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Highly cited articles at PLOS ONE: Letting the community determine impact

Accompanying the new 10 Highly Cited Articles Collection, PLOS ONE Senior Editor, Eric Martens discusses the history of citations in the journal’s 10 year history.

PLOS ONE launched 10 years ago with an exciting and experimental premise: all work that is scientifically sound and ethically conducted deserves to be published, independent of the impact one expects it will have in the community. The core requirement is that each study contributes to the base of scientific knowledge, not that it necessarily brings prestige to the journal and authors or creates a new paradigm.

This new approach elicited skepticism and concern among some members of the scientific and publishing community. After all, one argument went, how can readers know which articles are important if they aren’t explicitly guided by journal editors and brands? Another worry was that this approach would lead a “race-to-the-bottom” in terms of article quality once subjective barriers of selectivity were removed. Why would authors submit their more influential work when this wasn’t required, or even requested, by the journal?

UntitledPerhaps these were reasonable questions at the time, but events of the past 10 years have alleviated these concerns. Rather than relying on journal editors’ accept and reject decisions to determine our reading habits, PLOS launched Article-Level Metrics to allow the behavior of the larger community to guide us. One of these metrics, citations, has long been the gold standard by which scientists formally recognize the work of their peers. Though not a direct proxy for quality, citations can certainly attest to the reach and influence of a work within the publishing community.

 Was there any legitimacy to the concern that authors would hesitate to send their most influential work to a journal that does not consider potential influence in its selection criteria? Pondering this question led us to examine some of our most highly-cited articles over the past 10 years, and we’ve placed a selection of these together in a new Collection called, fittingly, “10 Highly Cited Articles. We wanted to share a cross-section of papers from different fields across the past decade, so this is definitely not a “Top 10 list”; in fact, several of these papers are not among the 100 most-cited PLOS ONE papers.

 There was no lack of influential articles. In the end we were able to pick among hundreds of papers that have each received hundreds of citations. These covered diverse topics like disease and the microbiota (588 citations), ocean ecology (468 citations), and nanofiber scaffolds (305 citations). One article, “FastTree 2 – Approximately Maximum-Likelihood Trees for Large Alignments,” has over 1,300 citations!

 We hope you enjoy perusing these and the remaining articles as much as we enjoyed bringing them together.

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