Sanjay Srivastava blogged some interesting thoughts about the process of post-publication peer review (PPPR), reflecting about his own comment on a PLOS ONE publication. I agree that open peer commentaries after publication are one important part of the future of scientific publishing. There were many cases where I wished to have the opportunity to publish such a commentary. In one case, I actually wrote a commentary on a paper published in Management Science – a strange story about managers, age, and testosterone, which received a lot of press coverage. I submitted it as a commentary to the journal, but it was rejected because of “lack of new results”. Now my commentary rests on SSRN and has been downloaded 5 times in 10 months – yippee-yeah! (probably 3 of these 5 are by myself …). But as SSRN does not allow peer commentaries I could not set a link from the original paper to my comment, and nobody finds it.
Other fields of science additionally established a pre-publication open peer review (also called the “pre-print culture”). Many researchers in mathematics or physics publish their preprints on arXiv and harvest open peer commentaries before submitting the manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal.
I believe devoutly that open PrePPR and PostPPR can significantly improve the quality of scientific output. But one crucial requirement indeed is etiquette, as Sanjay pointed out. I don’t want to see shitstorms coming over scientific articles, especially in the case of young scholars who worked hard to get their first paper published. Comments should be written in the spirit of a collaborative enhancement of research, and less in terms of “debunking”. We all are humans and mistakes can occur. Problems should be pointed out in order to strengthen scientific research, but in a friendly and constructive manner.
Researchers who conceive of science as a highly competitive business where claims have to be fortified and defended might have problems with open peer reviews (e.g., the escalation of the “Bargh rampage” ). But if we see science as a collaborative endeavour in search for knowledge, where no model is “right” but only “less wrong”, open peer reviews can be a very helpful tool.
Some further readings:
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