Monday, 30 March 2015

Why I am resigning from the PLOS ONE editorial board

Today I tendered my resignation as an Academic Editor at PLOS ONE. 

It's a slightly sad day for me. As I explained to Damian Pattinson in an email, I remain as much a supporter of the PLOS ONE mission as when I joined the editorial board over two years ago. PLOS ONE has done more than any other journal to combat publication bias and to normalise open data practices. Sure, the PLOS ONE mechanism doesn't always work perfectly, but in terms of philosophy it is light years ahead of most other journals in the social and life sciences.

The reason I'm leaving PLOS ONE isn't because they did anything wrong (although it must be said that the volume of editorial requests is unfeasibly high). Instead, the Registered Reports initiative is really starting to gain traction and I am increasingly finding myself helping other journals launching the initiative or even serving on editorial boards that are offering the format. So I have decided to focus my efforts on editing for journals that offer, or plan to offer, Registered Reports. For now, at least, PLOS ONE isn't willing or able to do so. Meanwhile, the list of adopting journals continues to grow; the latest exciting addition is Royal Society Open Science, which will be launching Registered Reports across all sciences later this year.

In the interests of transparency I should say that, for the same reason that I am leaving PLOS ONE, I also declined last week to join the editorial board of Nature Scientific Reports. Upon being invited to join their editorial board, I responded that I would be happy to do so if they would consider offering Registered Reports, and that I would be delighted to help them set up the format. I had hoped their response might be positive given the stated mission of the journal to avoid setting "a threshold of perceived importance to the papers that it publishes; rather, it publishes all papers that are judged to be technically valid." Unfortunately they responded: "We have considered venturing into the world of registered reports, but it isn’t something we’re able to get involved with right now." 

Fair enough, but then I'm afraid I can't (in good conscience) join your editorial board. A growing number of journals claim to celebrate scientific validity and transparency above the standard values (like "novelty" and "impact" of findings) -- in fact, the banner of transparency could almost be said to be in vogue right now -- but I find that the real litmus test is whether such journals are willing to accept papers before the results are known. If not then some small part of them still wants to selectively publish "good results". There is no room for fine print on the transparency banner.

What I have recently done is join the editorial board of Collabra, an interesting new open access journal being launched by the University of California Press. Collabra have agreed to offering Registered Reports and we will be updating the Open Science Framework information hub for Registered Reports as soon as there is further news. 

So - my thanks and a fond farewell to PLOS ONE. And my message to any other journals: if you want Chris Chambers on your editorial board (not that anyone really should of course!) then you need to either offer Registered Reports or plan to do so in the future. 

Trust me, you won't regret it.*


* Well, you won't regret offering Registered Reports. I, on the other hand, am an entirely different matter...