JBAA Letters section

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Steve Holmes

In answer to Robin’s question, “No, I don’t”. One has to be careful to distinguish between a comment (i.e. a response to the paper) and the groundrules defining how the comment can be made. The issues I am raising refer to the groundrules – once these are defined one can then move on to formulating the comments themselves.

There would appear to be a sub-text inherent in Robin’s remark however – that the Forum would be a better place to discuss papers than the Journal. In this I would fundamentally disagree with him. The protocol for writing, submitting, refereeing and reviewing “learned papers” is well-established throughout the scientific community, and proceeds by the open publication of the paper and its comments in the relevant Journal. By doing so, a reader of the original paper can readily access all parts of any subsequent discussion, and the final conclusion, and thus be sure that the information given in the paper is accurate and reliable (or not, as the case may be). A Forum discussion, on the other hand, is a transitory thing with no firm link to the original paper and so a later reader may not be aware that a discussion has even occurred, let alone what the final judgement on the paper was. It must also be born in mind that the reader may not be a member of the BAA and so even if they think to consult the Forum they probably will not be able to join in the discussion, as this requires a log-on to be established. The only way in which the Forum scores over formal publication is “turn-round time”, but even so this may not be an actual advantage as knowing that there will be a delay before your response is published should encourage a contributor to do the research and carefully think through their submission rather than just bash off a quick reply.