PubPeer response to ACSNano editors

The editorial board of the journal ACSNano recently angered chemistry bloggers and many of their readers with an editorial implying that bloggers often make irresponsible accusations of fraud. The editorial went on to suggest that bloggers should refrain from such unfair and damaging behavior, and instead allow journal editors to process misconduct investigations with their usual diligence and deliberation. It has been suggested that the editorial was in fact an indirect response to the intense commenting on PubPeer about papers by one of the board members.

In our view the editorial rather clumsily conflated two separate processes. The first, commenting on published data, including highlighting any inconsistencies, is absolutely legitimate. The second, accusing people of misconduct, should indeed not be done lightly. Lumping the two processes together enabled the editors to imply that bloggers were making accusations of fraud, when in fact they were only commenting on published data.

PubPeer, a possible target of the editorial, illustrates the fault in this logic. Thus, although we encourage anonymous comments on papers, we forbid any accusations of fraud, misconduct etc. We have made this explicit on a page explaining that comments should be based on easily verifiable information. This policy has been enforced since the inception of the site. While it is true that some of the anomalies highlighted by commenters would require the most fabulous coincidences to have arisen innocently, accusations of misconduct are still not allowed. They are also unnecessary. Any scientist worth his/her salt can interpret a screaming inconsistency.

The editorial also suggested that bloggers unfairly deny authors the possibility to defend their work. This is laughable to those following PubPeer. Commenters have repeatedly sought responses from authors, who are automatically notified of comments. Authors can always respond, either anonymously or signing their comments. However, they rarely exercise their right to reply to comments unless to clarify a simple misunderstanding.

We therefore believe the editorial cited no examples of bad behavior by “bloggers” for a very good reason: they are few and far between. Instead of loose accusations of fraud and authors being denied the chance to reply, they could only have pointed to long, restrained threads of careful scientific discussion, to which the authors have refused to respond. We would be very interested to hear the opinion of the board members about these threads and their content.

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