I, and many other people, have spent a lot of time over the last decade trying to figure out how to get scientists participate in online activity. Commenting on research papers would be nice for a start. Nature Protocols has had commenting on all its content from the start but the number of actual comments supplied is woefully low. Protocol Exchange also has commenting enabled and there this would act as a form of post publication peer-review as those Protocols are not reviewed before posting. Without this sort of activity whatever you find on the web needs to have a big ‘Caveat Emptor’ sign hanging over it.
I’m not going to thread my way through the various arguments about why researchers don’t comment online on research articles, or bemoan the fact that there can be tons of erudite discussion about a blog post about a piece of research, but not commenting on the research itself. I haven’t the strength (or caffeine levels) for that this morning. But there are two basic camps in all the discussions and brainstorms I’ve been involved with. First there is the cadre of glass-half-emptyites who look at past experiences and the arguments about why experts don’t comment and say that this is inevitable. We’ve tried and it hasn’t worked so there is no point expending more effort quixotically. The other group are the glass-half-fullers who think that if we could just understand exactly why the experts of the world don’t join in then we could provide systems and incentives to tempt them.
I’m definitely a glass-half-fuller and so is Daniel Mietchen. When he isn’t busy measuring brains at the University of Jena he’s involved in a whole lot of projects loosely under the umbrella of Open Science. At the moment one of these is a survey of people to understand why they do or don’t contribute to Wikipedia. Why is this great collaborative encyclopedia put together by interested amateurs while the experts whose contributions would be most valuable cheer (or sneer) from the sidelines? Is that characterization even correct?
But before that please go and do what I did: take part.