I served as a PLOS ONE academic editor for roughly two years and handled a variety of papers.  This all worked very well and I helped a range of papers of varying quality and importance get published in that time period – crucially all of them meeting the publication criteria.  All good.

The problem started when I submitted a paper from my group, one which I know from experience meets all of the PLOS ONE publication criteria.  Here is what happened.

  1. 24/10/2012 – paper submitted
  2. 06/12/2012 – paper rejected based on a single 155 word review, from a reviewer who seemed to miss the point
  3. 07/12/2012 – appeal submitted by me including 917 word rebuttal letter
  4. 10/01/2013 – paper finally enters the appeals process after journal admits original academic editor has not responded to emails
  5. 07/02/2013 – the PLOS ONE appeals process uses two academic editors. After being chased up, the journal admits one of the editors has sumitted comments but the other hasn’t
  6. 04/03/2013 – again after following up, the journal tells me the decision is to send the paper out for review
  7. 04/03/2013 – I retract the paper and resign as academic editor

My main issues were these:

  1. 6 weeks to get from submission to a single, short, poor review is not acceptable for what PLOS are trying to achieve. I’m sorry but a paper deserves more than 155 words as a review.
  2. How does it take 4 weeks for PLOS to decide to start the review process? (see point 3 below)
  3. How is it acceptable for the original academic editor to simply ignore requests by PLOS for a response?
  4. Why did it take almost two months for two academic editors to decide that they need more reviews?! I don’t mind more reviews, but why take 2 months to decide they are needed?

The whole process was a farce, and ultimately, it confirmed to me that PLOS actually have no control over the editorial process at PLOS ONE, which leads to completely different standards being applied by different editors and reviewers. It also can lead to cases like mine, which PLOS even admitted was completely unacceptable.

This may read like sour grapes, but our paper was published in a different journal and we are happy with that. What made me angry was the shoddy way in which our paper was treated. I’m currently editor for a range of open access journals that I still believe in – I just don’t believe in PLOS ONE any more.