Sunday, 11 October 2020

Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking now charging fees for new submissions

Charging $50 to submit a manuscript. 

This is another baffling move from a journal that was already heading in the wrong direction for three reasons:

(i) Editorials are all over the place. See a recent letter in response to one from last year. 

(ii) The editor-in-chief is not an editor. They don't handle manuscripts or communicate with reviewers. Many reviews are definitely not worth $50 (good, bad or neutral)! 

(iii) An increasing number of papers have obvious issues with basic reporting, which the journal clearly doesn't care about. 

In some areas of finance and accounting, it is common to have submission fees, which are sometimes refunded following acceptance. However, this is not the norm for psychology (nor should it be). 

It looks like the publisher has implemented this on the quiet (kudos to Lee Hadlington for noticing) and is presumably an attempt to handle submission loads. 

The number of submissions shouldn't come as a huge surprise. 

First, cyberpsychology is a growth area and this is a positive sign. Second, but more troubling, is that there is literally nothing of note on what the journal wants or doesn't want. This will lead to a large number of manuscripts being submitted that are not in line with the scope or aims of the journal. 

In order to manage this problem, a sensible editorial might provide clarification on issues facing the journal and outline a vision for papers that would be competitive for publication in the future. 

But there is no vision because there is no editor

At the same time, non-transparent decision making alongside poor communication with reviewers and authors has become a growing problem for both this journal and related publications. This simply serves to alienate everyone who gives the journal a reason to exist in the first place. Exasperated reviewers will refuse to give their time for free and so manuscripts move even more slowly through the system. 

It's a vicious cycle.

I wonder if members of the editorial board were consulted about these changes? Assuming they weren't, I would urge them to consider their position carefully. 

Personally, for me this is the final straw. I will no longer be reviewing manuscripts or submitting work to the journal. 

There are a growing number of excellent alternatives. 

Update 12/10/2020

At least three members of the editorial board have now resigned in protest.  

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Why publishing a paper every day is a problem.

[see updates at the end of this article]

I disagree with a fair chunk of Griffiths and co's work theoretically and methodologically. That's science. But Griffithsgate goes beyond that and raises some uncomfortable questions about editorial bias and the very real consequences of careless applied research (see Dorothy Bishop's blog and Tom Chiver's article in Unheard).

In saying that, it is tricky to separate procedures from the science because the rushed nature of the work means that it is riddled with contradictions. Like a political party trying to avoid the opposition, it is almost impossible to debate a moving target. For example:  
That's all just procedural remember and long before getting to the actual science. I've previously written about the problems of publishing on an industrial scale as it relates to the impacts of technology on people and society. However, this tale all started with a straightforward request to view data based on a statement made in a published paper. 

I like to think that when questions are raised, people should speak (I suspect most would want to) and discuss what is going on. For example, problems with a recent paper in Psychological Science were swiftly dealt with by the original authors

Indeed, stuff goes wrong all the time. That's research. It's the response that matters. 

To date (15/7/2020) we have heard: 
  • Nothing from the editor-in-chief of IJMHA or editorial board. Authors have been allowed to speak on their behalf.
  • Nothing from editor-in-chief or editorial board of JBA.
  • Nothing from the publisher of either journal
  • Nothing from Nottingham Trent University.
I'm surprised that others who sit on the editorial boards of either journal (aside from Griffiths) have been so quiet. Personally, I would resign my position if no statement is forthcoming or if their hand is forced by a publisher. Doing nothing risks making this appear like it is all business as usual. I would also be curious to know how many papers submitted to IJMHA or JBA that included Griffiths name have ever been rejected. 

One thing I've learnt over the years is that many of the above people who could answer these questions, and who are in positions of power to do so, will immediately side-step the issue and not see it as their problem to solve. 

Of course, this explains why the system has allowed all this to happen in the first place, despite the fact that every scientist in the land can see the problem. 



Data has now been provided alongside a correction to the paper that appeared in IJMHA following the original request. 


Formal investigation has yet to materialise from JBA. 

