Saturday, July 19, 2014

PLOS Blogger Calls Out PLOS ONE Journal

This is an interesting story - a PLOS blogger offers a powerful critique of a high profile PLOS ONE article that is little more than junk science. John Grohol of Psych Central offers a nice overview of the situation, including some good observations around peer review standards and the editorial process.

It's good to see that Coyne is not so afraid of criticizing his publisher's mistakes that he kept quiet.

PLOS Blogger Calls Out PLOS ONE Journal — Huh?

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
July 15, 2014

We’re living in strange times.

You don’t have to look any further than this lengthy critique of a recent journal article.

The critique appears on a Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog called Mind the Brain penned by James Coyne, PhD. Coyne is a well-published and diverse researcher himself, so he knows bad research when he sees — or smells — it.

The journal article being critiqued?

Something that was published by PLOS itself in its premiere open-access journal, PLOS ONE.

I guess the disconnect for me is that there is literally thousands of words of critique expended here on this journal article. And not just by Coyne, but also by the anonymous Neurocritic. Coyne expends over 3,000 words in this blog entry alone, and another 1,500 words critiquing the press release alone on this study on his own blog. Coyne is both brilliant and extensive in his critique; his review is worth the read.

The article under critique is only 5,500 some odd words. So nearly as much writing has been put into bashing this poor-quality study than it took to actually write it. This isn’t the first time Coyne has written something that may be a little uncomfortable for his publishers.1

Don’t get me wrong — it is, in my opinion, a very poor study. It deserved never to have been published (something I suspect that at least 20 percent of modern psychological research deserves).

But it’s both odd and awesome to see a blogger calling out the problems of a study published by the blogger’s own publisher. Odd in the sense of, “Wait a minute… Isn’t there a better way to do this? Shouldn’t we be leveraging these brilliant bloggers earlier on in the process, instead of conducting extensive post-hoc analyses?”

In my opinion, it suggests a serious disconnect — and lack of serious review by PLOS ONE. After all, PLOS ONE does have editorial standards.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to employ such bloggers as reviewers in your system, to ensure junk science such as this study never sees the light of day?

We hope the publishers at PLOS are listening. Because the best way to stop bad science in its tracks is to refuse to publish it in the first place. As PLOS ONE becomes a repository of anything with “data” in it, it loses its impact and importance. And indeed, PLOS is apparently losing its impact factor, and new journal submissions appear to be down as well.

There’s got to be a better way. Perhaps PLOS ONE is simply not immune to the crap research being regularly published by some of the world’s most prestigious journals, ranging from Pediatrics to Science to the Lancet. Or perhaps this sort of episode demonstrates the fatal flaws in the current review system, where reviewers seemingly have little incentive to reject bad research.

Read the full critique: Neurobalm: the pseudo-neuroscience of couples therapy

  1. He discontinued his blog — or his blog was discontinued for him — at Psychology Today over a dispute about the title of a blog entry he wrote. []

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