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Peering into the future: A vision for the next 15 years of PLOS ONE

When PLOS ONE launched in 2006, few could have predicted where the journal would be fifteen years later. In a previous blog post we pondered the history of PLOS ONE: how it started, how it grew and evolved, and the ways that it has supported PLOS’ mission to transform research communication. Here, Suzanne Farley, the Editorial Director at PLOS, and Emily Chenette, the Editor-in-Chief of PLOS ONE, share their perspectives on the future of PLOS and how they would like to see PLOS ONE evolve over the next fifteen years.

Focusing on communities

Communities have always been the heart of PLOS. In their 2000 open letter that formed the nucleus of PLOS, Harold Varmus, Patrick Brown and Michael Eisen proposed the idea of an online public library that would “catalyze integration of the disparate communities of knowledge and ideas”. As PLOS evolves, our communities will remain our lodestone. We will work with researchers to co-develop solutions that address needs that they have identified. The recent integration of Dryad into the PLOS Pathogens submission system, and the inclusion in global research policy, are two recent examples of the approaches we will take. 

We will also build bridges to new communities to advance Open Science. PLOS’ new journals were launched to bring openness and transparency to globally important issues in healthcare and environmental science, and future initiatives will address equally pressing societal concerns. Whether through additional journals, new policies, or other solutions, we’ll continue to engage with researchers around the world and across disciplines to develop open research practices that facilitate knowledge sharing. 

We will continue supporting the community of Academic Editors, reviewers and authors that comprise PLOS. By focusing on efficiency and author service, we will ensure that PLOS ONE always offers rapid, constructive review of all manuscripts submitted to the journal. We will expand our editorial board to capture diverse perspectives in peer review, which also supports our ongoing efforts to reduce bias in publishing. We will work more closely with our Section Editors so that they are empowered to represent PLOS ONE in their communities and bring feedback, fresh perspectives and new ideas to the journal. 

Embracing innovation

Over the longer term, PLOS will continue to deliver on its mission to transform research communication through cycles of innovation and interrogation, to determine what has worked and what hasn’t. Importantly, we will pursue just those initiatives that have real community support, which means really listening to our authors, readers, editors and reviewers as we experiment and push the boundaries of Open Science. 

High on our list of priorities is finding new ways to make the review and publication process more efficient. This might mean working with other publishers to support broad-scale portable peer review, where authors would be free to transfer reviewers’ comments between journals and publishers. Supporting portable peer review can help address concerns about reviewer fatigue and redundancy that arise when inviting the same pool of reviewers to review the same manuscript as it is submitted to different journals. We might explore open peer review, where reviewers’ comments and Academic Editors’ decisions are posted to an existing preprint, and the manuscript is formally published once all concerns have been addressed. A system such as this supports early access to knowledge and an open discussion of a study’s strengths and limitations. 

We will also investigate the possibility of bringing automated tools into the editorial screening process to ensure that all published papers comply with PLOS ONE policies – not in a way that replaces experts with algorithms, but instead focuses attention on critical aspects of the manuscript. One example would be a tool that highlights potential areas of concern in research ethics or figure preparation so that the journal team can work with authors to resolve potential issues before a manuscript is sent to peer review. 

We’d also like to consider how we can reduce redundancy in research. Data sharing is key to achieving this, and PLOS has long required that all relevant data supporting a study’s conclusions be shared at the time of publication. However, we can do more to enhance the visibility and usability of data published in PLOS ONE. This may mean making datasets interactive, developing closer links with data repositories, and other solutions that foster reuse. We may also move away from the idea that a published paper represents the final research output. There are all sorts of opportunities for innovation here, including live lab notebooks or other forms of preregistration, and publication of datasets as soon as they are produced.

Driving positive change

We will progress through these cycles of innovation with our communities as our partners. PLOS aims for transparency in all it does, so we will ensure that we have community support for new projects and will share insights into how we’ve decided to support or sunset new initiatives along the way. By being open about decision making, we hope to bring additional insight and feedback into how we publish high-quality content, and therefore increase accountability and trust. 

As we celebrate the first 15 years of experimentation and innovation at PLOS ONE, we look forward to working with you as we continue to develop the journal to support you and your research. Thank you for being a part of this journey!

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