Commenting on PubMed: A Successful Pilot

endpilot_blogimgWe are pleased to announce that PubMed Commons is here to stay! After developing and piloting the core commenting system for PubMed, a pilot of journal clubs was added. And we have completed a major internal evaluation of the use of the Commons. We aim to publish that soon, so stay tuned to this blog or Twitter for news on that.

PubMed Commons provides a forum for scientific discourse that is integrated with PubMed, a major database of citations to the biomedical literature. Any author of a publication in PubMed is eligible to join and post comments to any citation.

More than 9,500 authors have joined PubMed Commons – and they have posted over 4,000 comments to more than 3,300 publications, mostly on recent publications. Commenting has plateaued, so the volume is low. But the value of comments has remained high. And comments often attract a lot of attention.

About half the comments are on clinical or health-related publications. Members have been using PubMed Commons to:

  • Update and expand the public record, for instance by pointing to new data, relevant publications, or alternative interpretations
  • Note corrections and retractions to publications
  • Post discussion and critique, either directly or via links to blog posts and other platforms
  • Provide links to datasets, code, or publicly accessible versions of publications
  • Call attention to issues affecting reproducibility, such as cell line misidentification

Authors posting to their own publications contribute about one in five comments. About one-third of these have been replies to questions or discussion from others. Since the PubMed Commons Team began notifying authors of comments on their publications, the proportion of comments with author replies has increased. However, the rate of reply remains below 10%. We will keep working on ways to encourage more author response.

Just a year ago, we introduced a new mechanism to capture the synthesis of journal club discussions of scientific publications. PubMed Commons Journal Clubs have full commenting privileges and profile pages to provide background information about the club. To date, 20 journal clubs have joined. These institutional, virtual, and hybrid journal clubs represent a range of clinical and biomedical disciplines. They have become a critical and vibrant part of PubMed, and we are planning more support for this initiative.

PubMed will shortly turn 20. It has become a major resource for finding biomedical and health-related literature. There are now more than 25 million citations. And there were more than 2.7 billion searches in the last year – that’s more than 7 million searches a day.

That means that comments have a large potential audience, and the interest in them is growing. Visits to the PubMed Commons homepage have nearly doubled, from 1.2 million in the first half of 2014 to 2.3 million in the first half of 2015.

We believe the commenting function addresses a critical need, for PubMed and for the development of biomedical research. So a big “thank you” from us to everyone who has contributed their time and energy to supporting the Commons and commenting at PubMed.

Just because the pilot has ended, doesn’t mean PubMed Commons will stop evolving. With the pilot over, we’re working on an application program interface (API) that will enable hosting of PubMed comments on third-party sites. And other new features are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, anyone can submit suggestions and feedback by using the “Write to the Help Desk” link at the bottom of NCBI pages.


Ready to get involved? Visit our Getting Started page to learn more about how to join and participate in PubMed Commons – or start here if you would like your Journal Club to join in.


The PubMed Commons Team

4 thoughts on “Commenting on PubMed: A Successful Pilot

    • We periodically post updated summary data on the blog (numbers through October 2016 are at the end of this post). We’ll post some updated numbers soon and let you know via Twitter when available.

      You can also find the number of publications with comments at any time by searching PubMed for ‘has_user_comments[sb]’. Or you can use the ‘Reader comments’ filter (in the left side bar of PubMed search results) to limit searches to records with PubMed Commons comments.

      If you’d like to more detail about PubMed Commons use, check out our 2016 AAAS Meeting poster:

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