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'Overstepping Your Authority' With Online Comments?

Blogger Prof-like Substance wonders whether publicly commenting on journal articles is worth the professional risk it entails. Most scientific debates, he writes, "are largely 'off the record,'" whereas online comments made on papers in journals published by PLoS, BMC, and now even Nature, "are forever," reader Prodigal Academic notes in a comment. While the blogger says that in an ideal world, allowing the community to comment on papers is "a great option," because "it brings the water cooler to the source and can provide insight to those who are new to the field," but, in reality, it's not often practiced. "One reason might be the concern about the repercussions of publicly attacking — even nicely — someone's work," he writes, adding the possibility that one of the authors could retaliate by providing a harsher review of the commenter's work down the road — whether consciously or not. Prof-like Substance writes that in discussing his decision whether to comment on a paper that he felt contained "fundamental flaws in its approach," reactions from his colleagues "ranged from 'This is important for science' to 'You would be stupid to risk it.'" In a comment to this post, blogger Geekmommyprof shares that she was once advised by a senior colleague not to submit a response to a paper that refuted the results of her work, because "that comments and refutals are not what you want yourself associated with while on tenure track," she writes, adding "You don't want that kind of exposure — I think subconsciously most people will consider you are overstepping your early-career authority, and the author will likely not be your friend for openly challenging him/her."

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