This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Should we build an online Journal Club?

FOR a few weeks I've been toying with the idea of an online Journal Club. As a PhD student I am encouraged to take part in organised journal clubs, where current papers are discussed, scrutinized and learnt from. I am lucky in that my research group run their own journal club, but I am all too aware that many do not have such an opportunity. Furthermore, as part of a course I have been attending lately I was asked to critique a microbiology paper - this being unrelated to my own field of research - and I learnt a lot from the experience, approaching a paper as a rank outsider, picking up on what is clear and what is not considering my background knowledge of the topic was next to nil.

So I thought about setting up an online journal club, a place to discuss papers of fields all across science, because we can all learn a great deal in doing so. Plus, those that do not attend journal clubs themselves could use the site to boost their analytical, discussion and presentational skills. It became more of an idea, however, as I started to think about how it might work and what rules and controls would be needed.

I kept the idea reasonably quiet, lest anybody beat me to it.

They beat me to it.

Two evenings ago saw the first Twitter Journal Club discussion, users critiquing a pre-arranged paper live on Sunday evening using the hashtag #TwitJC. It looked great and was well received.

But TwitJC is largely for the medical community, whereas the rest of science has much to discuss too. Therefore, I don't want to give up on the idea of a wider scientific journal club. It wouldn't be a live, Twitter-based setup, but it would allow for widespread debate and, you've got to hope, enjoyment. So I open this up to the wider Internet:

1. Is this a worthwhile project to pursue?
2. If so, what form is preferable? Should it be discussion-of-a-paper based, or be feature based, providing a facility for people to write and comment on News & Views-style articles as in Nature or "this is my favourite paper... because..."-style articles, such as the Journal club series run by Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology? Or all of these?
3. If discussion based, should there be directed questions or should it be a free for all?
4. What papers? Which journals can the majority of people access?
5. Who should it be aimed at - PhDs, postdocs, academics, the public, or everyone?
6. How should it work with regards to permissions (from authors) and moderation (of commenters), given that it would be a very public forum of discussion?

I would appreciate your comments and suggestions and, should it be agreed that this should happen, would welcome people who would like to become involved. If this is going to be done properly it would need, I would imagine, a healthy team of willing volunteers to build and feed it. My specialism falls within biology - if it were to be used for the other sciences I would definitely need at least one person from each major discipline.

Thanks in advance!


  1. Great idea! From a journalism point of view it would be good to discuss papers - that have to be available in PDF form or open source - and maybe the occasional newspaper or article if it is controversial? I'd like it to be a discussion for people interested in the research - so accessible to the public - ie no question too silly - but it would be great if experienced scientists can be involved - PhD upwards.

    It might be good to have a particular curator from the field in question if possible to a. direct questions and b. moderate answers.

  2. Thanks Christine! I can see the role in a forum to discuss papers for journalism - definitely something to explore. Newspaper articles weren't something I had reckoned on, but why not? It's all about discussing what the science actually says, which means critiquing the reviews and newsworthy summaries too! I had in mind at some stage to run a journal club on a News & Views or Highlight to see how faithful such articles are.

    Though I had thought it would just be for PhD students, given that that was the inspiration, a public forum would be really important - definitely have to keep it open source or out of copyright in that case as otherwise people would be commenting on research they can't access or read. As long as its an informed and reasoned debate it doesn't matter who uses the tool.

    If you know of anybody in particular fields who might be able to curate different fields please let me know!

  3. I really like the idea but am not a scientist, however I see things like that working in other parts of the academic community and being really successful.