First Day at PloS

I Support the Public Library of ScienceThis post has been written in advance and scheduled for automatic posting. At the time this post shows up, I’ll be sleeping my first night in San Francisco. A few hours later, I’ll be at PLoS offices and will hopefully have online access soon after so I can post my first impressions.
As most of you probably know, I got a job as an Online Community Coordinator at PLoS ONE. Today is my first day at the job! I got the job in an unusual way as well – by posting about it on my blog (and the managing editor posting a comment “Is this a formal application?”). The rest is, as they say, history. To make this post shorter, I have blogged about the job before, about the way I got the job, and some of my thoughts about what I want to do with it, so check out the relevant posts:
I Want This Job!
Update on ‘I Want This Job’
Off to SF
Back from SF
It’s Official
While my CV and the cover letter were fine, what really got me the job were my blog commenters! That is: YOU! You demonstrated my ability to build an online community better than any Resume can reveal. Although, to be fair, it took me three years to build this community and now I have three months to build one on PLoS! So, I need your help and I am unabashedly begging for it.
So, my #1 goal (and there are other coooool goals I’ll tell you about later) is to dramatically increase the number of comments and annotations on the PLoS ONE papers, without compromising their quality. I have many ideas how to go about it, and so do the other members of the PLoS team, but I am always interested in hearing others (comments section of this post is a perfect place for just such ideas you may have).
For the time being, I will start with raising quantity first, i.e., trying to grow some numbers, e.g., overall traffic, number of return visitors, time spent on site, pageview/visit ratio, etc., building a critical mass until it reaches a threshold at which I will have to also deal with quality (you know the rule on blogs – more comments there are, lower the level of discourse).
Scientists are generally shy about posting stuff online, but a growing number of science bloggers shows that it is possible for them to change their habits! Please help me in that difficult task 😉 After all, you are the ones who are comfortable commenting – so if you set the example and start posting comments, the more reluctant scientists will hopefully follow suit.
As you are aware of, commenting is a positive feedback loop. If you go to a blog post (or a PLoS ONE paper) and see “0 comments” you are unlikely to be the first one to comment (but you are still more likely to do so than a scientist with no experience on blogs whatsoever!). But if you see “3 comments” or “7 comments” or “35 comments” you will be curious and you will click to see what others are saying. By the time you are done reading through the comments, you are already deeply involved and thus much more likely to decide to post a comment of your own (especially if you disagree with some statement there).
While scientists are secretive and shy by training, they are still people. The non-blogging scientists may have very high thresholds, but they do have thresholds! If they see a number of comments there and see something erroneous posted there, they will post a rebuttal, I hope. I need you – the bloggers – to bring the commenting threads up to the threshold levels at which non-blogging scientists will start kicking in. Then, hopefully, there will be a snowball effect and over the long run the growth of commenting will become organic (i.e., I will not need to bug you about this any more).
Here are some broad ideas about Science 2.0 I have (and I will give you particulars on what PLoS-ONE will do in the near future in later posts):
PLoS 500
Science 2.0
Nature Precedings
I will keep using my own blog as part of my toolkit at the job (subscribe/blogroll/bookmark it if you want so you can see the updates here as soon as I post them) and updates will appear here on my blog (and on the PLoS Blog as well). No, this does not mean I will quit blogging about other topics!
What should you expect me to ask/tell you in future job-related posts?
Usually, I will ask you to go to a particular page on PLoS site and do one or more of the following:
– take a look at the visual/psychological effect of the changes we made to the site and give me feedback about it
– test a new application we introduced on the site and let me know how it works and how it can be improved
– post a comment or annotation yourself (on a specific paper, or a paper of your own choice)
– ask the readers of your blog/website/newsgroup/mailing-list to do some of the above.
It’s all voluntary, of course. Do it if you feel like it, and are comfortable doing it, and have time, and are in just the right mood at the time…
Although, heed Orli’s words: “…as we all know, saying no to Bora means courting bad karma…” 😉
In order for you to be able to do this, i.e., to be able to compare the ‘before’ and ‘after’, I’d like you (and your readers) to go over the next few days and familarize yourself with PLoS ONE, its look and feel.
Also, you may want to get more familiar with PLoS as a whole, with all of its journals and with the principle of Open Access.
It will also be helpful if you register for the site, subscribe to RSS feeds of journals, and to e-mail notifications of new articles.
You can also help me if you use some of these ready-made PR materials (cool banners for your sidebars!) and here are some other ideas of the ways you can help.
You can join the PLoS group and PLoS cause on Facebook and invite all your ‘friends’ to join. On another social network? Start a support group yourself there!
One of the first things I am going to do is try to breathe new life into the PLoS Blog and make it a pretty central (and more frequently updated) spot on the site. As Technorati annual reports found out, it is not the age or quality that determines which blogs are popular and highly ranked, but the frequency and regularity of posting. This may also require some re-design. So, it is not a bad idea for you to subscribe to its feed and to check in regularly and post comments. Linking to its posts or placing them on services like digg, delicious, stumbleupon and redditt will also be appreciated.
Finally, go to the Sandbox and try your hand at annotations and comments before you do it on a real paper. Once you are comfortable with the process, find papers in your area of expertise and post a comment – it does not need to be very detailed (or a criticism of the work!). Authors will appreciate it if you tell them that you like the paper in 1-2 nice short sentences as well.
Oh, almost forgot – think about publishing your papers in PLoS-ONE. The average time between submission and publication is 19 days! More than 500 papers have already been published and several are added every week. And you get feedback from colleagues and your paper is likely to be cited more than if it was behind a pay wall. As long as it is good science and well written, it is acceptable. It does not need to be Earth-shaking, revolutionary stuff that goes to Science or Nature (though that is certainly acceptable!). It does not need to be of ‘general interest’ either – a very specialized paper is fine. Also, while currently most of the papers are in the biology/genetics/medicine areas, the journal takes anything from math to archaeology so please help us become more diverse!
Oh, another thing – if you are in Bay Area (San Francisco, California, USA) during July and would like to meet me in person, let me know.
Oh, and tell your friends…

