Interview with Cameron Neylon

Cameron Neylon

Cameron Neylon

Cameron Neylon is an Open Access advocate and Director of PLOS journals. In this interview, he speaks about the role of PLOS journals in disseminating best quality articles through a business model that transfers from readers to authors the responsibility for the payment of editorial costs, and also on the article level metrics launched by PLOS.

1 – After the passing of one week since the publication of John Bohannon’s Open Access sting paper in Science, what is your evaluation of it and its effect on scholarly communication and open access?

The so-called ‘sting’ was unfortunate. Not so much for the noise it made, although that was unfortunate, but because ultimately it was done in a way that wasn’t useful. It told us that there are dodgy publishers, which we knew, and that there were issues with selection in the DOAJ, which we knew, and have been working on.

What the study can’t tell us due to the fundamental flaws in its design is whether subscription journals are any different to OA journals and whether the business model makes any difference. It is a real shame that there was no effort made to develop a group of control journals for either subscription journals or for journals that do not charge an APC. This would have told us whether the issue is with the tensions of getting papers into a journal, and whether the business model makes any difference. Ironically, one of the journals caught in the sting is actually handled by Elsevier as a subscription journal.

2 – The business model of PLOS One, although innovative, does receive criticism, such as that of Richard Poinder (2011)¹ who considers that the model has inherent conflicts of interest (the more articles get accepted, the more revenues). How do you respond to this criticism? And does the fact that PLOS rejected Bohannon’s article help PLOS One?

Claims of conflict of interest are really a failure to understand the nature of journal publication. A journal lives or dies by its reputation in the community. It makes precisely as much sense to suggest that an APC business model means that journals will publish everything they get, as it does to suggest that a subscription journal will simply reject all papers.

For a sustainable business you need to convince authors that it is worth them submitting papers. Authors will quickly turn away if a journal publishes nothing, or if it publishes everything. Do different business models create tensions in different places? Yes. But those tensions exists across all business models. There are weak journals padding out subscription bundles, the sale of reprints by subscription journals, particularly in the medical sciences, is a real concern, and the boundary between free trade magazines funded by advertising and journals is not always clear.

There are weak subscription journals and weak open access journals. There are weak journals that charge APCs and weak journals that do not. My view is that in the long term that author-side business models are less prone to conflicts of interest because the customer, the author, will want to make sure they get good value for money.

3 – The journals of PLOS cover the areas of Science and Health. Is there any interest on the part of PLOS in the Humanities and Social Sciences?

PLOS has no current plans to publish general research in the humanities and social sciences. We do publish some quantitative social sciences and other pieces that are relevant to mission of our various journals. Our background is in the sciences and at the moment other organizations are better placed to serve the H&SS communities. I would point to Ubiquity Press, Co-Action Publishing, Open Editions, and the new project Open Library of Humanities as examples of Open Access publishing developed by scholars from those communities. Work by SCIELO, AJOL and others is also important in this space.

4 – Has the article-level metrics model, released by PLOS, gained acceptance by the academic community and decision makers in science and research as a set of legitimate metrics?

We just held the second Article Level Metrics workshop in San Francisco and had presentations from funders, institutional managers, and researchers who were all using article level and alternative metrics in their work. With initiatives like DORA and statements from many funders that they are interested in the quality of work, and not where it is published, there is clearly an appetite for change.

We are working to demonstrate that our tools offer an opportunity to support this change and we are seeing significant interest from both funders, institutions, and researchers. There is a distance to go from interest, to widespread application, but we are confident that as we see greater availability of data and more tools for its use that we will see continuing adoption.


¹ Poinder R. Open Access, and the Future of Scholarly Publishing. PLOS ONE, Open and Shut Blog. [Viewed 07 March 2011]. Available from:

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