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To post or not to post

PLoS ONE launched with an impressive roster of papers and we have continued to publish both quality and volume over the last 8 weeks. Two hundred odd papers in less than two months is a massive vindication of the publishing concepts behind PLoS ONE. The amount of users commenting on the papers published is less substantial which is much as I expected at this point. Nevertheless it is time for users to start exploring the full range of possibilities that PLoS ONE offers.

It is clear that commenting on a PLoS ONE paper, let alone annotating one, can be a daunting prospect if you comments are presented right alongside the paper itself. Readers want to think about what they are going to say rather than make off-the-cuff remarks. PLoS ONE papers aren’t a blog entry where all activity will be pretty much over within a couple of days. PLoS ONE papers are part of the scientific record and will be read and commented on for years to come.

This contrast with a blog was brought home very sharply in the case of the paper “By Hook or by Crook? Morphometry, Competition and Cooperation in Rodent Sperm” by Simone Immler, Harry Moore, William Breed and Tim Birkhead. It was published two weeks ago and got a fair bit of press and new coverage, if you missed it the paper is about the prevalence of hooks on the ends of rodent sperm which allows them to join up into ‘sperm-trains’ and so swim faster than they would individually. Species with more sperm competition are more likely to have well developed hooks.

The point here is that there is only a single comment made on that paper. What the comment does is point out to a posting about the paper on the Gene Expression blog. That posting has twenty five associated comments which form a really good discussion of the underlying evolutionary pressures which might favour this behaviour.

I think that it is a shame that this discussion didn’t take place in closer association with the paper itself; I almost copied it verbatim across. What I assume is that the informality of a blog has appeals that commenting directly on the paper does not yet have. Rather than fight that, from this week on I will try and facilitate it by posting as an entry on this Blog pithy summaries of the papers highlighted in the New and Noted section of the home page. By providing threads for informal commenting on PLoS ONE papers I hope that I can encourage more readers to interact with papers on the PLoS ONE site itself.

The first three of these postings are:

Orphan chromosomes find their way home

Kiwis see no profit in night vision


Pseudomonas demonstrates buffering by biodiversity

We have some other ideas to encourage commenting on PLoS ONE papers which I will blog about soon. We really do want papers to be a basis for dynamic scientific conversations rather than unchanging markers of research past.

And of course there is a bet involved. Phil Campbell, Editor of Nature, bet me a bottle of champagne that online commenting on articles would not have taken off within a year. The isn’t up until the 21st December but it is a bet that we have no intention of losing. Expect to hear more about the Champagne Challenge in the coming months as well.

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