Information that was previously online about a COVID-19 special issue appears to have disappeared (including all tweets from the Editor-in-chief).

In the meantime, papers have become (I think) even more erratic, relying largely on newspaper articles and Google search queries.  


1. Griffiths has responded to evidence regarding self-plagiarism. The argument encourages readers to consider how re-using text is ok if the audience is different. A somewhat confusing line of thought given that you would normally change how you write depending on the audience (e.g., academic vs interested member of the public). Most of the text recycling flagged by others appears to occur in peer-reviewed outlets, which at the very least requires permission from the copyright holder (usually the publisher) in advance of publication. 

This is the problem with writing a paper everyday. It's just going to repeat itself. 


1. The publisher of JBA (Akadémiai Kiadó) have posted a response on Dorothy Bishop's blog (see the comments section). This is a positive step and in answer to my earlier question, it would appear that some papers co-authored by Griffiths have been rejected in JBA. They conclude:

We believe that the data support that our publication process is not biased.

It is somewhat a shame that the publisher has not shared their data in a way that could illustrate the number of reviews per paper or the number of reviewers who reviewed multiple papers by the same authors. This may have have helped put this issue to bed. Dorothy Bishop's blog and analysis, in contrast, provided all the underlying code and data to support her conclusions. 

A more formal investigation regarding the specific scientific claims made in Griffiths et al's papers is now in the pipeline. Hopefully, this will be conducted by someone who is independent and has no conflicts of interest with the editorial board, journal or the publisher. 

2. Griffiths has also responded to issues concerning publication metrics of JBA that appeared in the same blog. 

Monday, 25 May 2020

To review or not review, that is the question.

I tweeted about a dilemma earlier this week. It's a familiar tale. 

In the last few months, I've reviewed 3 papers for the same journal. I am also a co-author of a paper that is under review at the same outlet.  

To be completely transparent, our paper has been reviewed as far as I can tell, but it has now spent more time on a desk than with reviewers. A colleague emailed politely asking if the paper would be sent out for review in Feb after it sat for a month with no activity. I emailed again asking for an update on our paper earlier this month. The journal office claims to forward emails on, but we receive zero response from any editor. 

What do you do?

The problem with not reviewing is that I am not helping authors who deserve to have their paper reviewed in a timely fashion. On a side note, the very same journal also has a habit of giving reviewers a set number of days to complete a review and then cancelling the review before the due date. 

And then they wonder why they can't get reviewers!

Going against the grain, I have accepted the review request (and now I've blogged about it as well - sorry). 

Anyway.....I should really let this go, but the injustice of it annoys me. My co-authors deserve something from the whole process rather than a wall of silence. It also rubs salt in the wound when papers co-authored by editors appear to sail through the review process. 

Honestly, what message does that send to the community who serve your journal? 

I grow weary of editors who are clearly asleep at the wheel. This affects every author and reviewer and I have written before about the distinction between editors who rightly want to to give something back to the academic community and those who are using it as a line of their CV without lifting a finger.  

Anyway...I should really let this go. But before I do....

I decided to explore if the publisher had ever purchased the domain name of the journal in question. I naively assumed that publishers or editors might check on this for journals that have been around for awhile, especially where technology is a core focus. 

They haven't.

I am pleased to say that I am now the proud owner of the domain name associated with this specific journal (.com naturally). 

If you want to guess which journal I've been talking about, try going to that URL. 

A correct guess will point straight to my personal website. 

However, I should warn you that after getting carried away, I now own a variety of domain names for journal titles that specialise in technology and psychology.

Stay safe.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Smartphones within Psychological Science: It's on

Writing academic books has become somewhat less fashionable in psychology, but I’ve always been encouraged to do things I genuinely want to do rather than be completely guided by the REF, TEF or KEF etc. That advice has always stuck with me. 

The book is now almost finished pending some minor edits and a bit of copyediting. I am aware that a few early versions of the manuscript have gone out to some folk who might say something nice for the back cover.

