PubMed Commons

We think that although it is off to a rocky start by being overly exclusive, PubMed Commons is a great initiative and a big step in the right direction towards effective post-publication peer review. We shall of course be following the experiment with interest.

The obvious difference with PubPeer is the lack of any anonymity. PubPeer offers three levels of anonymity: registered academics can post signed or anonymous comments, and we also host moderated comments from unregistered contributors, who could be anyone, anywhere.

Our own experience suggests that strong anonymity is the key to encouraging useful comments, as do the failed experiments with journal-run commenting systems. We suspect that PubMed will eventually come to the same conclusion. Thus, a majority of comments on PubPeer are from unregistered contributors, whereas only a tiny minority are signed; registered academics commenting anonymously make up the balance.

Examination of the typical contents of PubPeer comments can easily explain why users choose anonymity. It turns out that the strongest motivation to comment arises when people see a problem with a paper, often a serious one indicative of incompetence, deceit or misconduct. But such critical comments are those most likely to attract reprisals. Most of the comments we receive would not have been made in the absence of the anonymity we provide.

Anonymity does allow low quality and bad faith comments to be made with impunity, but we have found this concerns only a small minority of comments and we feel that it is a necessary price to pay to encourage frank and worthwhile discussion.

Finally, if PubMed does start offering strong anonymity, that is likely to disrupt our plans (and save us money!) but for the moment we are continuing to develop PubPeer to facilitate all formats of scientific discussion.

*Note that PubPeer is open to all sciences, not just biomedical sciences.

10 thoughts on “PubMed Commons

  1. Hello Kelso Guy, don’t be frustrated about it, instead look at those “not helpful” as “not helpful for their scientific reputation” and “we prefer to be anonymous instead of replying valid concerns about our papers”. Cheers.

    • I have reason to believe that you may be a contract employee working on PubMed Commons, and if so, I wish to express my sincere gratitude for the excellent and very fair work you have done in my case. Cheers!

  2. Hello Kelso Guy, don’t be frustrated about it, instead look at those “not helpful” as “not helpful for their scientific reputation” and “we prefer to be anonymous instead of replying valid concerns about our papers”. Best wishes.

  3. You know, having thought about it, I really do not mind the fact that the comments are anonymous. After all, I am commenting anonymously now, although it is true that I am not ripping anyone a new excretory orifice. No, what really bothers me is when a “not helpful” thumbs-down hits me in the back of the skull like an ice-hard snowball, and I whirl around, but the punk has melted into the crowd (yes, I am followed by a crowd of detractors) with no explanation of why or how the “author” of that “not helpful” disagrees with me. I would like to see PubMed Commons get rid of the unexplained “not helpful” and require that every thumbs-down be accompanied by a cogent explanation. It would, if nothing else, tend to stimulate real discussions.

    “Helpful” votes can and should retain the option to remain unexplained. The reason is that there is only one way to agree with someone, but there a a million potential ways to disagree or to find fault with another’s opinions.

  4. A few people have essentially spammed PubMed Commons with lots of similar postings pushing their quirky view. I give these “unhelpful” votes, as do others. I’m not going to waste my time trying to argue with these folks. I don’t know whether you’re one of them, but the name-calling you displayed makes me think it would be pointless to engage with you.

    • I don’t mean to take his name in vain, but Einstein’s views were considered extremely quirky – no universal frame of reference?, no ether? – until they were proven correct. I’m no Einstein, but one of the lessons I learned from him is not to be afraid to challenge the Orthodoxy when it is wrong, even at the risk of being thought quirky. I have never given a “thumbs down” unhelpful vote on PubMed Commons, even when I have disagreed with someone; instead I debate them. However, my major disagreement is neither with anonymity, nor with the thumbs down per se. I am against the “naked” thumbs down, defined as a negative vote which is given with no explanation. Naked thumbs ups are okay, because agreement is self-explanatory. But if you disagree with someone enough to damage their reputation with a thumbs down, you owe them at least a brief explanation of why you believe their views to be unhelpful. Since you have confessed to voting “unhelpful” with no explanation, I right now give you a thumbs down, which I will retract if you supply the permalink for a comment on PubMed Commons which is an example of a “quirky, unhelpful spam” type comment there which you are not willing to waste your time arguing with. Then, I will either give you some free education by responding to it in a constructive manner, or if I cannot, I will concede this argument to you, and give you a thumbs up. The ball is in your court.

      • Ah, the old “they laughed at Einstein/Pasteur/Curie/etc.” defence, a staple of crackpots everywhere.

        I’m not interested in the “free education” that you so condescendingly “offer”, and I don’t care about your “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. If you have been following PubMed Commons from the start, you have seen the comments that I refer to. If you did not see them for what they are, if you do not understand why so many people voted them “unhelpful”, I have no chance of convincing you of anything.

        • I see. So, in Frank’s world, anyone who admires Einstein and tries to emulate his best qualities is a “crackpot”. And anyone who posts a comment which Frank disagrees with is a “quirky spammer”. And Frank’s opinions are so infallible that he does not need to support them with examples. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read all of the thousands of comments on PubMed Commons. Why would you go through the effort of continuing this discussion but refuse to support your remarks with an example? I suspect that the answer to that question is that there are no examples to support your remarks. Go ahead and prove me wrong. Post even a single example of a “quirky spam” comment you have labelled as “not helpful” on PubMed Commons. If you cannot do so, then this debate is over by default. QED.

          • That’s a lot of non sequiturs, Mr. emulator of Einstein.

            This isn’t a debate. I’ve tried to explain one reason that people give “unhelpful” votes without wasting time making comments. You’ve tried to insult me and be condescending, and have demonstrated that engaging with you is unlikely to be productive.

            If you really haven’t seen any examples, see Cannell’s one-note comments. I am not going to waste my time arguing with him (or with you) about them, any more than I would argue with a creationist making comments on PubMed Commons. I’ll just express that the comment was unhelpful. You may disagree, but would seem to be in the minority.

          • Well, at least we agree that creationism is a hoax. And I regret if my remarks insulted you, it was not intentional. Have a nice life – and a great afterlife.

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