Nature started it with its recently begun open peer review trial, and PLoS got on board with its own announcement of a new interactive journal, PLoS ONE. Now, The Daily Transcript reports that Cell has also joined the latest trend by allowing reader comments on some of its articles. What's the catch? Comments will only be open on one "highlighted" paper each issue. That's too bad, because I was just reading an older Cell paper today that seemed to raise more questions than it answered....
Interestingly, Alex Palazzo of The Daily Transcript raises an important point at the end of his post by mentioning the connection to open access. Despite all of these recent attempts to allow more open feedback on the scientific literature, information won't truly flow freely until journals operate under an open access model.
Short version of my thoughts on this:
Virtual Journal Clubs
Why have the online commentary at the journals themselves? After all, there are conflict of interest issues, as you point out in other contexts. Faculty of 1000 (disclaimer: I'm an insufficiently active member) is trying one version of third-party commentary, but there could be other ways of doing this.
The internet/blogosphere commentary on high profile papers can already be pretty good. I suspect better ways of getting participation and aggregating distributed commentary will evolve. And aren't you more likely to comment on a paper if it's going to lead to more readers/links to your own site, vs. just getting more links for Nature?
That's a good point, and it'll be interesting to see how Cell's experiment plays out. Compared to what Nature and PLoS ONE are doing, what Cell is doing isn't really that revolutionary or interesting and I think you're right that journal clubs and internet discussions would (and will continue) to accomplish much more. At the same time, and I guess this is just my general bias, but I lean toward thinking that the more open the process is, the better. So I say "Why not?"