PubMed Commons to the rescue


pbcI have earlier posted on the many virtues of post-publication commenting. Only few journals presently allow readers to comment, discuss, or criticise papers online. Since 2013 the National Library of Medicine of the US National Institutes of Health, which provides us with more than 24 million citations of the MEDLINE, offers a tool to comment on any of these millions of articles: PubMed COMMONS. Although it had a slow start, and at present only less than 3000 comments are listed, it is almost doomed to be a success and has the potential to propel biomedical publishing into the 21st century. I believe that the PubMed COMMONS model is superior to post-publication commenting schemes of indvidual journals. The main advantage of their model is that every article which receives a comment is directly visible and accessible with one click for everyone retrieving the article via PubMed. Comments published in individual journals may be burried on their websites, only a tiny fraction of journals allow commenting, and no other model would allow commenting on papers dating back more than a few years. How does it work?

Any scientist with at least one publication can comment on any paper in PubMed. This allows amending prior work, honing interpretations, bridging published updates, anchoring blog posts to the publications they discuss (see previous post ‘Blogging as post-publication review‘), etc.

After a simple registration process users log into their NCBI account and use PubMed as they normally would. PubMed listed abstracts carry a link that allows to add a comment to that record with one click. After posting a comment, with another click article authors can be invited to join or comment. Comments have a permanent link which can be cited and linked.

Most of the zillion articles sold via Amazon feature several consumer reviews, many of the movies listed on (>3 million titles) have dozens of comments, almost all vendors on ebay are rated. It’s time that scientists get their act together, harness the ease of use and potential of PubMed Commons, and take their paper discussions from pub talk to academic discourse a la Web 2.0.

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