In a Times Higher Education article two weeks ago, Paul Jump discussed the current legal threats on post-publication peer review highlighted by “the case of Fazlul Sarkar, a distinguished professor in cancer research at Wayne State University in Detroit [who] claims that anonymous comments posted on PubPeer this summer led to the withdrawal of a $350,000 (£220,000) a year job offer by the University of Mississippi.”
Rebecca Lawrence, Managing director 0f F1000 Research, responded to the above article with a letter entitled “An anonymity problem“, suggesting that anonymous commenting was not appropriate when “scientists’ livelihoods are at stake because of competition for funding and jobs“. Similarly, in an article at The Conversation, Andy Tattersall, Information Specialist at University of Sheffield, presents the fact post-publication peer review may have an impact on scientists as a potential cause for concern.
It should not be a cause for concern. It is normal (but not the norm) that what we publish (rather than the impact factor of the journal in which it is published) and how we respond to critiques of our work, should have an impact on our careers.
The problems in Sarkar’s papers are numerous. The fact that some scientists respond to reasonable criticism of their published work with abuse, legal threats or lawsuits are a clear demonstration of why anonymity is in some cases necessary. Are Rebecca and Andy really suggesting that scientists should not be accountable for what they publish?