Pretty much all the content is new and, I hope, as up-to-date as a book can be. Some of it naturally pulls ideas from a handful of recent papers. On a side note, it's been an interesting experience to wrestle permissions from publishers so I can re-use portions of text or figures from my own papers!

Publication is penned for later this year (update September 2020: you can buy it now), but in the meantime here are three general things that have stuck with me throughout the course of putting it together. 

1. I'll start with the positive. Mobile technology is letting psychologists make exciting advances in almost every area of the discipline. Cognition, personality and social psychology are the real highlights, but this often extends beyond psychology and demonstrates clear benefits of interdisciplinary research. I've read so many papers where I find myself muttering 'I wish I had thought of that'. 

2. On the other hand, theoretical and methodological misalignment remains a grand challenge. For example, smartphone interactions that might support positive health interventions, but which could also drive a negative outcome remain distanced. They are considered by a completely different set of researchers under different theoretical frameworks despite obvious overlaps in the application of the technology. Similarly, from a methodological perspective, the gulf is arguably even wider. Research that considers how smartphones might limit cognitive functioning for example, appears to be separated from groups who have developed apps that can test cognitive functioning!

3. Psychology has a tendency to obsess about why new technology is harmful and then struggles to be involved productively when it becomes a key component of everyday life. This cycle then loops. Genuine harms are very real and include issues that pertain to unequal access, cyberbullying, misinformation and security vulnerabilities, but these are not specific to smartphones. They are universal and are as relevant to software developers as they are to behavioural scientists.  

I offer a few suggestions on how these problems might be mitigated in the future although several recent pre-prints with smarter colleagues already feel like they are light years ahead. 

Kaye, L. K., Orben, A., Ellis. D. A., Hunter, S. C. and Houghton, S. (2020). The conceptual and methodological mayhem of “screen time”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17 (10), 3661,

Satchell, L., Fido, D., Harper, C. A., Shaw, H., Davidson, B. I., Ellis, D. A., Lancaster, G. L. J. and Pavetich, M. (in press). Development of an Offline-Friend Addiction Questionnaire (O-FAQ): Are most people really social addicts? Behavior Research Methods,

Shaw, H., Ellis, D. A., Geyer, K., Davidson, B. I., Ziegler, F. V. and Smith, A. (in press). Quantifying smartphone ‘use’: Choice of measurement impacts relationships between ‘usage’ and health. Technology Mind and Behavior

Davidson, B. I., Ellis, D. A., Bowman, N. D., PhD, Liveley, G., Shaw, H., Przybylski, A. K., & Levine, M. (2019, October 7). Avoiding Irrelevance: The manifestation and impacts of technophobia in psychological science.

Davidson, B. I., Shaw, H., & Ellis, D. A. (2020, March 1). Fuzzy Constructs in Assessment: The Overlap between Mental Health and Technology ‘Use’.

* * *
However, one big problem remains.

A small, but vocal number of researchers in the area of technology effects have a track record of peddling utter bullshit. Anyone reading this far will have already generated their own list. 

Those last few sentences didn’t make it into the book I’m afraid, but the mantra of ‘technology is the biggest public health problem ever because because’ is being very publicly exposed. 

It is not simply the result of highlighting poor research practices, but something more profound. I wish I had seen it before.

Many have simply ceased to be scientists.

When scientists disagree or are provided with evidence that contradicts an existing theory or viewpoint, it might be disappointing, but it should advance the field. We are all in a privileged position. We get paid to think carefully and hopefully learn something along the way.

Over the last 24 months, two response patterns have emerged from those who are challenged. Rather than engage, discuss or collaborate in an adversarial fashion you get the following responses.

Pattern (a) involves ignoring everything and saying the same thing - alone or with other authors. Often on an industrial scale. It’s the equivalent of a child putting their fingers in their ears and shouting louder to compensate.

Pattern (b) is a form of token based engagement, but somehow manages to do (a) at the same time. Quite a remarkable skill, but also not very scientific. I continue to be amazed at the volume of stuff that gets past peer review although based on publication dates, it's obvious that some work hasn't been reviewed at all.