15 responses to “First Day at PloS

  1. OK
    #1 – congrats on starting at PLoS One. As an enthusiastic PLoS supporter and editorial board member I am excited about you coming on board and will do whatever I can to help.
    #2 – Since you like blog comments I had to get this one in. You say
    “As long as it is good science and well written, it is acceptable. It does not need to be Earth-shaking, revolutionary stuff that goes to Science or Nature (though that is certainly acceptable!).”
    Ooh — icky icky icky. Your earth shattering papers should go to PLoS Biology if they are in Biology and should go somewhere else if they are in other field because Science and Nature are NOT open access.

  2. Jonathan – you beat me to it — As a Senior Editor on PLoS Biology we definitely want those earth shattering papers first. Some papers in Nature (and Science) are freely available on publication (e.g. genome sequence papers etc), where they have made a deal with the authors or funders but don’t be fooled by any terms of open access that are used. Free access is not open access and the copyright of these papers lies with Nature rather than the authors. Importantly, they do not allow derivative use. For more see Chris Surridge’s recent PloS BLog (and an upcoming PloS Biol editorial).
    Welcome again Bora – and looking forward

  3. Well, if you have a manuscript that your dinosaur colleagues think should go to ‘Science’, think again and submit to one of the PLoS journals instead – that is what I tried to say a little bit more diplomatically so the sarcasm did not show as well as I hoped for 😉

  4. Sorry – missed the sarcasm. Silly me.

  5. PhysioProf

    “While scientists are secretive and shy by training, they are still people.”
    On a more serious note, I think a major obstacle to greater participation by scientists in on-line commenting is the absence of a mechanism for quantifying the impact of such participation in a way that allows for the attribution of credit. And, in particular, what is missing is academic credit for such activities that is recognized by tenure and grant review panels.

  6. Well, I agree that we need to do more to change the grant and tenure review systems, but I think some of the blame needs to rest with the scientists too. If scientists only do things if they get some $$$ or promotion for it, we are all lost.

  7. “While scientists are secretive and shy by training…”
    Do you have data to support this, or are you just being abusive for the heck of it? And do you think the insults are going to increase the rate at which scientists submit papers and/or comments to PLoS?

