Our authors and readers are at the heart of what we do. As a scientific journal, we are providing a service to our authors – assessing their submitted manuscripts and publishing those that are rigorously executed and report valid research. We perform these assessments objectively, without bias or focus on subjective selection criteria. Once a manuscript is published we aim to provide a good service to our wide readership, presenting rigorous scientific studies free to read and free to re-use within the framework of our Creative Commons attribution license.
Over the past year, PLOS ONE has received more than 36,000 submissions, and published about half of this volume — 17,878 Research Articles in total. Our duty as a journal is to consider each with the same care, attention and dedication to detail and level of service. This is not a small undertaking. A large team of journal staff, including 30 in-house staff editors, are assisting our Editorial Board of more than 8,600 global experts in assessing manuscripts for publication. Our Academic Editors provide invaluable, voluntary contributions to the journal towards assessing and publishing these submissions, and we are truly grateful for their dedication.
A stronger Editorial Board
As I had mentioned in a blog post last year, we embarked on an ambitious program to strengthen our Editorial Board, and to ensure that all submissions are assigned to the right Academic Editor. As part of this program, we have recruited more than 3,000 carefully vetted Academic Editors, across almost all research areas, in particular where our Editorial Board had gaps in expertise. This has strengthened the overall expertise across the Editorial Board and has improved the quality of our manuscript handling across all subject areas.
During that outreach we have seen tremendously positive feedback from the researchers that we invited to join our board. We have been delighted by the strong interest across research communities in contributing to PLOS ONE, and by their drive to be part of our mission of Open Access, non-profit publishing in the service of the academic community. Thank you all!
A faster, better service
The larger editorial board for PLOS ONE has already had a very positive impact on our operations. We have been able to match incoming submissions to our Academic Editors faster, more consistently, and also with better accuracy. The time it takes from submission to deliver a first editorial decision, either a desk rejection or decision after peer review, has reduced by nearly 20%, from a median of around 55 days in late 2017 to around 45 days at the end of 2018.
Our subject-specific in-house editorial teams have also contributed to these efforts. They have brought a stronger subject expertise to the initial screening process and policy implementations. As part of this process, desk rejects of submissions objectively not fulfilling our criteria for publication have risen by half to now 17% of incoming submissions, ensuring an overall consistency of our decisions and relieving our Editorial Board. Our acceptance rate has remained the same at around 50% of submissions, and our editorial criteria remain unchanged.
Last but not least, we are also working on achieving a faster resolution of publication ethics cases that are being brought to our attention. Those cases can require time to resolve as we are following up on each case with due process, objectively and fairly, without rushing to judgements. As outlined in a recent blog post, our dedicated Publication Ethics team is maintaining high research integrity standards. Nevertheless, despite having made progress in the past year in our management of these cases, we have also seen delays, and are actively working to resolve our cases more swiftly as part of the efforts of the work of our publication ethics team.
A stronger identity for our research communities
Throughout the coming months we are also planning to provide a stronger voice for individual research communities at the journal. For example, we are in the process of engaging more with our editorial board, across different subject sections, and are planning further activities aimed at strengthening the role of research communities at the journal. During 2018 we successfully engaged with many communities in the physical sciences and engineering, as showcased by the great multidisciplinary research published in our open quantum computing and machine learning in health and biomedicine Collections.
For the coming year, we are planning similar community engagement for the entire range of our editorial scope, with a range of call for papers planned, ranging across topics such as maternal and child health & nutrition, urban ecosystems, autophagy and proteostasis, emerging therapies in mental health, to the science of stories and many more.
We are also planning to improve the public visibility of our Academic Editors, so that authors, readers and reviewers alike have a better opportunity to identify those we rely on to contribute their scientific expertise, facilitate peer review, and curate the content for our journal. Some of these changes are part of our efforts in redesigning our journal branding, which is already implemented on our homepage.
We will also reinvigorate how we present the research that we publish to individual communities, whether it is a subject-specific study or research that spans across disciplines and is representative of our broad scope. You can access some of this through specific Collections, or our program of thematic Channels. In addition, we have several calls for papers that are active or being planned. These focus on topical research that we will subsequently highlight in dedicated collections.
We have come a long way in the past year towards improving our service to you, as author, reviewer, editor or reader of the journal. We will continue to build on those achievements, continue to improve that service, continue to innovate, and continue be an integral part of the academic community. Thank you for your continuing trust in PLOS ONE.