The challenge for post-publication peer review

On Tuesday, I wrote a draft blog post in response to Michael Eisen's blog post on how Lior Pachter's blog post was a a model for post-publication peer review (PPPR). (My draft post suggested that scientific bloggers aim for inclusivity by adopting a code of conduct and posting explicit site commenting policies).

I asked several people for comments on my post, and a (female) friend who is a non-scientist responded:

My big thing is that if I'm doing something in my spare time, I don't want to be dealing with the same bullshit that I do at work.

While my friend is not a scientist, and her comment spoke specifically to the challenges of women in tech, this comment nails the broader challenge for post-publication peer review: how do we make post-publication peer review a welcoming experience? If it's an optional activity that turns people off, most people won't do it. And I'd love to see more assistant professors, grad students, and women engaging in PPPR. However, if PPPR mirrors the not infrequent assholery of anonymous peer reviews and is only done amongst high-profile tenured faculty (or anonymously), we won't engage with this broader community.

I don't have any one perfect answer, but there are a few things that the tech community has done that nudge things in the right direction. A per-site code of conduct and commenting policies are two obvious idea, and (on Twitter) Joe Pickrell suggested asking people to work on the Principle of Charity which I really like, too.

Michael Eisen had a great comment on a different issue that I think applies here --

it's not really about what "science needs" - it's about not being an asshole

Yep. Any inclusive community building effort should start somewhere near the "don't be an asshole" rule - while a low bar, it should at least be achievable :)

We've had a fairly large amount of high profile aggressive alpha-male behavior in bioinformatics blogging and post-pub peer review, and it's worth thinking hard about whether this is the direction we want to pursue. I hope it's not. Fundamentally, it's our community and we should grow it responsibly. Some ground rules about conduct and commenting would be a good start. There are many interesting questions, e.g. about how to retain intellectual rigor while being welcoming to junior participants who might fear retaliation for critical commentary; I hope we can figure that out. I'm already encouraged by the quiet subculture of preprints and preprint commentary that's sprung up completely apart from Lior's blog.

Other than a general attempt to be more welcoming, I'm not sure what else to do. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on how to grow the practice of post-publication peer review, and I'm happy to post them anonymously for people who don't want to comment themselves.

--titus

p.s. There is some irony in referring to Mike and Lior's blogs, which I personally find very unwelcoming in several ways; I encourage them to think about a code of conduct of some sort, along with a commenting policy, so we can know what kind of commentary they intentionally hope to foster on their blogs.

p.p.s. I haven't put a Code of Conduct or commenting policy on my blog yet, I know. I'll get to it soon :)

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