How Long Is Too Long?

Readers discuss the varied amounts of time they’ve waited for journals to respond to or act on their concerns regarding published papers.

By | August 27, 2014

FLICKR, DEE SPEEDAs long as journals have existed, so too have letters to the editor. But such correspondence is often kept private, in particular for cases discussing perceived errors or, worse still, potential research misconduct. With the rise of post-publication peer review fora such as the privately run website PubPeer, which allows users to comment on published papers with varied degrees of anonymity, and the publicly funded PubMed Commons, where commenters are identified by name and institution, researchers are starting to move such discussion out into the open.

Still, it’s unclear whether the journals are paying much attention when articles they’ve published are questioned online. The Scientist asked a handful of journals whether they monitor sites like PubPeer, receiving a mixed response: yes, some editors do scan the web for comments on papers they’ve published, but doing so—at this point—is typically not formal policy. So it’s still unclear whether discussing problems with published papers openly online is any better than sending an unanswered letter to the editor.

The Scientist asked readers on Twitter how long they’ve waited to hear from journals they’ve contacted with questions or comments about suspected flaws in published papers. The responses, while not necessarily representative of journal correspondence overall, were not promising.

@PSBROOKES: “almost 3 years”

@MicrobiomDigest: “Over a year, and ongoing.”

@Lewis_Lab: “the longest I’ve waited for action from a journal is forever, and the shortest time to real action--also forever.”

For its part, PubPeer’s moderators told The Scientist they are working to develop an automated notification system to alert journals to papers discussed on their website.

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Avatar of: Eric J. Murphy

Eric J. Murphy

Posts: 20

August 27, 2014

As stated yesterday in another post, it is my responsiblity as an Editor-in-Chief to address all issues raised by a letter or e-mail sent to me that concerns elements of a published paper.  As with many EIC, I don't have the time or staff to monitor all of these sites and frankly if the issue is that pertinent, someone needs to bring it to my attention.

All issues raised are indeed examined and resolved, but that resolution may not always be what the initial commenter thinks should be the resolution.  That said, often times it will indeed be consistent with what the individual grieving an issue thinks should be the outcome.  Nonetheless, this is an EIC decision and I would say I don't take any of these types of issue lightly. 

Avatar of: MonZop


Posts: 9

August 30, 2014

I have sent a letter to The Scientist (Bob Grant), on May 21 2104, and have yet to receive an aknowledgment, let alone a reply!


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