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Quantifying the Distribution of Editorial Power and Manuscript Decision Bias at the Mega-Journal PLOS ONE

25 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2017  

Alexander Michael Petersen

University of California Merced, Ernest and Julio Gallo Management Program

Date Written: January 9, 2017

Abstract

We analyzed the longitudinal activity of nearly 7,000 editors at the mega-journal PLOS ONE over the 10-year period 2006-2015. Using the article-editor associations, we develop editor-specific measures of power, activity, article acceptance time, citation impact, and editorial renumeration (an analogue to self-citation). We observe remarkably high levels of power inequality among the PLOS ONE editors, with the top-10 editors responsible for 3,366 articles - corresponding to 2.4% of the 141,986 articles we analyzed; the Gini-index of this power distribution is 0.583, which is comparable to some of the highest wealth-inequalities in the world. Such high inequality levels suggest the presence of unintended incentives, which may reinforce unethical behavior in the form of decision-level biases at the editorial level. Due to the size and complexity associated with managing such a large mega-journal, our results indicate that editors may become apathetic in judging the quality of articles and susceptible to modes of power-driven misconduct. We used the longitudinal dimension of editor activity to develop two panel regression models which test and verify the presence of editor-level bias. In both models we clustered the articles within each editor’s profile and used editor fixed-effects to isolate the individual-level trends over time: in the first model we analyzed the citation impact of articles, and in the second model we modeled the decision time between an article being submitted and ultimately accepted by the editor. We focused on two variables that represent social factors that capture potential conflicts-of-interest: (i) we accounted for the social ties between editors and authors by developing a measure of repeat authorship among an editor’s article set, and (ii) we accounted for the rate of citations directed towards the editor’s own publications in the reference list of each article he/she oversaw. Our results indicate that these two factors play a significant role in the editorial decision process, pointing to the misuse of power. Moreover, these two effects appear to increase with editor age, which is consistent with behavioral studies concerning the evolution of misbehavior and response to temptation in power- driven environments. And finally, we analyze “editor renumeration” – the number of citations one might receive by adapting biases towards certain scientific peers as well as self-citations from scientific strangers. By applying quantitative evaluation to the gatekeepers of scientific knowledge, we shed light on various issues crucial to science policy, and in particular, the management of large megajournals.

Keywords: Mega-journal, Power inequality, Review process, Editorial service, Science of science, Journal management

JEL Classification: C23, C54, C55, D63, M14

Suggested Citation

Petersen, Alexander Michael, Quantifying the Distribution of Editorial Power and Manuscript Decision Bias at the Mega-Journal PLOS ONE (January 9, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2901272

Alexander Michael Petersen (Contact Author)

University of California Merced, Ernest and Julio Gallo Management Program ( email )

School of Engineering
Science & Engineering 2, Suite 315
Merced, CA 95343
United States

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