Archive for: February, 2014

PLoS done got it wrong

Feb 25 2014 Published by under Careers

So PLoS has this new data sharing policy. It's, at best, heavy handed and misguided. There are many reasons for this, but I'm going to focus on a practical issue.

They don't have community buy in.

Seriously, they don't. Sure there are plenty of people who are all open access, all the time. I get that, I really do. And I'm all for making my data freely available. But it's not as easy as PLoS would have us all believe. It's not as simple as a publisher saying "you must do this or you can't publish in our journals." Yes, there are publishers that require data to be deposited in various databases. The Protein Data Bank (PDB) for example. Pretty much any journal that will publish a protein structure requires that the structure be deposited in the PDB before publication. And sequences need to be deposited in places like GenBank etc. etc. etc.

Here's the difference. Those databases existed before journals imposed their policies. The various communities involved realized that these things were important and established the databases BEFORE journals really got involved. There was community buy in already.

PLoS doesn't have that. The PLoS policy covers almost ALL data, much of which does not have a corresponding existing database. Not their problem? Actually, yes it is. Many people are somewhat agnostic about the whole open access thing. This new requirement is likely to result in many of them, consciously or subconsciously, deciding that publishing in PLoS is just not worth it.

And yes, I realize that PLoS isn't requiring all data to be deposited into databases. But that's the ideal isn't it? Common formats, user-friendly interfaces and all that. After all, the goal of the whole open access thing is to make it all freely and easily available to everyone, right? Right?

So what should they have done? Laid the groundwork. For a start, given everyone a lot more warning that they were going this route. At least a year. Two would have been better. Time for people to process what this all means and maybe try to do something. Then they should have worked with those sub-fields that publish regularly* in the PLoS journals to help develop needed databases. You might argue that's not their job, but if they're going to evangelize the whole open everything thing, they need to step up and shoulder some of the load they expect everyone else to carry.

But that's not the evangelist way, is it.

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* Sounds like a job for... altmetrics! Or just someone at PLoS with a decent grasp of databases. Oh wait...

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