” 1. Read a paper that has a mistake in it.

2. Write and submit a Comment, politely correcting the mistake…

3. Enjoy your Comment in print along with the author’s equally polite Reply, basking in the joy of having participated in the glorious scientific process and of the new friends you’ve made – the authors whose research you’ve greatly assisted.”

This was circulated anonymously by e-mail among a group of my colleagues.
I asked, and got tracked back to the author who, I am informed, would like to see it out there and with his name on it.

It is, I am assured, a true story. Some of you should be able to figure out the topic and journal and hence the counterparties…

It is too long to post in its entirety:
How to Publish a Comment (pdf)

PS: How to Publish a Scientific Comment Addendum (pdf) – Rick wrote an addendum discussing the issue and making some recommendations

Dr Free-Ride – Sb’s own ethicist comments

“1. Read a paper in the most prestigious journal in your field that “proves” that your entire life’s work is wrong.”

2. Realize that the paper is completely wong, its conclusions based entirely on several misconceptions. It also claims that an approach you showed to be fundamentally impossible is preferrably to one that you pioneered in its place and that actually works. And among other errors, it also includes a serious miscalculation – a number wrong by a factor of about 1000 – a fact that’s obvious from a a glance at the paper’s main figure.

23. Receive a response from the journal, stating that your Comment is 1.07 pages long. Unfortunately, Comments can be no more than 1.00 pages long, so your Comment cannot be considered until it is shortened to less than 1.00 pages long.

38. Wait three months, during which time, receive condolences from numerous colleagues regarding the fraudulence of your life’s work and how sorry they are about it having been debunked…”

There are 123 steps.
But be sure to read the Addendum.

After all, I wouldn’t want to discourage you from submitting a Comment.

Comments

  1. #1 eNeMeE
    August 17, 2009

    I finally broke down and started laughing aloud at #67.

    #82 is also good.

    Ooooh, 105!

  2. #2 jay
    August 17, 2009

    This is the funniest thing I’ve read in months.

  3. #3 Brad
    August 17, 2009

    I think I hear the ghost of Bohdan Paczynski laughing at him for not just posting the reply to the arXiV in the first place and saving himself all the trouble…

  4. #4 Comrade PhysioProf
    August 17, 2009

    All right, who’s figured out what the paper is??

  5. #5 ryano
    August 17, 2009

    @Brad: Using the arXiv only works if people in your field read it. Searching for the author only showed 3 of his papers there.

    The problem with the short reply is the tone. Not only does it come across as mean spirited, it comes across almost like a crackpot’s paper. At some point though, I think a full journal article rebutting that paper would be necessary if it the original paper was having such an impact in the field.

  6. #6 Doug Natelson
    August 17, 2009

    @ryano: I agree that usually you’re better off writing a full paper, where the tone can be more constructive. A comment is often perceived (and, from some authors, intended) as a thinly veiled declaration of war.

  7. #7 JohnD
    August 18, 2009

    Shocking. At that point, why didn’t this guy just write a paper refuting everything? That seems simpler than comments.

  8. #8 ADD
    August 18, 2009

    This appears to be the comment. It contains the phrase “fundamentally impossible.”

  9. #9 EuropeanFemaleScienceProfessor
    August 18, 2009

    Oh how *funny* – and sad. This is a case for open access and killing off the “journals of record” if I ever saw one.

  10. #10 Dr. Free-Ride
    August 18, 2009

    Ping!

  11. #12 anders
    August 19, 2009
  12. #13 Stagyar zil Doggo
    August 20, 2009

    This recommendation:

    2. Anyone knowingly publishing a paper that clearly contradicts the work of another group should be required, also as a condition for publication, to discuss the matter with that group well before publication. In the past, this was considered good scientific etiquette, but gone, apparently, are those days, so a rule is in order.

    is just asking the first group to do this:

    90. Realize that you had stopped carefully reading the journal, and, as a result, had missed the “Erratum” published by the authors on the paper in question six months earlier, shortly after you submitted your short-lived three-page version of the Comment.

    So, I’d say that publishing without prior intimation to the competing party is completely legitimate. The author should have attempted to take his rebuttal elsewhere, exploiting journal rivalries, if any.

  13. #14 Michael J. McFadden
    August 20, 2009

    The British Medical Journal allows for “Rapid Response” commenting, comments by peers and members of the public that are reviewed and approved by an editor but which seem to be generally accepted if they are of value even if they might not generally be considered to be of “Journal Quality” or Tone.

    Unfortunately, those Responses seem to be accorded very little in the way of respect or impact compared to the original studies. For an excellent example, see the Responses to the Helena Heart Study conducted back in 2003.

    http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/bmj.38055.715683.55v1

    Note the summary of criticisms in either “Helena 100 Days” or “Helena 1,000 Days” as well as the stronger new criticisms offered in “Independently Confirmed?” Note also the almost total lack of response or defense of their work offered by the study authors despite their continued citation of their work at conferences and at speaking engagements at Universities and such.

    So in summation, the “Rapid Response” type of scientific commenting certainly seems to open studies to worthwhile criticism by a much larger audience than traditional printed journal commenting, but on the other hand it seems to have less scholarly and political effect.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  14. #15 Heather
    August 21, 2009

    Wonderful! When and if the author is willing to publish this in print, I would be very happy to participate in disseminating it further on the intertubes.

    I don’t care who the other party is, or who the journal is, but I’d love to give credit to the author for putting in the additional work to bring this to public attention. Even if was cathartic.

  15. #16 bob
    November 16, 2009

    shold’ve used arxiv.org.

  16. The problem with the short reply is the tone. Not only does it come across as mean spirited, it comes across almost like a crackpot’s paper. At some point though, I think a full journal article rebutting that paper would be necessary if it the original paper was having such an impact in the field.

  17. #18 Write Stories Online
    October 6, 2010

    That was a really good read, it made me laugh out loud!

    However, I do feel bad for the guy.

    Oh well, let’s hope he has learned from the mistake!

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