  8. I followed a link from dKos, so this is this scientist’s first comment (here).
    The premise of PloS is great. All science, open source. In looking at the list of journals though, I note that science seems to begin and end with biology (and its various sub-specialties). No physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, etc.
    Perhaps chemists are more secretive and shy than biologists?
    Regardless, good luck.

  9. Yes, I went to PloS a while back (came here also from dKos just now) and, although I do have my BS in zoology, my work is primarily environmental geochemistry with regard to surface water, soils and ground water and the interactions of contaminants in those milieus. So some geology, chemistry, environmental science, etc., would go a long way towards piquing my interest. There is no way to disassociate these areas from biology anyway, so perhaps initially there could be some integration of these types of topics into PloS due to their impacts on the biosphere?

  10. I have much the same issue as ChemBob–there is very little physical science represented on the site. Without signs that PLoS wants to cover more areas than biomedical sciences, it’s not going to make much inroads.
    Also, until there are some “big” papers in the field–and it gets archived in Web of Science and other scientific search engines–not many scientists will be inclined to publish there. This is especially true of junior faculty, who are trying to build their reputations with high-impact publications in quality journals.

  11. I think it’s a valid concern that junior faculty in traditional career tracks will be looking very carefully to maximize the “respectability” (I don’t mean that as a negative thing at all) of their publication record, but I think science is fairly diversified as far as where people are at career-wise.
    To use myself as an example, I’m a M.S. biology student and have not necessarily decided on research science as a career track. That said, I’m proud of the work I’m doing and my biggest concern is seeing it disseminated into the broader peer-reviewed community. I’m looking hard at open-access journals because it seems like there is more potential there for me to release my work, and explore the whole “paper writing/publishing” part of science, in a way that is more compatible with the timeline of a Master’s degree.
    That’s also not to say PLoS isn’t a great venue for experienced researchers. My other comment on the viability of PLoS is that in developing my cell biology project I’m using PubMed and Google Scholar to collect references, as long as stuff is indexed there then I’m likely to see it, and if it’s relevent to my interests I’ll be giving it the same critical evaluation regardless of what journal it originates in.
    Just a few thoughts, I’m interested in learning more about PLoS ONE and will check out the site.

  12. I think its unfair to criticize ‘If scientists only do things if they get some $$$ or promotion for it, we are all lost.’ Promotion in academic science is not trivial – its the life or death of your career! It takes at least 15 years of your life preparing for this career (4 year undergrad, 5 year Ph.D., 6 year pre-tenure Assistant Professor). No tenure = you are fired. Game over. You bet you’re going to make sure that your work has the highest possible impact – which means that it goes to the very best, most selective journals. PLoS may have high editing standards (I don’t know – I am not a biologist) but this is only the start. PLoS has to work to obtain a solid reputation in order to compete to attract scientists’ best efforts. Open access is great, but lets not pretend that this alone is enough to compete with Science and Nature.

  13. Mike, that’s a valid point, but let’s talk about evolution for a second.
    New environment: open access journals that complement/ compete with traditional ones.
    Same objective: tenure.
    New adaptation strategies: some entrepreneurial non-tenured scientists will figure out ways to leverage this new medium, both from the publication and commenting angles. After all, we are competing for attention, and PLoS provides new opportunities. Bora and the PLoS staff are offering some suggestions-and we’ll see in real time how this evolves.

  14. The phrase “scientists are shy” is a sarcasm. This is a blog, after all, and I am a scientist who is, quite obviously, not shy 😉
    I think Alvaro hit the nail on the head in the comment above.
    Stay tuned – there must be patience: not every idea can be implemented at a moments’ notice! But we are listening carefully to what the scientists are saying and asking for and will use that to make PLoS better over time.

  15. I agree with Mike Oskin and others that tenure and review in all kinds is critical for academic scientists and because I believe in OA publishing I am personally working to have tenure and grant review give credit for OA publishing. But it is sad to me that some scientists consider every action in the light of whether it will help or hurt with getting tenure.
    I worked for 8+ years at a research institute (TIGR) with no tenure system and where I had an at will appointment. I could have been terminated basically at any time. And I still managed to do my research and contribute to science. Tenure is a nice thing when you can get it. But it should not be the driver behind what we do.