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A new era in scientific discourse? PubMed gets comments

typing - smallPubMed, the massive index of biomedical research articles, has begun an experiment: Enabling the posting of comments on the articles’ citations. This might not seem like a big deal, but in this case the comments system, PubMed Commons, is creating a buzz.

Some of the tweets following the Oct. 22 announcement: "PubMed Commons will change the way science works, but I predict a big impact on science bloggers as well" (@Neuro_Skeptic), "Science buzz and criticism gets a powerful boost” (@phylogenomics) and "Seriously get ready for a turbo-charged #PubMed (@AlbertErives)."

It was actually two Stanford professors - biostatistician Rob Tibshirani, PhD, and biochemist Pat Brown, PhD - who got the project rolling. I talked with Tibshirani for an article in Inside Stanford Medicine about the project's beginnings and what he hopes it will accomplish. For starters, he sees it as a way for readers to note errors in the scientific literature in a place other researchers will see. But he also hopes it will generally expand scientific discourse and build community:

"Science can be lonely," Tibshirani said. "Just having people talk about your work is nice. Sure it's nice to have good comments. But it's nice to have comments at all. At least someone cares enough to read your paper."

For now, during this expanded pilot phase, only individuals who have published articles indexed in PubMed can make comments or see them. Tibshirani says he's hopeful the leaders of the National Institutes of Health will decide to allow the general public to see the comments too. More on the how and why of the project as well as the quandary over anonymous comments (yea or nay) in the article.

For a fuller picture of the social media reaction, see this Storify created by Hilda Bastian, a blogger at Scientific American and an editor at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the organization within the NIH that runs PubMed.
Photo by Mike Traboe

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