As a result, screen time or 'smartphone addiction' debates are often no longer discussing theory A versus theory B.

To borrow a line from a colleague, psychology finally has it's very own version of flat-earthers.

Ironically, social media has done more to expose these issues, which is just as well because it sure as hell isn’t journal editors, the BPS or the APA. 

Social media can perpetrate misinformation, but also expose it for what it is. In the vast majority of cases, any effects of mass communication technology on people and society are unlikely to be uniform. 

That last sentence did make it into the book. 

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Technology Addiction Claptrap

We recently ran a little study to see what happens when you prevent a small group of students from using their smartphone for 24 hours. Participants were instructed to place their smartphone in a secure evidence bag. So what happened?

Well not much really, they missed their smartphone. 

As part of this study, we also asked participants to complete the Smartphone 'Addiction' Inventory (SPAI). Interestingly, a few participants who dropped out later in the study had fractionally higher SPAI scores. This may indicate that smartphone ‘addicts’ were unable to fully participate in the study and so discontinued, thus affecting our findings. However, this is unlikely given that smartphone addiction scales do not align favourably with objective behaviour. It is worth noting that while this small number of participants were slightly more anxious at time 1 they were also on average, a bit happier.

It's increasingly difficult to know exactly what these 'addiction' assessments measure. They don't correlate with the types of behaviour you might expect from an addiction (e.g., rapid smartphone checking). It perhaps has more to do with how much someone enjoys or thinks about their smartphone. This alone does not support the notion of any addiction - a point that we could have pushed further in our discussion. For example, SPAI scores in our sample correlated very highly with smartphone craving at every time point, but not mood or anxiety. I suspect our sample was too small to detect these smaller effects, which have been routinely appeared in larger samples

Of course, these scales could have nothing to do with technology at all, and a stronger replication of our study would include a second group to examine how giving up any valued personal possession might generate similar effects (or a lack of). But I think you can already guess what the outcome of such a study might be.

I remember being surprised to learn that those who argue for the existence of additive tendencies of smartphones haven’t attempted this sort of study before. In closing, my challenge for those who continue to argue for addictive tendencies associated with technology use is to start collecting (and maybe even sharing) data that will support its existence. 

A scale with a clinical sounding name plucked out the air won't suffice. The odd case study where a person has apparently been self referred to a clinic that has untried and untested methods is also not going to cut it. Experimental work without a control is also a long-standing problem.

If I wanted to make arguments about the impact of mobile technology on people and society more generally, I’d might start with a survey of general practitioners who are at the frontline of healthcare provision in the UK. Do they see negative issues in the population associated with specific technology use? 

I suspect if they do, then it will have more to do with a lack of physical activity and poor diet. The latter of which may well be a consequence of spending too much time in front of a screen. However, having been fortunate enough to work with a number of general practitioners on related research projects, I suspect they would confirm that social deprivation is the single biggest issue for people they see on a regular basis. Not technology 'addiction'.

We are all guilty sometimes of forgetting the bigger picture (myself included), but the above might serve as a reminder for what should be at the forefront of police markers minds. 

One final thought. I am currently working my way through a variety of technology related literature as part of a forthcoming book (shameless plug). 

It's amazing to behold how much time psychological science has spent trying to convince itself that smartphones are damaging health, cognition and social communication. An identical web can be woven from research concerning video games and even the internet itself. The notion of 'addiction' is woven into almost every narrative when psychologists should really be referring to habitual behaviour, which of course sounds a lot less clinical or dangerous. 

I completely take the point that psychological science has a duty to understand and where possible, predict or mitigate future problems that new technologies could bring. 

But a sense of balance is required. 

As a consequence, far less attention has been devoted to developing new methods following the widespread adoption of such technology. Meanwhile, many other fields (e.g., medicine and computer science) are methodologically moving out of sight.

Social psychology also has offer much more when it comes to discussions around issues of ethics and morality regarding new and future technologies, but this will become increasingly difficult unless the discipline positively engages with new technology in the first place. 

