I seem to have been doing a good job of riding the cultural zeitgeist with a recent blog posting, as there have been several writers who have voiced their opinions on their blogs on the subject of reader comments on journal articles. These thoughtful posts are particularly helpful, as I’m giving a talk at a regional Society for Developmental Biology meeting later this month on the subject of online tools and whether any of them are useful. The comments on my earlier talk have been very helpful as well, pointing me toward some great sites like GoPubMed and EpiSpider. I think these mashup sorts of sites, accumulators of information from a variety of sources show great potential. The problem of “I can’t keep up with the literature” is a serious one that Web 2.0 (or whatever you choose to call it) offers relief from. This is certainly a more promising area than yet another “Myspace for scientists” or another Digg clone.

On the subject of readers not leaving comments on papers:
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The Nature Neuroscience blog addresses the subject, and there’s a particularly insightful comment from one of the readers. He brings up the question of efficiency. For a methods journal like CSH Protocols, this is key. Are you going to put your experiments on hold for a few weeks hoping some stranger will post an answer to your technical question? Or are you going to take the bull by the horns and find a person directly who can give you your answer? Also here, Bora from PLOS notes that commenting is slowly increasing in their journals. PLOS journals may not be a great measure of the general scientific community though, as the PLOS community is one that is committed to the cause of open communication between scientists and is a group willing to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak. But it’s a good sign, regardless.

One of Nature’s web publishers agrees that the real issue is a lack of incentive for posting comments. The article also points out the hoops one must jump through to comment on a paper, which gets to my earlier point about lowering the barriers to entry. Reading this article I had the revelation that perhaps one reason we see so few comments is that the vast majority of papers are read as PDF files. Once you’ve downloaded a PDF, you’d have to be pretty motivated to take the time to go back to the journal article online just to leave a comment.

The JOVE journal asks similar questions as well. They don’t have to worry as much about the PDF issues mentioned above, as their video content is meant to be viewed online. Definitely an advantage, having commenters right where they need to be.

On a side note, Michael Kuhn’s blog talks about how he hasn’t really seen much benefit in using CiteULike and is now switching to a non-web method of organizing his references, Papers.

One of the benefits of blogging that I didn’t mention earlier is that it can serve as an external memory, a great place for me to keep track of material that I want to re-read and think about more (and incorporate into further talks on this subject). In a few weeks. I’ll post Version 2.0 of this talk online. It’ll be new and improved, and this time it’s going to be addressed to a group of researchers, rather than an audience of publishers.