publishable comments


Jeremy discusses writing a comment for a prominent journal in sociology. Reading his post (as a potential comment writer/reviewer myself) provoked the question, when is a comment publishable? What exactly are the criteria for making a genuine contribution via a comment? Is it enough to point out problems with the analysis or interpretation of results or does a publishable comment need to have a broader, theoretical point to make it in the pages of our journals? I really don’t have the answer to these questions and so I’d like to get your thoughts on this. While the criteria for publishing an article in a prominent journal seem fairly clear (technical competence and important theoretical contribution), we rarely discuss or think about when a comment makes a contribution, and more generally, what the purpose, other than to point out errors technical weaknesses (which almost all papers have), behind a comment is.

I’d also like to point out that this post does not reflect on any particular comment, including the one that Jeremy is considering revising. I’m just throwing this out as a general inquiry.

Written by brayden king

December 22, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Posted in academia, brayden, research

6 Responses

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  1. I think editors (not to mention reviewers) vary enormously in their ideas about what makes for an acceptable comment. In general, journals are relatively reluctant to accept comments, although I’ve never heard any kind of real justification for this, other than the kinds of justification used by _Believer_ magazine for only publishing positive reviews.



    December 22, 2007 at 9:25 pm

  2. A comment that corrects an actual error is necessary, or should be seen as necessary by almost anyone who values knowledge. Beyond that, I’ve heard editors say that they prefer that new contributions be framed as new articles, not comments on old ones.



    December 22, 2007 at 11:56 pm

  3. My original post should be corrected. Olderwoman is right that errors should be pointed out and most published papers do not have major errors in them. However, I think it’s safe to say that most papers have technical weaknesses (e.g., leaving out a control variable) that could be looked into further with robustness checks.



    December 23, 2007 at 12:20 am

  4. A professor once turned to me and recommended not post things in a blog that he or she as a potential or de-facto reviewer of a prominent journal would have to approve or reject in an article. His argument went in the direction: Why should I approve an article when we can find the content in a blog anyway? On the other hand: transparency would be a good argument in favor of an open discussion of an article (or pre-version) online, and a blog post is a different format than a journal article. I’d be interested to learn if and to what degrees acceptance for an open discussion like the one on scatterplot is emerging and growing.



    December 23, 2007 at 10:41 pm

  5. tina,
    by your friend’s logic we should abolish working papers, a route that some disciplines take but not sociology or economics.

    it does raise a general meta-issue which occasionally comes up on OT that people are uncomfortable with new scholarly/quasi-scholarly media and the conservative/CYA mentality is to suppress them lest they do harm, without considering that they might also do good.



    December 24, 2007 at 3:01 pm

  6. Gabriel,

    I agree, and I, too, would interpret the recommendation of the professor as a friendly way to express his discomfort and/or opposition with new online media projects in the academic world and also of a rather deep generational gap (whereby age relates to mentality, media use and media experience rather than to the biological age). This kind of scepticism seems to be very widespread in the academia here in Germany; so his comment is very common and seems rather harmless in context. This scepticism is also nourished by some recent ‘blogger bashing’ articles in some of the large German newspapers, broadcasters and TV stations depicting a very one-sided view of the internet in general and the blogosphere in particular. Professional and academic uses of the internet and social software rarely occurs in this kind of media coverage (but it should), and mentions of positive uses of the new scholarly/quasi-scholarly media are mostly confined to a very limited academic public (e.g. readers of OA journals).



    December 29, 2007 at 3:48 pm

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