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"The Vacuum Shouts Back: Postpublication Peer Review on Social Media" (open access) (2014)


Senior Member
Free full text: http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(14)00288-8

Volume 82, Issue 2, p258–260, 16 April 2014

The Vacuum Shouts Back: Postpublication Peer Review on Social Media

Zen Faulkes

Social media has created new pathways for postpublication peer review, which regularly leads to corrections. Such online discussions are often resisted by authors and editors, however, and efforts to formalize postpublication peer review have not yet resonated with scientific communities.

Argues that post-publication should be welcomed.


Senior Member
A few extracts:

On letters to the editor
Postpublication peer review isn’t anything new, although the term seems to be a relatively recent one. Some journals have had technical comments and letters to the editor as regular features for decades. But not all journals had these, and the limitations of print meant that commentary that appeared was tightly controlled. Due to the physical processes of editing, proofing, and printing the journal on paper, comments might be slow to appear. Due to lack of space, very few comments might be published. And there was always that possibility that editors or authors of articles being commented on might try to obstruct unflattering critiques. Consequently, the process of correcting the scientific literature was, and remains, long and difficult (Tatsioni et al., 2007), particularly if the impetus for the correction was coming from someone other than the original authors.

Journal editors and lead authors on the receiving end of postpublication peer review often resist online critiques.

there are strong traditions for using both anonymity and pseudonyms in science (Neuroskeptic, 2013), not the least of which is journal peer review itself. It is a little audacious for authors and editors to decry the negative effects of “anonymous bloggers” when essentially every journal practices anonymous peer review.

The rising number of retractions, most of which are the result of misconduct (Fang et al., 2012), suggests that prepublication peer review could stand a little improvement.

Nevertheless, concerns about “tone” are often from established, tenured, white guys at big research universities working at established journals. One of the most profound things about social media is that it has lowered the barrier to creating and spreading conversations. This can give voice to people who were previously marginalized, for whatever reason. In the past, scientific commentary could be regulated by gatekeepers who were part of the scientific “in crowd.” Now, people who are not part of that crowd don’t need permission of gatekeepers to spread a scientific conversation to a wider audience. This means that the conversation cannot be as easily controlled by authority. Complaining about “tone” is one way to try to assert power and stifle voices by making “polite” equivalent to “innocuous.”

But rather than treating social media as the equivalent of letters to the editors and comment sections and journal articles, we should think of social media more like another scientific tradition: the research conference.