Stop the presses!

In science, especially in biomedicine, the relevance of a scientist is measured with his record of publications. Moreover, not only the number is important but also in which journals they have been published. Actually, there is a ranking of how important is a journal base on the number of year citations of the journal, the impact factor.  Also, there are journals with open access  and others in which you have to pay a subscription or buy the papers. That is funny when you considerer that often the author have to pay to publish as well… But before we get into that, a scientist usually follow with regularity only a few number of journals – often the most important in its field – However, those scientists  will use with frequency a search engine to find, in a comprehensive way,  what it has been done about a topic, or  methodology, no matter the journal. The classic search engine in biomedicine is Pubmed. This is a free search engine  maintained by the national library of the United States and is accessible since 1996. Pubmed has indexed  papers  since 1966 and prior to that date there are only a selection of the most relevant papers. But not all the journals are in Pubmed, only those journals that accomplish Pubmed’s  scientific standards are indexed. Today  in PubMed, despite these limitations, there are indexed nearly 25 million papers, and during the last years, Pubmed growth in about 1 million of new papers per year. 


This growth, like many other phenomenas , can be explained  by a combination of different reasons factors:  i) Money:  Although,  right now I think it is decreasing, investment in science has been increasing during the last decades, as well the number of scientist working. In fact, I would guess a high correlation between the number of papers and the number of scientist. In other hand, there are two subtle differences in growth, one after the 70, (The total war against cancer started in the early 70) and a second one after the 2000, Human genome era. ii) Motivation: This is more complex but can be summarized as , Publish or perish . Most biomedical research is maintained at public expense , therefore, Those dollars should be given to the best projects and leading people to develop these promising projects . As I mentioned earlier in this post, the literary production of a scientist is the most important scale to do so . Not only that, a good publication record in your early stages as a scientist determine where you can go to work in your next stage, and better center , usually comes with more money, thus better  chances to publish more relevant and quantitate of papers. Papers you will need to apply for more money …. Do you see the feedback?

Journal Total papers  (mid 2014) First paper indexed Date
The Journal of biological chemistry 167622 1946
Science (New York, N.Y.) 164612 1946
Lancet 128337 1946
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 117711 1946
Nature 101682 1946
British medical journal 97098 1946
Biochimica et biophysica acta 93736 1948
PloS one 85750 2007
Biochemical and biophysical research communications 76442 1960
The New England journal of medicine 70721 1946


Well, let’s  rank Pubmed’s journals by the total number of publications. In the top 10 we find what we expected, very old and prestigious journals with thousands of papers. In fact, the first paper published by “Lancet”, “The New England Journal of Medicine”, or “Science”  were published in 1823, 1812 and 1880 respectively (very previous to their first indexed papers). However, among all these journals, one call our attention, “PLoS One“. This journal founded in 2006 has been published more papers than a journal founded almost 2 centuries ago. Well, it is clear that the rate of publication 80 years ago is not the same of now a days,  but how do you publish in 6 years such amount of papers?  What is special about “PLoS One”?

Firstly, it’s completely open, your articles are accessible to everyone without paying any subscription and completely online. This is a smart move, because that papers can be cited by more people. However, the main reason of this high ratio of publication is its criterion for acceptance or rejection of papers. Unlike the most tradicional journals where a research has to proof a certain novelty, impact and scientific rigour, Plos ONE, instead, only verifies whether experiments and data analysis were conducted rigorously. To provide a frame of referee:  PLOS ONE have a ratio of accepted papers of around 70%, while “Nature” only 8% are accepted. There is a big controversy over this model. I personally think, that it should exist a space to publish works that might be less relevant. For instance, work already scooped or less sexy than the author thought before the experiments. Although, When I see papers like “Fellatio by fruit bats prolongs copulation time” I feel piss. Not only,  those research as been funded by public money, also  the journal get pay for publish a often dispensable research.Then, Plos ONE is taking advantage of the necessity of publish? Is this journal a new business model more than an academic model?  In addition, I afraid, this model can be exploited to artificially increase the number of papers of some authors, sending just cancelled projects, or one week projects with no aim at all. Just long hanger fruits that will increase is publish record to increase the chances of get a new grant. Recently, the impact factor of Plos ONE is decrassing, thus looks like this can be a general believe. However,  there is no dubt, this model is a very profitable model and other journals are planning to start apply  the same approach.


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