Journals Can and Often Do Enhance Psychological Science


Some research psychologists who champion transparency and replicability have expressed low opinions of journal and journal editors.  I’m enthusiastically on board with efforts to promote transparency and replicability, but I’m also a journal editor.  I have read that journals are vestigial organs that no longer serve valuable functions and that journals are maintained only due to outmoded traditions that make peer-reviewed journal articles the coin of our realm.  Some psychologists have expressed outrage that journals charge people to read their pages.  The argument seems to be that journals add no real value.  In my view, journals can and often do add value.

  For example:

->Journals develop and communicate information about standards to scientists (e.g., the APA and the Psychonomic Society have detailed guidelines regarding statistical analyses).  Authors wishing to publish in journals that set such standards are motivated to meet them.  Probably THE quickest way to increase transparency and replicability is to get journal editors to value preregistration, planning for power/precision, and data and materials sharing. 

->The review process helps select stronger versus weaker contributions, providing a filter on what is more versus less likely to be worth reading.  It does this imperfectly, but imagine the oceans of content we’d be swimming in if the coin of the realm was the number of preprints posted.

->The review process strengthens good submissions by helping authors improve the exposition, the analyses, the arguments, etc., and sometimes by helping them to design follow-up research that clarifies the meaning of the initially submitted work.  

->Copy editing and production enhance readability and make the final product look better.  If folks don’t think that the review and production processes enhance their work, why do they want to post a PDF of the final, post-production version rather than posting the submitted version (which they are always free to do)? 

->Journals’ communications/marketing systems help deliver selected and polished works to readers.  For example This Week in Psychological Science goes out to 30,000+ psychologists.

->For societies such as APS much of the income generated via journals gets reinvested into psychological science in myriad ways (e.g., defraying the cost of conferences, paying for lobbying efforts, funding grants and awards, etc.). 

Some psychologists seem to look forward to a future in which researchers bypass pain-in-the-ass editors, reviewers, copy editors, and all that hassle in favour of posting preprints in central archives. The hope seems to be that the most worthy preprints will naturally attract the most attention and that readers will provide constructive input that leads to ongoing evolution of each paper across multiple versions.  Maybe that will prove to be an effective way of disseminating science.  But I’m not optimistic.

There are problems with the current journal system.  It is my understanding that many large publishers make extraordinary high profits that are difficult to justify and that strain university library budgets and create barriers to access.  That's deplorable even if professional societies get a big share of the loot and do good things with it.  Journals and publishers vary in the extent to which they add value; the worst of them add very little and even the best can and should be improved a lot.  I hope that psychologists will direct their efforts toward improving rather than replacing peer-reviewed journals as the primary venue for primary research reports.



Two points:

1. Do you have a citation that organization like APS use journal revenue to defray the costs of the conference? From what I've seen, they actually make money on the conference and it's not subsidized. 

2. You mention that publishers "may" be making lots of profits from journals. That's an understatement and the data is public, so not sure why you don't cite real facts. For example, Elsevier made nearly $1 BILLION in profits last year (in USD):

and they have a higher profit margin than Google or Apple. Apple and Google are generally thought of as innovative companies that are changing the world. Does Elsevier have a similar impact at such high margins?

I actually do see the value of peer reviews and editors. What I don't like is that I as a taxpayer am paying for research through grants, yet I also have to pay to read the results. Very little other taxpayer-funded efforts are shielded from the public in this manner.



Hi.  Thanks for your comment -- first and so-far only!

I am not sure whether or not APS subsidizes the conference -- I have the idea that they do, but you are right to call me on it because I don't really know.  I'll see if I can find out.  But I do know that APS uses money from journal income for many efforts to promote psychology.  As far as I know, no one within APS is being inappropriately enriched. Same goes for the Psychonomic Society (which doesn't charge registration for members to attend the annual conference).

You quote me as saying that publsihers "may" be making lots of profit, but what I wrote was "It is my understanding that many large publishers make extraordinary high profits that are difficult to justify and that strain university library budgets and create barriers to access."  No "may" about it.  I agree that this is a big problem.  But one of the complexities of the problem is that professional societies such as APS and the Psychonomic Society (which I perceive as making a variety of valuable, positive contributions) share in the profits.  I don't think that makes it OK that big commercial publishers are making such huge returns.  But it does make the situation more complex.



Dear Steve Lindsay,

Thanks for your post. I agree with you that journals and the peer-review system serve important functions. I am wondering why APA journals are hestitant to adopt registered reports (RR)?
According to my understanding, RR are the solution to many of the issues that have been hotly debated recently. RR have all the advantages of preregistrations (e.g., they curb HARKING, p-hacking, and publication bias).
(a) Reviewers and editors are not influenced by the results of the study when they decide whether to accept or reject a paper (although the paper could still get rejected at a later stage if the authors do not stick to their registered plan).
(b) The intro and method section (e.g. power analysis) get more attention because only those are submitted initially.
(c) You get feedback before you run the study (reviewers and editor can give you valuable feedback before it is too late)
(d) Reduced risk and costs for the authors: The authors get to know whether the paper will get accepted before they invest resources in collecting data.

But I guess progress is in sight given that Perspectives on Psychological Science accepts multi-lab registered replication reports and the new journal Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science accepts registered replication reports and registered reports.



Sorry I had missed your comment until now.  Coincidentally, just today there was a lot of vigorous twitter traffic between Joe Simmons and Chris Chambers about RRs.  Chris is extremely keen on them, whereas Joe thinks they are better suited to certain kinds of research than to other kinds of research.  So Joe is more focused on promoting preregistration than on universally calling for RRs.   I am more on Joe's side on that debate.  At Psych Science, we sometimes negotiate RRs when a revision is invited.  We have also just very recently added Preregistered Direct Replications as a new article type, and we encoruage authors to submit those as RRs (but so far have not received any).

BTW, RRRs will be moving from PoPS to the new APS journa, Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science.  AMPPS is edited by Dan Simons, who was previously the lead editor for RRRs at PoPS.




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