Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Anonymous paper reviews and threat of a legal action

I just stumbled on a news story in which scientist claims that his career was severely damaged by anonymous comments on some of his works published on PubPeer. This is very interesting story to follow for several reasons.

For a start, PubPeer is a site for a post publication review. I strongly support such a practice because I believe that everything has to be scrutinized and tested, and it helps authors who can get the best possible feedback, but also helps society in general, too because there is ever increasing problem with scientific ethic. As a side note, I was, and I'm still a big proponent of doing review process in public. That, in my opinion, significantly increases transparency. Anyway, PubPeer fulfils my wishes, but unfortunately for me, it is only concerned with papers from medicine, chemistry and related fields, not from computer science.

In this particular case, the problem is that the author was offered a job on the University of Mississippi, with quite a large annual salary, and for that purpose he quitted his current job. University then revoked the offer and so he lost both the new job, and his current job. Now, he claims that the reason for this are some anonymous negative comments on PubPeer and threatens with a lawsuit asking for identities of those who made those negative claims.

While, as I said, it is very good to have such a site, it doesn't mean that everything should be allowed, more specifically:
  1. Any claims made have to be justified. Unfortunately, anonymity also allows people to make damaging or unjustified claims by being certain that there will be no repercussions.
  2. Unfortunately, negative claim even if not justified casts doubts, so that might be a problem.
  3. In this particular case it is also unknown why the author didn't respond to presented claims about problems in his paper. PubPeer claims they invite first and last author to comment on comments.
  4. Finally, no one should take lightly claims about some paper being invalid, not good, etc. In this particular case, I hope that University of Mississippi verified negative claims and that they didn't take lightly what some anonymous commenters said.
In any case, we'll see what will happen with this particular case.

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scientist, consultant, security specialist, networking guy, system administrator, philosopher ;)