Re: Comments in Journals

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 18:47:42 +0100

On Tue, 26 Sep 2000, Roger Collins wrote:

> it's been my impression (and my stats and dataset may be faulty here)
> that journals in numerous fields have cut back on the number of
> "Comments" to articles they publish.

I don't know of any data on this. I expect that your query covers
comments in the form of letters to the editor too, but I don't know
whether it is true that their number is shrinking, nor even what their
number is. (ISI's SCI has an approximate category for comments/letters,
and some approximate stats across the years could perhaps be extracted
from there.)

However, I can also say that the number of journals devoted all or in
part to open peer commentary has increased across the years

Current Anthropology <>
was founded in 1959 by Sol Tax and is entirely devoted to Open Peer
Commentary. I founded Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1978, and modeled
it on CA <>. About a half dozen
commentary journals have since been in turn modeled on BBS, including
an on-line one I founded in 1990 called Psycoloquy

I had proposed as early as 1992 that the online medium was the optimal
one for implementing interactive publication, and that was also
implicit in in the notion of Scholarly Skywriting (1990)

    Harnad, S. (1992) Interactive Publication: Extending American
    Physical Society's Discipline-Specific Model for Electronic
    Publishing. Serials Review, Special Issue on Economics Models for
    Electronic Publishing, pp. 58 - 61.

    Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication
    Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343
    (reprinted in Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11 1991).

Certainly the absence of page-limits in the online medium makes not
only continuing comments and replies, but also revisions, updates and
extended (and hyperlinked) reference lists possible.

> 1. What is the reason for this change ? Two possibilities come to mind
> - one is that there's an increase in the number of publishable papers,
> leaving less room in existing journals for "Comments". The second is
> that the journal editors and referees would have a quieter time if
> instead of publishing "Comments" they waited until further full papers
> on the topic became available. ...editors
> may have been "burned" by past "Comments" in some way - either by
> comments which are excessively narrow or by the fractious nature of
> those who pen them.

If there has been a decline (and it's not clear that there has), space
limits are the most likely explanation.

> 2. Does this open the field to journals mainly or entirely devoted to
> the publishing of "Comments" on articles in other journals ? If such a
> journal were to be launched, what would be the reaction of established
> journals / academics ? Would the whole scheme founder on a tide of
> ostracism, or would it flourish because everyone would want to make
> sure that in writing future papers they had all the bases covered in
> their area ?

Here there is no need to speculate. Such journals do exist, both
on-paper and on-line, they are flourishing (BBS has an impact factor of
15), and their prospects on-line are even brighter than they were
on-paper. In addition, electronic archives such as CogPrints
<> allow for linked comments and responses
on papers (both refereed preprints and refereed postprints) over and
above any that might appear in the journal in which the paper appeared

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

You may join the list at the site above.

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:45:52 GMT