Many scientific findings, once thought to be certain, will ultimately be shown to be uncertain by new techniques, a change in thinking, improved data, research misconduct, or the result of an honest error. But the published literature is not yet up to the task of fully connecting and correcting itself, a situation that must be remedied, say the PLOS Medicine Editors in a new editorial published this week.
Research and data are subject to more and more scrutiny, which is good for science and medicine since it inevitably accelerates the pace of scientific and medical discovery, with ultimately better outcomes for patients. But what this scrutiny also does, argue the Editors, is expose how disconnected the scientific literature currently is and how far we are from a situation where it can be considered self-correcting.
In fact, the multiple sources of commenting on any given scientific article, lead to more confusion about scientific findings, say the Editors. And while scientists are often reluctant to add online Comments to journal articles, elsewhere on the Web there is a proliferation of blogs, Twitter, and sites like Retraction Watch that actively publicize and discuss findings, corrections, and retractions.
But this post-publication commentary is rarely linked, a situation that the Editors say must be changed given new tools like CrossRef, the “article of record,” other citation-linking resources, and the evolving technologies of the Web.
“It has never been clearer that the scientific and medical literature is a vibrant, evolving, but imperfect ecosystem,” says the editorial. “If we can build a system that reflects that dynamism, enables linking to corrections of errors or evolving thinking from whatever source, and allows full integration of articles with post-publication comments of all sorts,” say the Editors, “then perhaps the new technologies that the web enables can begin to really enhance the literature rather than confuse it, and thereby lead to a fully connected and correctable research literature.”
Funding: The authors are each paid a salary by the Public Library of Science, and they wrote this editorial during their salaried time.
Competing Interests: The authors’ individual competing interests are here. PLOS is funded partly through manuscript publication charges, but the PLOS Medicine Editors are paid a fixed salary (their salary is not linked to the number of papers published in the journal).