Author : Alexander M. Petersen
Since their emergence just a decade ago, nearly 2% of scientific research is now published by megajournals, representing a major industrial shift in the production of knowledge. Such high-throughput production stresses several aspects of the publication process, including the editorial oversight of peer-review.
As the largest megajournal, PLOS ONE has relied on a single-tier editorial board comprised of ∼7000 active academics, who thereby face conflicts of interest relating to their dual roles as both producers and gatekeepers of peer-reviewed literature.
While such conflicts of interest are also a factor for editorial boards of smaller journals, little is known about how the scalability of megajournals may introduce perverse incentives for editorial service.
To address this issue, we analyzed the activity of PLOS ONE editors over the journal’s inaugural decade (2006–2015) and find highly variable activity levels. We then leverage this variation to model how editorial bias in the manuscript decision process relates to two editor-specific factors: repeated editor-author interactions and shifts in the rates of citations directed at editors – a form of citation remuneration that is analogue to self-citation.
Our results indicate significantly stronger manuscript bias among a relatively small number of extremely active editors, who also feature relatively high self-citation rates coincident in the manuscripts they handle.
These anomalous activity patterns are consistent with the perverse incentives and the temptations they offer at scale, which is theoretically grounded in the “slippery-slope” evolution of apathy and misconduct in power-driven environments.
By applying quantitative evaluation to the gatekeepers of scientific knowledge, we shed light on various ethics issues crucial to science policy – in particular, calling for more transparent and structured management of editor activity in megajournals that rely on active academics.