I have just read a recent paper in a well-respected journal. The work is technically sound and the results interesting. However, the authors comment their main results as unexpected and “extraordinary” (in the abstract and in the text), while it is an instance of a very generic and well-known phenomenon, which has been experimentally confirmed (and theoretically explained) in a large range of systems in the last decade. The author do not seem aware of the literature on this phenomenon.
Now, I am somewhat conflicted between two courses of action:
- Raising the matter with them privately, making them aware of the literature they have missed so that they do not repeat the mistake, and telling them (nicely) that their claims of extraordinary behavior are not valid.
- Doing the same thing, but through a formal “Comment” published in the same journal. This does not only bring the matter to their attention, but also to other readers of the journal. Right now, I favor this option, because I think it improves the scientific record.
The journal in question does publish comments, its policy on the matter is the following:
These are a medium for the discussion and exchange of scientific opinions […] For publication of a Comment or a Reply, they must be judged by the referees to present new insights and be of interest to our readership.
Moreover, a Comment in the journal will necessarily include a “Reply to the Comment” by the original authors, as per journal policy.
So, how do I choose between contacting the authors in private, or submitting a formal “Comment” to the journal? What factors should guide my choice?