Public Library of Science, PLoS Biology


A negative consequence of the rapid growth of scholarly open access publishing funded by article processing charges is the emergence of publishers and journals with highly questionable marketing and peer review practices. These so-called predatory publishers are causing unfounded negative publicity for open access publishing in general. Reports about this branch of e-business have so far mainly concentrated on exposing lacking peer review and scandals involving publishers and journals. There is a lack of comprehensive studies about several aspects of this phenomenon, including extent and regional distribution.

Concepts: Longitudinal study, Ecology, Sociology, Academic publishing, Academia, Peer review, Open source, Open access


The Internet has transformed scholarly publishing, most notably, by the introduction of open access publishing. Recently, there has been a rise of online journals characterized as ‘predatory’, which actively solicit manuscripts and charge publications fees without providing robust peer review and editorial services. We carried out a cross-sectional comparison of characteristics of potential predatory, legitimate open access, and legitimate subscription-based biomedical journals.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Peer review, Scientific journal, Internet, Open source, Open content, Open access, Preprint


Plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles provide a structure for iterative testing of changes to improve quality of systems. The method is widely accepted in healthcare improvement; however there is little overarching evaluation of how the method is applied. This paper proposes a theoretical framework for assessing the quality of application of PDSA cycles and explores the consistency with which the method has been applied in peer-reviewed literature against this framework.

Concepts: Scientific method, Database, Academic publishing, Science, Peer review, Review, Open access, Academic journal


A detailed review of all 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed as retracted on May 3, 2012 revealed that only 21.3% of retractions were attributable to error. In contrast, 67.4% of retractions were attributable to misconduct, including fraud or suspected fraud (43.4%), duplicate publication (14.2%), and plagiarism (9.8%). Incomplete, uninformative or misleading retraction announcements have led to a previous underestimation of the role of fraud in the ongoing retraction epidemic. The percentage of scientific articles retracted because of fraud has increased ∼10-fold since 1975. Retractions exhibit distinctive temporal and geographic patterns that may reveal underlying causes.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Science, Open access, Scientific literature, Retraction, Scientific misconduct, PubMed Central, Academic literature


Despite growing interest in Open Access (OA) to scholarly literature, there is an unmet need for large-scale, up-to-date, and reproducible studies assessing the prevalence and characteristics of OA. We address this need using oaDOI, an open online service that determines OA status for 67 million articles. We use three samples, each of 100,000 articles, to investigate OA in three populations: (1) all journal articles assigned a Crossref DOI, (2) recent journal articles indexed in Web of Science, and (3) articles viewed by users of Unpaywall, an open-source browser extension that lets users find OA articles using oaDOI. We estimate that at least 28% of the scholarly literature is OA (19M in total) and that this proportion is growing, driven particularly by growth in Gold and Hybrid. The most recent year analyzed (2015) also has the highest percentage of OA (45%). Because of this growth, and the fact that readers disproportionately access newer articles, we find that Unpaywall users encounter OA quite frequently: 47% of articles they view are OA. Notably, the most common mechanism for OA is not Gold, Green, or Hybrid OA, but rather an under-discussed category we dub Bronze: articles made free-to-read on the publisher website, without an explicit Open license. We also examine the citation impact of OA articles, corroborating the so-called open-access citation advantage: accounting for age and discipline, OA articles receive 18% more citations than average, an effect driven primarily by Green and Hybrid OA. We encourage further research using the free oaDOI service, as a way to inform OA policy and practice.

Concepts: Academic publishing, Peer review, Impact factor, Scientific journal, Open source, Open content, Open access, Citation index