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.

About Steve Lindsay

Cognitive psychologist specializing in human memory.
Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *