The pitfalls of comments – and a better alternative

Posted by Lucy Pratt, 16 March 2012

To start, we’d like to extend a warm welcome to Tim Clark, the newest member of our ever-growing Advisory Panel. Tim is the Director of Informatics at the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND), and an Instructor in Neurology at Harvard Medical School. With over 22 years of experience within the bioinformatics field, Tim’s work primarily focuses on the development of biomedical ontologies, annotation systems and web communities based on Web 3.0 technologies.

RCUK draft policy

One of the main stories this week comes in the form of a draft policy from Research Councils UK (RCUK). RCUK describe how they are “considering changes to their current open access policies” in line with the outcomes of an independent ‘Access Group’, namely the National Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by Dame Janet Finch DBE. The group (sponsored by RCUK) was set up to examine how UK-funded research can be made more accessible.

Following the widely publicised debate last week about the difficulties in text mining much of the published literature, RCUK state in their draft that OA “includes unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools; and unrestricted reuse of content with proper attribution”. They also specify that there will be “no support for publisher embargoes of longer than six months from the date of publication” (apart from research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) or the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which can still allow up to 12 months).

The draft certainly hasn’t had an easy journey in getting to us. In his post, Richard Van Noorden writes on how the new initiative began last May, and tells of the steps RCUK and others have taken to get to where we are today. The prospective date for the policy’s official release is later this summer, but if the draft is anything to go by, it’s a big win for OA. RCUK are looking for feedback on their draft policy, so if you have any comments, send a message to communications@rcuk.ac.uk, with “Open Access Feedback” as the subject.

Other OA policies

This stepwards struggle for OA was also considered by Richard Poynder in his post: ‘Open Access, Brick by Brick’. He reports on the twists and turns in the chain of events that led up to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)’s earlier-than-anticipated announcement in February that they would be altering their policies on the dissemination of research findings as of 1st July. This announcement is thought, in part, to have been spurred on by an interview with Danny Kingsley in this article, published only a week earlier. He also reminds us how the quest for OA can sometimes be “a case of one step forward, two steps back” and details the ongoing frustration felt by many OA advocates towards the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s hesitant approach and erroneous claims of established support. Poynder is frank about the future of OA, and whilst it can be a near-constant uphill struggle, requiring both patience and persistence from all concerned, he fully believes that OA is inevitable.

Article commenting

On another topic close to our hearts, Kent Anderson posted about the popularity of blogging, in particular noting how, despite (or because of) its popularity, a surge in crass, de-constructive, and often hurtful comments can hinder a media that has the potential for greatness. I’m sure it’s something we’ve all experienced ourselves – ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’ of comments, if you will. What is the alternative? Disable commenting altogether, as some people do? What about ‘free speech’? Anderson cites Gawker Media founder Nick Denton’s proposed alternative to blogging: a hand-picked, pre-approved group of commenters…sound familiar? Speaking at South by Southwest Interactive, Denton spoke of his idea, saying “I want the sources – I want the experts to be able to comment in these discussions.” Anderson wraps-up by saying how comments in scientific journals are poorly constructed – either too long, or lacking real content, and that this inherent failing of the commenting system means that communicators “striving for a high standard are reinventing the wheel of invited experts to help improve materials”.

Denton’s idea sounds like it is heading towards our formally-invited open post-publication peer-review plans. We will also only be allowing users registered with us (and therefore we know who they are) to add further comments, so we hope to avoid some of the problems of completely open commenting discussed by Anderson.



F1000Research is an original open science publishing platform for life scientists that offers immediate open access publication, transparent post-publication peer review by invited referees, and full data deposition and sharing. F1000Research accepts all scientifically sound articles, including single findings, case reports, protocols, replications, null/negative results, and more traditional articles.

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