A cross-disciplinary assessment of post-publication peer review policies and practice in influential scientific journals
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Description: Journals exert considerable control over letters, commentaries and online comments that criticize prior research (post-publication critique). We assessed policies (Study One) and practice (Study Two) related to post-publication critique at 15 top-ranked journals in each of 22 scientific disciplines (N = 330 journals). Two-hundred and seven (63%) journals accepted post-publication critique and often imposed limits on length (median 1000, interquartile range (IQR) 500–1200 words) and time-to-submit (median 12, IQR 4–26 weeks). The most restrictive limits were 175 words and two weeks; some policies imposed no limits. Of 2066 randomly sampled research articles published in 2018 by journals accepting post-publication critique, 39 (1.9%, 95% confidence interval [1.4, 2.6]) were linked to at least one post-publication critique (there were 58 post-publication critiques in total). Of the 58 post-publication critiques, 44 received an author reply, of which 41 asserted that original conclusions were unchanged. Clinical Medicine had the most active culture of post-publication critique: all journals accepted post-publication critique and published the most post-publication critique overall, but also imposed the strictest limits on length (median 400, IQR 400–550 words) and time-to-submit (median 4, IQR 4–6 weeks). Our findings suggest that top-ranked academic journals often pose serious barriers to the cultivation, documentation and dissemination of post-publication critique.