Scientific spammer PLOS ONE is an ongoing source of amusement. Its peer review is regularly called into question, with the journal accepting unscientific papers. PLOS ONE increasingly resembles a lonely and un-selective digital repository more than a scholarly publication. Here’s a report of another PLOS ONE blooper.
Dr. Norman Sleep is a geophysicist at Stanford University. Recently, he received a spam email from PLOS ONE inviting him to conduct an ad hoc peer review of an article submitted to the journal (apparently PLOS ONE’s 5,000-member editorial board is only for show).
Here’s part of the spam email Dr. Sleep received from PLOS ONE:
From: PLOS ONE <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Reply-To: PLOS ONE <email@example.com>
Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2016 at 9:03 PM
To: Norman Sleep <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Reminder: Pending invitation to review PLOS ONE manuscript about to expire – PONE-D-16-24600 – [EMID:960690e1f258b755]
*Do not reply directly to this email. Please use the links below to accept or decline this assignment to avoid receiving automated reminders.
Dear Dr Sleep,
We are writing to follow up on your invitation from Dr. Harry Zhang to review the below manuscript, which has been submitted for publication in PLOS ONE. The Academic Editor values your expertise and would greatly appreciate your time in reviewing the submission. This invitation will time out in 24 hours, at which point you will be unable to accept the invitation and review the manuscript. Please click the “accept” link below if you would like to evaluate this submission.
Physical activity, energy expenditure, nutritional habits, quality of sleep and stress levels in shift-working health care personnel
The author list and abstract are appended below in addition to more detailed information about PLOS ONE and its editorial criteria. If you accept this assignment, you are confirming that you have no competing interests that may affect your ability to provide an objective evaluation. Our Competing Interests policy can be found at http://www.plosone.org/static/competing.action. If you have any potential competing interests, you should decline this assignment.
So, as you see, the journal solicited Dr. Sleep — a geophysicist — to peer review a manuscript about sleep, which is far outside his area of expertise but matches his surname.
This is evidence that PLOS ONE is using a flawed, automated system for selecting peer reviewers.
Publishing in PLOS ONE is easy; the journal is not very selective. Its editorial board of over five thousand members apparently doesn’t perform too many peer reviews, and the journal mainly exists to generate income to subsidize the publishing of PLOS’s specialized journals.
Appendix: A spam email from PLOS ONE I received recently.