Editor’s note: As we continue to invite bloggers out there in the wild to compose our monthly Blogroll column, François-Xavier Coudert penned the May 2015 column.
Post-publication peer review is a reality, so what should the rules be?
Scientific discussions about published papers, which used to take place in lab meetings or over coffee at conferences, now also happen on blogs (especially in their comment sections), discussion boards and Twitter. Websites such as PubPeer and BioMed Central host or aggregate these discussions, but the standards and etiquette of modern post-publication peer review remain to be codified.
One question is that of anonymity. As Dave Fernig discusses at Ferniglab Blog, anonymous comments are typically associated with negativity, rather than constructive engagement. Nevertheless, Fernig argues the case for anonymity, stating that without it the academics with the least power (for example, early-career researchers) would not be able to speak their mind.
However, allowing anonymity or failing to verify identities can lead to dirty tactics. Julian Stirling shares on PhysicsFocus his first-hand experience of identity theft and sock-puppetry (multiple accounts used by a single person) from comments on his recent paper in PLoS ONE. This question of anonymity in post-publication peer review also has legal ramifications. Alison McCook, at Retraction Watch, reports that PubPeer was allowed by a US Circuit Court judge in Wayne County, Michigan to protect the anonymity of its commenters in relation to a lawsuit brought by a scientist aggrieved at the treatment of his papers on the site.
Finally, Philip Moriarty experimented, at the Winnower, with post-proposal peer review, posting online for discussion a freshly submitted grant proposal to the UK’s EPSRC. So far, the concept has attracted more comments than the proposal itself. Maybe this was fated, being the first of its kind?