To kick off our series of interviews with PLoS ONE Editiorial Board Members, I started with a phone call to one of our longer standing Academic Editors – Ivan Baxter, who is currently the Section Editor covering Plant Biology. Ivan is a Senior Research Associate at the Bindley Bioscience Center at Purdue University.
PB. I’d like to start with a bit more detail on your scientific background.
IB. I am a computationally oriented plant biologist and I am interested in how plants interact with their environment to regulate the mineral content of their tissues. I’ve been doing plant biology for 8 years now; looking at mineral nutrition for the last four, and before that I was working on ion transporters. Before getting into plants, I worked on RNA biochemistry. I am currently the Plant Biology Section Editor for PLoS ONE in addition to being an Academic Editor and I have been on the PLoS One Editorial Board since the summer of 2006.
PB. What was it that attracted you to PLoS ONE in the first place?
IB. I liked the fact that we don’t worry about trying to define what is significant – that attracted me right from the start as I’ve always felt that was extremely arbitrary. I’ve always been excited about the whole idea of Open Access, and another strong feature that attracted me to PLoS ONE was the fact that you can make the paper as long as you wanted as long as it is good and cohesive.
PB. How does the peer-review process on PLoS ONE work?
IB. Since joining the Board, I have also acted as a reviewer for three of the top plant journals, and the review process is similar at all of those journals. A paper is submitted to PLoS ONE and the PLoS Editorial team review it for formatting and quality control issues. Then they work to find an Academic Editor, frequently, this involves a section editor like myself. As a working plant biologist, I am able to identify which of the 15+ (and growing) plant researchers on the editorial board is the best match for the paper. Our plant biology editors span a wide variety of disciplines within plant biology and are located on five continents. Once a board member agrees to review a paper they also accept responsibility for ensuring the quality of the manuscript if it is going to be published in PLoS ONE.
PB. What is the standard of peer-review on PLoS ONE?
IB. The standards that we apply to papers are the same as I apply as a reviewer at other plant journals, with one major exception. We look for papers that present primary research that has been conducted to a high technical standard where the conclusions are supported by the experiments. We also, of course, insist that the experiments are conducted in an ethical manner, that the underlying data has been deposited in the appropriate repository, and that the writing is intelligible. What we don't do is apply an arbitrary significance standard (i.e. this paper is in the top 27.465% of those in its field), which is a highly subjective judgment. As a result of our strict standards, most papers are either rejected or returned to the authors for revisions. Some of the revisions end up as de facto rejections if the authors are not able to correct the identified deficiencies. However, a majority will be published after the authors address the reviewers’ comments and concerns. Like the review process at other journals, the review process at PLoS ONE improves the quality of the papers that we publish, however since we will publish any paper that meets our standards, authors know they won't have to go through multiple rounds of reformatting and revision to resubmit to multiple journals.
PB How quickly does this process move?
IB. Regarding the speed of our processes, I think we are as good as any journal I know of, if not better and that overall it moves faster than anywhere else. I think we have established a different process and that it is good and rigorous.
PB. What’s the general quality of submissions like?
IB. I also think that in general we are getting very good quality submissions. Obviously there is a range, but I have handled several papers which I feel could have been published in the top journals in my field and for whatever reason were not.
PB. Why do you think so many scientists submit to PLoS ONE?
IB. I feel that these papers come to PLoS ONE because of the speed, but also the fact that if an author is confident that their science is good then they should feel that there is no reason why their paper would not be published in PLoS ONE. That is very reassuring because at most other journals you go to, you can persuade the reviewers to agree that the paper is correct and still even after making all their corrections they may come back to you and say that is it “not quite right for our journal”. We are never going to say that, so if you go to PLoS ONE and you are confident that your science is good then you can be confident that you will be published. You may be wrong, of course, and you will find that out through our review process, however the knowledge that you’re not going to have to reformat, resubmit to multiple journals is very attractive to people.
If you think that you have the skills and expertise to join the Editorial Board of PLoS ONE, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you want to experience this process for yourself, please send us your work.