American Naturalist (one of the top journals in ecology and evolution) has just announced that they are rolling out a forum system to allow for online discussions about their published papers.
The American Naturalist is testing a new online forum, starting with the March issue, which allows readers to post comments about a particular article. The forum is in its beta phase as we work out the best configuration that serves the community. Please help test it out and start the conversation!
The idea of rapid, open dialog about published papers is certainly exciting, and the possibility that whole community review and feedback could take the place of the necessarily more restricted peer review and publication process is a regular topic of conversation at places like Scholarly Kitchen and academHack.
This idea is the basis of PLoS ONE (a journal that started vigorously pursuing these ideas in 2006)
Each submission will be assessed by a member of the PLoS ONE Editorial Board before publication. This pre-publication peer review will concentrate on technical rather than subjective concerns and may involve discussion with other members of the Editorial Board and/or the solicitation of formal reports from independent referees. If published, papers will be made available for community-based open peer review involving online annotation, discussion, and rating.
and it is good to see other journals including AmNat and the new Methods in Ecology and Evolution journal experimenting with these ideas. One of the things I’ve learned from watching PLoS ONE a bit over the years is that it is difficult to get scientists to engage in this kind of discussion. I almost never see articles actually rated (a quick survey of 10 articles from late 2008 this morning revealed a 0% rating rate). Comments are more frequent (30% of articles in my tiny sample), and this is encouraging for these new attempts, but PLoS ONE has a thoroughly integrated commenting system that makes it easy to post and easy to see that others have posted. The new AmNat system falls short in this regard. It is basically just a Blogger blog with a non-prominent link off of each article that takes you to a separate site with a blog post that contains the abstract where you can comment. I suspect that this will have some negative impacts on the success of the new system and my hope is that once they get it off the ground they will convert it to a more integrated solution that is tied in directly with the main site (or at least try switching over to actual forum software).
In the meantime, I’d encourage you to check it out and participate in their new experiment. For those of you unfamiliar with Blogger, if you want to subscribe to the comments feed, not the article feed (which since you probably are already receiving an AmNat TOCs, hopefully via your feed reader, is entirely redundant) you can use this link for RSS and this one for Atom. As a group you are probably much more familiar with the concept of commenting and interacting online than the average AmNat reader. So, don’t be shy, send them some feedback (via email; yes… email is the preferred feedback mechanism for their new forum system… sigh).
UPDATE: Trish Morse (AmNat’s totally awesome Managing Editor) stopped by to point out that the current Blogger based version is just a trial run to determine whether or not it is worth pursuing a more formal system. This makes it even more important to participate and provide feedback. Check out the full discussion in the comments and then send them an email (which, as Trish so wisely pointed out, is really the best way to solicit feedback from across the breadth of ecologists; my apologies for the sigh) if you have any input. You are also of course welcome to discuss the potential benefits and issues with active commenting on peer reviewed articles here in the comment thread.