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. 



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. 


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. 

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 a specific journal. Since January, I am also a co-author of a paper that is under review at the same outlet. Actually, and 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 making things worse for authors who deserve to have their paper reviewed in a timely fashion. In saying that, 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 junior co-authors deserve something from the whole process rather than a wall of silence.

Despite huge advances in the open science agenda, many journals like this remain disorganised with zero transparency or accountability. 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 see 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, 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 or results in an alternative, 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 a 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.

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’.

Kaye, L. K., Orben, A., Ellis, D. A., Hunter, S. C., & Houghton, S. (2020, April 23). The Conceptual and Methodological Mayhem of “Screen-time”. 

Satchell, L., Fido, D., Harper, C. A., Shaw, H., Davidson, B. I., Ellis, D. A., … Pavetich, M. (2020, March 18). Development of an Offline-Friend Addiction Questionnaire (O-FAQ): Are most people really social addicts?. 

* * *
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.