The Association for Psychological Science latest issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science has a few interesting articles about the research and publishing side of psychology. It’s a messy, strange place, and one which is occupied largely by researchers who expend their entire careers in the service of psychological research and the labyrinth of journal article publishing. It’s not a place I tread often, because it can be an elaborate, soul-numbing process.
Taylor (2009) is an author with extensive cross-disciplinary publishing experience, and so offers her thoughts on how the scientific journals of psychology could be streamlined and improved as a whole. Her recommendations include:
1. Shorten the average length of papers submitted to journals. Many are simply too long making them “tediously dull.” I couldn’t agree more. I subscribe to probably 250,000+ words per month of journals and probably can read less than 3 to 5 percent of that. The other 90+ percent is wasted on me (and I suspect many readers). Even when I read an article, if it’s over 4,000 words, I’ll do a lot more skimming than if it’s under 1,500 words.
I’d go one further with this suggestion — journals should have a “basic” article and then an “in-depth” article. The “in-depth” article is what typically appears in many psychological academic journals today — articles than can be up to 10,000 words in length. The in-depth article should only appear online. The “basic” or “in-brief” article should be a key abstract and summary from the longer article that highlights the fundamentals of the study in under 1,500 words. It could be submitted by the author, or one could be created by the journal’s editors.
2. Turnaround time for psychology journals is close to forever in today’s “instant publishing” world. While many non-psychology academic journals can turn around a peer-reviewed article in 3 to 5 weeks, in psychology it can take 3 to 6 months, or even longer. This is simply unacceptable in our far more fast-paced society and is making many journals increasingly irrelevant when competing with the likes of PLoS Medicine and such.
3. Reviewers who work for psychology journals are often far more emotional and harsh in their reviews than in other sciences. Wow, so true. For some reviewers, they see it as a time to expound about all of their great knowledge in the topic area (to which I ask, “Why aren’t you writing this article then?”) and it becomes decidedly personal in nature. A review is supposed to be succinct and objective.
4. Reviewers write reviews that are far too long. Agreed. A review doesn’t need to be 8 or 10 pages, as the author notes, for an 8 or 10 page article!
5. Marketing papers and PR are increasingly common and a popular way to disseminate an article’s results, but few psychological researchers embrace or use them. Too bad, because that means many psychological findings are relegated to second-class status. It’s no wonder you hear about all of the pharmaceutical discoveries — they understand the value of marketing and public relations.
Trafimow & Rice (2009) also have a great article in this same issue (along with commentaries also worthy of a read) about the peer-review process in general. It’s too long to cover here (again with the length!), but perhaps I’ll do so in a future entry.
Because, just like some psychology journal articles, I’ve already written far too much for a blog entry!
Taylor, S.E. (2009). Publishing in Scientific Journals: We’re Not Just Talking to Ourselves Anymore. Perspectives on Psychological Science. DOI 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01101.x.