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The Sciences

Enter PubMed Commons

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A few hours ago, the NCBI announced the pilot phase of PubMed Commons, a comment system for PubMed.

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Users can now read and write comments on any paper listed in the most widely used search tool for biology, psychology and neuroscience. This could herald a fundamental change in the way that scientific debate takes place. As I said a while ago,

"an online comment thread is peer review in its purest form".

As James Coyne puts it, Letters to the Editor just became obsolete. Still, this is only a first step, not least because the system currently has an invitation-only registration policy. I believe that all scientists ought to support PubMed Commons and help make it a success. Here's what I plan to do:

  • Join It: If you have received a grant from the NIH (USA) or the Wellcome Trust (UK), you should be able to sign up right away. If not, you need to be invited by someone who's already participating. On that note...

  • Invite Others: Once you're in, help out your colleagues by extending invitations. You can invite anyone who's listed as an author on a PubMed-indexed paper.

  • Leave Comments: Comment on other people's papers. Reply to comments on your own work. Criticize and praise. But...

  • Be Upstanding: Be polite, scholarly, respectful, objective and straightforward. Be nicer than you would be on a blog, on Twitter, or even in a paper - because remember that we're guests. If Commons ends up making PubMed worse, the project will get pulled, and rightly so. It would be a tragedy if that happened.

  • Be Patient: Remember that some users of PubMed Commons will have never left an online comment before. So give each other the benefit of the doubt.

  • Spread The Word: Build buzz! Tell people about PubMed Commons as a whole, and tell them about particular posts and discussion threads you think they'll like.

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