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Comment from PLoS

Posted by DPattinson on 30 Sep 2010 at 23:06 GMT

There has been much discussion of the article by Drews and Han both on the PLoS site itself and elsewhere. Importantly, the scientific rigour of the work has not been questioned. The submission was subject to the usual peer review process in PLoS ONE, and was assessed by two relevant experts, in addition to the academic editor, against the criteria for publication in PLoS ONE.

We recognise, however, that this article has aroused strong passions, because of its reference to events described in the Exodus story. The critical issue at the centre of the discussion is that several of the people who have commented feel that the article should not have been published because of the way the research question is framed, and because of the (fully disclosed) competing interests of the author, quoted here: “The lead author has a web site,, that addresses Christian faith and biological evolution. The Red Sea crossing is mentioned there briefly. The present study treats the Exodus 14 narrative as an interesting and ancient story of uncertain origin.”

This context for the article has been discussed widely now, and in our minds, the discussion is a good example of ‘post-publication’ peer review in action. In light of this public discussion we have also discussed the matter widely amongst the editors at PLoS, and although we recognize there are those who will not agree with our decision, we do not feel that there are any grounds to retract or formally correct the article. As with many research articles, it could certainly be argued that the work could have been framed, interpreted and discussed differently (and perhaps better), and we therefore welcome the discussion that is taking place.

Although we do not feel that any further action is necessary at this stage regarding this article, there are lessons that we can learn from the reaction to this article (and to other recent articles that have generated criticism).

We have a rigorous editorial process at PLoS ONE which currently handles around 1,500 papers per month across a huge breadth of subjects. One of the steps that all articles undergo at the very beginning of the editorial process is a ‘screen’ by professional editors, as well as a detailed quality check for adherence to PLoS editorial policies. During this step, we look for articles that might be problematic in some way (for example, because of competing interests or funding information) or, on the other hand, that might be particularly important and in the public interest. Authors are frequently contacted for further information and clarification and, occasionally, articles do not pass this particular hurdle and have to be rejected before they are assigned to an Academic Editor. We also flag articles that might need additional editorial scrutiny, such as those describing the results of clinical trials to ensure that they receive the necessary statistical review, as well as articles that might prove to be controversial if published. Once the articles are assigned to academic editors, we rarely intervene in the peer-review process but we provide as much support to the editors as we can, and we will redouble our efforts to do this in future, so that we can ensure that all articles, especially controversial ones, are presented as clearly and accurately as possible.

PLoS ONE is run by the broader academic community, using a distributed editorial model whereby individual academic editors take responsibility for specific editorial decisions. Our responsibility at PLoS is to support this fantastic community effort to ensure the integrity and rigour of the content that we are publishing. This year, the journal is set to publish around 7,500 articles and become the largest peer-reviewed publication in the world. It is inevitable that PLoS ONE will publish articles that occasionally touch on controversial topics. We believe that such articles should be published after appropriate editorial quality control and, after publication, should be subject to vigorous, constructive and transparent debate.

Competing interests declared: I am the Executive Editor of PLoS ONE