The inadvertent? image-duplication in the human clone paper still creates some unrest, maybe less so with regard to what this means for the core results of the study (it seems most people think that those will hold) than with regard to the thoroughness of the peer-review and the ability to detect irregularities in high-profile publications (see recent news features in Science and Nature 1, 2, 3).
I don’t know if the image duplication should have been obvious, but the debate about the responsibility of the reviewers seems a bit exaggerated to me. As a reviewer, I see it as my job to judge the scientific importance and validity of the study that is presented to me, but I would usually assume that results are reported truthfully and correct. If it’s really necessary to systematically check papers for fraud or careless mistakes, I guess journals should install appropriate checks. And after all, as long as this was just a small mistake with no bearing on the results, we can easily correct this online nowadays, so no harm done.
What I found interesting about the story though is that the image duplications was first mentioned on a website (PubPeer) that offers the possibility to write anonymous comments in response to published scientific paper. PubPeer states that they try to provide an independent, anonymous platform for post-publication peer-review. I browsed a bit on the site, and it seems to me that there are a few quite good comments out there, although at the moment practically only on biology papers, I couldn’t find any comments on an ecology paper so far.
If widely used, such a post-publication comment system could probably really have a huge potential. There must be a wide array of useful hints and comments on any paper (not only about formal errors), but at the moment this information is scattered across personal communications, journal clubs, blogs and internet forums, even though some Journals such as PLOS have quite good comment functions already. Making this discussion available seems really interesting. One small caveat is that I didn’t find the “forum-type” website of PubPeer ideal, it certainly serves it’s purpose for small comments, but I think it would also be great if you could make more formal replies, with proper typesetting, the option to reveal your name, and permanent ID and histories for all comments, so that comments become citable. Also, it would of course be very interesting to have the pre-publication reviews there as well, along with the response of the authors. Technically, all of this would be no problem – a slightly modified stack-exchange website would already do the trick, but it probably requires a big change of thinking so that this really becomes widely used.