PubMed Commons to go dark due to low engagement
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced earlier this month that it plans to discontinue the PubMed Commons service from February 15, 2018. The PubMed Commons service, which allows researchers to comment on PubMed-indexed publications, was launched in 2013. However, low engagement and usage has the NIH to force a shutdown.
PubMed Commons is a platform for post-publication peer review, that is, it allows readers to post comments on published papers that are indexed on PubMed. However, the uptake for this feature has remained low. The NIH revealed on February 1 that of the 28 million papers indexed in the PubMed database, comments were submitted to only 6,000 papers. While the platform generated several interesting discussions and worthwhile comments, NIH mentioned “the availability of other commenting venues” was one of the prominent reasons for the low participation on PubMed Commons.
PubPeer, which is also a post-publication peer review platform, met with more success as compared to PubMed Commons. One of the most prominent reasons for this is probably the fact that PubPeer offers anonymous commenting whereas PubMed Commons requires users to reveal their identity. “We have always felt that many users, particularly those with the most significant criticisms, prefer to comment anonymously in order to avoid any risk of reprisals,” commented the PubPeer leaders in a statement to Retraction Watch. However, advocates of PubMed Commons feel the non-anonymity encouraged quality feedback and constructive criticism.
Some active users and supporters of PubMed Commons are disappointed with the decision. Jim Coyne, a health psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said in a statement to Nature that, “It’s a terrible blow to responsible post-publication peer review.” Coyne’s sentiments are echoed by many in the scholarly community who believe in post-publication peer review.
After February 15, no new comments will be accepted on the platform. However, users will be able to view the old comments on PubMed and PubMed Commons websites through March 2, 2018. After this, all the comments will have to be downloaded from NCBI’s website. It remains to be seen whether the PubMed Commons users switch to PubPeer or other social media platforms to review publications.
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