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Journal Clubs – think of the future!

The recent return of Journal Clubs on PLoS ONE has been quite a success so far. People are watching from outside and they like what they see.

The first Journal Club article, on microbial metagenomics, has already, in just one week, gathered 3 ratings, each accompanied with a short comment, two trackbacks and 7 annotations and 4 discussions eliciting further 14 responses in the comment threads. The 13-comment-and-growing thread on the usefulness of the term ‘Prokaryote’ is quite exciting, showing that it is not so hard to comment on PLoS ONE after all, once you get over the initial reluctance. You should join in the conversation there right now!

If you encounter a technical problem, please contact the Webmaster so the glitch can be fixed promptly. For a brand-new software built in-house, TOPAZ is performing remarkably well, but glitches do sometimes happen. It is essential to report those to the Webmaster so the IT/Web team can fix them quickly and make the site better and better for all users as time goes on. Just like anything else in development, it needs feedback in order to improve over time. For the time being, I guess, compose in Notepad, WordPad or something similar before copying and pasting there. And thank you for your participation.

One thing to keep in mind is that a PLoS ONE article is not a blog post – the discussion is not over once the post goes off the front page. There is no such thing as going off the front page! The article is always there and the discussion can go on and on for years, reflecting the changes in understanding of the topic over longer periods of time.

Imagine if half a century ago there was Internet and there were Open Access journals with commenting capability like PLoS ONE. Now imagine if Watson and Crick published their paper on the DNA structure in such a journal. Now imagine logging in today and reading five decades of comments, ratings and annotations accumulated on the paper!!!! What a treasure-trove of information! You hire a new graduate student in molecular biology – or in history of science! – and the first assignment is to read all the commentary to that paper. There it is: all laid out – the complete history of molecular biology all in one spot, all the big names voicing their opinions, changing opinions over time, new papers getting published trackbacking back to the Watson-Crick paper and adding new information, debates flaring up and getting resolved, gossip now lost forever to history due to it being spoken at meetings, behind closed door or in hallways preserved forever for future students, historians and sociologists of science. What a fantastic resource to have!

Now imagine that every paper in history was like that (the first Darwin and Wallace letters to the Royal Society?!). Now realize that this is what you are doing by annotating PLoS ONE papers. It is not the matter so much of here-and-now as it is a contribution to a long-term assessment of the article, providing information to the future readers that you so wished someone left for you when you were reading other people’s papers in grad school and beyond. Which paper is good and which erroneous (and thus not to be, embarrassingly, cited approvingly) will not be a secret lab lore any more transmitted from advisor to student in the privacy of the office or lab, but out there for everyone to know. Every time you check out a paper that is new to you, you also get all the information on what others think about it. Isn’t that helpful, especially for students?

So, go forth and comment on papers in areas you are interested in. And if you are a member of a lab group, a graduate seminar, an honors class, or an AP Biology class, let me know if you would be interested in doing a Journal Club on one of the PLoS ONE papers in the future – a great exercise for you, nice exposure to your group, and a service to the scientific community of today and tomorrow.

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