Ironically, when new technology or methods are used in way that benefits research directly, we often find that any effects on health and social interaction largely vanish.   

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Replicating habitual smartphone behaviours: 2009-2018

We recently collected more smartphone usage data to test if pen and paper scales could predict behaviour (they didn't). However, in the process we managed to replicate some of our previous results from 2015.

Specifically, the average number of smartphone pick-ups per day remains remarkably similar across both samples despite using different software and smartphone operating systems to quantify these behaviours.

These results therefore cast some doubt over the idea that Android and iPhone users differ in their usage behaviours (we previously observed some demographic and personality differences between these two groups).

Mean number of pick-ups from 2015 sample: 84.68 (SD=55.23).

Mean number of pick-ups from 2018 sample: 85.44 (SD=53.34).

It's worth remembering that our results in 2015 were already comparable with data collected by others in 2009!

The idea that people are using their phones more doesn't really hold up to scrutiny. 

In terms of total hours usage, this did differ somewhat between the two samples with a more youthful sample in 2015 averaging 5.05 hours a day (SD=2.73). Fast forward to 2018 and this dropped to 3.9 hours (SD=1.99).

Finally, while we can't be sure, it looks like Apple might be using a very similar feature of the operating system that is freely available within Android devices to record and store usage data. 

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The Role of a Journal Editor

Having navigated the academic publishing system as an author, reviewer and occasional editor, I can confirm that there are inconsistencies at almost every turn*. From the variable quality of reviews to the procedures in place during article or chapter production, even within the same journal, authors and reviewers can have very different experiences.

Previously, I was led to believe that the role of an editor was clear and consistent. Editors read manuscripts, find reviewers, and make key decisions based on reviews and their own expertise. In addition, editors can help guide authors towards what they feel are the most important points that should be addressed following review. This is particularly important when it comes to clarifying the direction of a paper when reviewers express conflicting views.

However, a number of editors and associate editors, who are sometimes paid by journals, don't always act in a way that is helpful or fair to authors and reviewers. In many instances, following peer review, authors receive a 100% stock reply with no indication that an editor has even read the paper. This may not matter if all reviews pull in the same direction, but that rarely happens.

For example, imagine one reviewer is positive and recommends revisions, but another argues convincingly to reject the paper. The default option for 'non-editors' will be to reject the paper following review without explanation. Alternatively, if 2 or 3 reviewers are positive and suggest revisions, the decision will automatically become revise and resubmit again, with no explanation or guidance.

Even a single sentence to confirm that the paper has been read would add something.

The problem is that authors can be left in limbo wondering what comments are more important especially when reviews are contradictory or if one review is simply of a higher quality than another. A paper in this position will typically go back out to the same reviewers and unless both are happy, the paper will be rejected (based on the logic outlined above).

This lack of direction can have a negative impact on revised manuscripts as the content becomes muddied when authors feel they must appease every reviewer comment. It is possible to request additional clarification from an editor, but this does not guarantee a reply.

Regardless of the outcome, if there is zero editorial input, the editor simply becomes an administrator rather than a fellow academic who plays an important role in developing the work and journal. This also poses problems for reviewers who then feel that their contributions are not worthy of further comment regardless of the final outcome.

Of course, many journals appoint excellent editors and their input ensures that authors will submit their best work to that outlet again and again. These editors have a genuine desire and duty of care that improves the work.

On the other hand, those who are new to scientific publishing may be surprised to learn that when you lift the lid, many journals appear to have almost no editorial input. This makes me think that there may be some confusion of what is expected following an editorial appointment.

Perhaps as well as a list of predatory publishers, we also need a list of journals that have 'real' editors. That is, experts who continue to set the bar high by providing a service to the field, which should be welcomed, encouraged, applauded and rewarded.

The role of a journal editor may be changing, but when much of psychology still struggles to ensure that papers, data and associated materials are freely available, I'd rather editors said more, not less.

*Note: This is purely based on my own and colleagues experiences publishing within psychology, health and computer science.