One reason why scientists don’t comment at journals

This week, Nature announced a new online commenting facility and noted that:

Online discussions about our research papers are likely to be considerably more subdued, according to the experience of other publishers who already allow commenting.

They offer several reasons why this might be the case. Here’s one: it helps if you make it easy.

I recently attempted to comment on a paper at the website of a certain publisher. Here’s the sequence of events that unfolded:

  1. I read the paper and noticed a small error in a sample of code – specifically, a missing “[“.
  2. I clicked on the “comments” link and was asked to log in. Fortunately I had an account already.
  3. I wrote my comment, taking care to fill in all the fields, pointing out the error and the correction. I also suggested that better formatting of the code at the website would make it easier to read and copy/paste, for users wishing to try it.
  4. I was presented with a preview of my comment, which I accepted.
  5. My comment vanished. A message told me that the staff would review it and contact me.
  6. Almost two weeks passed.
  7. I received an email – yes, an email, informing me that (1) the authors had been contacted, (2) yes, the code did contain an error and (3) would I like to submit my comment again, but could I leave out the suggestion about formatting, since this was the responsibility of the PDF – yes, the PDF team, who do not follow comment threads.
  8. I tried to recall my original comment (since there was no record of it), posted it anew and replied to the email, suggesting that this was all a bit ridiculous.

Here’s what I think should happen:

  1. I post my comment. It is saved and visible to me for editing, even if not accepted immediately.
  2. The comment is moderated quickly and provided that it isn’t spam, offensive or libellous, is published.
  3. The authors are notified automatically (since the journal has their email addresses) that a comment has been posted, to which they may like to respond.

PLoS has the commenting model about right. Others – could do better.

7 thoughts on “One reason why scientists don’t comment at journals

  1. Morgan Langille

    I really detest moderated comments. The commenting system should have some reasonable spam filter so that this isn’t needed. If a comment gets through that is not desirable then it can be removed afterwords. However, I think all comments unless obvious spam or slander should be left alone.

    The whole idea of moderated comments seems not very open and makes me wonder what type of filtering is happening in the background; such as only posting positive comments.

    Considering that scientists don’t comment much on manuscripts anyway it seems even more ridiculous to have these extra barriers in the way.

  2. Yannick Wurm

    Been there.

    My experience is regarding a paper that describes QA approaches with data from the first 454 machines ( http://genomebiology.com/2007/8/7/R143 ). In November 2009, I wondered (in the form of a comment) whether some of 454’s hardware and software updates over the past three years had been addressed by Roche.

    It took one month for me to get a reply… “Your discussion posting has been rejected by the moderator as not being appropriate for inclusion on the site.”
    My attempt to ask for more details met no replies…

    very frustrating indeed….

  3. kevin

    I can understand the need for moderated comments as a blogger. The number of of legit comments is like half of spam.
    it would look bad on the journal having comments selling dubious meds.
    I think the solution to this is to put the onus of moderating the comments on the author’s.
    the web admin won’t know better if its a legit comment.
    and the implementation has to be easy. an email sent to the author’s and two links one to can the spam and another to authorise its appearance.
    simple right?

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