I have written a lot about how I think the biggest problem in science communication today is the disproportionate value we place on where papers are published when assessing the validity and import of a work of science, and the contribution of its authors.
And I have argued that the best way to change this is to develop a robust system of post publication peer review (PPPR) , in which works are assessed continuously after they are published so that flaws can be identified and corrected and so that the most credit is reserved for works that withstand the test of time.
There have been LOTS of efforts to get post-publication peer review off the ground – usually in the form of comments on a journal’s website – but these have, with few exceptions, failed to generate sustained use. There are lots of possible reasons for this – from poor implementation, to lack of interest on the part of potential discussants. However, I’ve always felt the biggest flaw was that these were on journal websites – that you had to think about where the work was published, and whether they had a commenting system, and whether you had an account, etc…
What we’ve always needed was a central place where you know you can always go to record comments on a paper you are reading, and, conversely, where you can get all of the comments other scientists have on a paper you’re reading or are interested in. There have been a couple of services that have tried to create such a system – cf PubPeer, which lets you comment on any paper in PubMed – but they have been slow to gain traction in the community.
The obvious place to build such a commenting/post publication review system has always been directly in PubMed – it has everything and everyone already uses it.
This is why I am excited – and cautiously optimistic – about a new project called PubMed Commons that will allow registered users (for now primarily NIH grantees) to post comments on any paper in PubMed, which will then appear alongside the paper when it is received in a search.
Here is how PubMed Commons describes itself:
PubMed Commons is a system that enables researchers to share their opinions about scientific publications. Researchers can comment on any publication indexed by PubMed, and read the comments of others.
PubMed Commons is a forum for open and constructive criticism and discussion of scientific issues. It will thrive with high quality interchange from the scientific community.
The system is still pretty threadbare – it only allows simply commenting, and not, for example, rating of the work – but I’ve gotten used it and it is easy to get in, comment and get out.
This is a great opportunity for us to make PPPR real. But it’s only going to work if people participate. So, if you’re an NIH grantee, and you want to see science communication improve, make a commitment to comment on a paper you’ve read at least once a week, and let’s make this thing work!!