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In my area of research (experimental psychology), publishing an empirical paper takes on average one year of work. It seems to me (I could be wrong) that those authors who appear to use every available opportunity to write commentaries on recent "big" papers have it easier (or so they think) than those who instead prioritise publishing their own research despite the increased required efforts.

My first question is to do with the "tactic" of relying a great deal on such publications in order to build one's CV and/or h-index. While a commentary paper does not, of course, "weigh" as much in someone's CV as an empirical paper, it might still weigh more "per unit" [of time spent working at it]. That is, one could conceivably write such a paper in a month, whereas the "academic credit" you get for it, while lower, is certainly not lower by a factor of 12; and in any case the h-index is blind to the distinction.

My second question: in what circumstances is such an offer (made to a relevant journal, to write a commentary to a "big" paper) likely to get accepted, and by whom is it typically made? If an early-career researcher feels they have commentaries that the community/field might benefit from, should they pitch around their commentary-paper idea to journals? I used to think such papers are something only established researchers write, and at the invitation of journal editors rather than at their own request. However, I am seeing more and more junior researchers who are writing (unsolicited) commentary papers with only a minimally-relevant publication record.

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    I think that writing "derived work" isn't an effective way to build a reputation. You may even be wrong about the work involved, since really understanding the work being commented on isn't trivial. There is no easy road to academic success. – Buffy Dec 19 '18 at 21:07
  • I absolutely agree, however even the time spent understanding others' research in great depth is trivial compared to doing one's own. And academics differ with regards to how much they are inclined to ride other 'waves'. Any thoughts about part #2 of the q.? – z8081 Dec 19 '18 at 21:11
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    Maybe just a personal observation prone to cognitive biases, but highly cited commentaries tend to be made by people who are already highly cited and don't have much need to boost their reputation (this could be field dependent). That is, people are reading the commentary because they value the position and opinion of the author, rather than vice-versa. – Bryan Krause Dec 19 '18 at 21:42
  • @BryanKrause. Yes, a late career fallback, also not a game for beginners without reputation. – Buffy Dec 19 '18 at 21:53
  • @Buffy I disagree with "fallback" as a characterization - the commentaries I have in mind are certainly not written by people who have nothing else going on, and certainly are not in need of a fallback to pad their resume or justify their continued existence. – Bryan Krause Dec 20 '18 at 16:21
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Again, this is from a different field and rife with personal opinions, but I would not read a commentary paper unless:

(1) I know the author(s) to be reputed in the field and have possibly read some of their work before.

(2) The commentary has been recommended by someone personally.

(3) The commentary comes from a rival group and has a decidedly different perspective from the original.

If these conditions are not met, why waste time gaining second-hand knowledge instead of reading the original? If one aims to use it in research, one would anyway visit the original to establish veracity.

If others in the community think similarly, such commentaries are unlikely to be cited, or even accepted for publication. So it seems like a wasted effort to try publishing it (preparing such a commentary might be an enriching experience in it's own right though).

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I'm not from your area of research so my answer might be invalid, but in my field it happens that you are asked to list "original papers" and "derived papers" in different sections of your CV. So when you are applying, e.g. for a professorship, the original papers are the ones which are taken into account more heavily than the others.

Especially earlier in your career you should focus on your own scientific work. This qualifies you to write good commentaries, later ;-).

  • Not my field either, but it sounds entirely valid. – Buffy Dec 19 '18 at 21:52
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    Sounds reasonable, although it's all stuff I thought I acknowleged in the throat-clearing that prefaced the questions :) (about commentaries not weighing as much) – z8081 Dec 19 '18 at 22:39

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