Wednesday, May 30, 2018

An interesting take on the business of academic journals

I want to share this particular article simply because there is something rotten in the state of academic publishing: All publishers are predatory - some are bigger than others. The author shares a personal vignette about a recent experience with one of Elsevier's journals, and in the process examines how a large corporate journal enterprise is making quite a profit off the backs of scholars and the institutions that house our research offices and labs. Most importantly, for those without necessary institutional access, just how much is charged for an article that hasn't even been officially published yet. I think this passage in particular is worth considering:
We still don’t know if they were taken into consideration, as to this date, more than five months later, a typeset version of the article has still not been made available, and all that can be found in the website is our own PDF version.

Nevertheless, by visiting the journal’s website, I have been made aware that it is already charging US$ 35.95 for a single copy of the article (Pinto et al. 2017). Of course, most customers will access it through an institutional subscription to the journal - which, also according to the website, costs US$ 4420 per year for an institution, not including taxes.

Now let’s briefly review what the publisher has done in order to charge those prices:

- It provided a platform for submission - which basically merged files into a PDF and forwarded it by e-mail to the editor, something a marginally tech-savvy person could have done in less than 10 minutes.

- Through the editor, it looked for reviewers for the article. We do not know how much work that took, as the process occurs behind doors. Nevertheless, it took more than 3 months for the publisher to provide us with a couple of brief reviews. In comparison, a mere 48 hours after the preprint version of the article had been posted on bioRxiv, it had already been retweeted 15 times (although no formal comments had been made), suggesting that scientific readership might not be that hard to find.

- After a whopping 102 days, the publisher was able to provide some feedback on the article - 5 comments that fit into little more than half a page. That feedback was based on the opinion of a reviewer that, in all likelihood, provided his expertise for free for the publisher. That said, we cannot know for sure whether the chosen reviewers were indeed experts in the field, as both of them remained anonymous.

- After resubmission, it took around 30 days to confirm that the paper was accepted, without any further comments or feedback to justify that delay.

- After acceptance, it provided an automatically typeset version of the article in which the formatting of tables was ruined. After complaints on the proof, they have still not been able to provide a final typeset version of the manuscript at the time of writing, even though more than three months have passed.

On the other side of the deal, my coauthors and I worked for around 2 years on the manuscript at the time of submission. To arrive at the final product, we reviewed 1050 original studies and 142 meta-analyses, and extracted data from 326 of those articles in order to produce a 6,486-cell, 282-row-x-23-column spreadsheet. We produced figures, had countless discussions on the subject, read a huge amount of articles, worked hundreds of hours on the manuscript, and showed it to multiple collaborators who provided their input. Both my salary and my coauthors’ scholarships were paid by Brazilian governmental agencies. Ultimately, that is the value for which the publisher charges with the fees quoted above - science produced with public money whose copyright is transferred for free to a private company.
Now about that submission platform: Elsevier journals may vary in terms of how well that platform is used. Part of what is supposed to make their journals and the articles contained within them worth the price of admission is that the submission process as well as the entire review process strictly adheres to COPE guidelines. That means among other things that any author submitting a manuscript has an assurance that their work is being cross checked with up-to-date software to check for authenticity. As one of the company's associate publishers accidentally informed me, one should realize that Elsevier's journals may cross check submissions. That should be a concern to any author. If there is ever a concern for any duplicate content - and that is one that any of us who write multiple manuscripts on the same topic continually worry about - it is not entirely clear that Elsevier's journals uniformly cross check. You are really at the mercy of a competent publishing and editorial team for each specific journal currently owned by Elsevier. Some of its journals may avoid using the submission platform altogether. I had that experience last year with a submission to Current Opinion in Psychology. Given that a subscription to the journal goes for $2358 per year (plus tax) and the price per article is $31.50 (and those articles are little more than superficial narrative reviews), not including tax, we should all expect better than a submission process befitting one of the sort of journals once featured in Beall's infamous list. Let's just say that the editors and associate publisher responsible for that journal don't really want to talk about the submission and review process.

We'll put that little detail aside for a moment. The bigger point is that there is an enormous transfer of wealth from public funds used to finance scholarly work to private for-profit corporations, and we're at their mercy as far as quality control is concerned. I'm no fan of the sort of predatory journals and publishers that Beall tried to expose. However, they are small-time compared to some of the conglomerates that dominate our current academic landscape. I am increasingly gravitating toward open-access journals and platforms, in particular non-profit. I'm convinced that research should be treated as a public good rather than a private commodity. For the time being, the system rewards those of us who turn a blind eye to that particular value. Given some of Elsevier's recent setbacks (whole nations are now ending subscription contracts with Elsevier), I think it is safe to say that, as Bob Dylan might have put it, "it doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing." My concern is that open access will itself become commodified, and any of us with a grain of good sense and decency should do whatever we can to prevent that from occurring. There are plenty of good folks already on it. They'll need all the support they can get.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

How Do I Decompress? Read Fiction, of Course.

Oh, I probably rewatch a film or two as well.

I saw a film called Atomic Blonde a while back, which I really enjoyed. A bit later, I realized that there was a graphic novel, The Coldest City, upon which the film was based. Naturally, I had to read the novel, and its prequel (The Coldest Winter - set in the winter of 1981-1982 in East & West Berlin, and featuring one of the lead characters from The Coldest City). My assumption is that most of those reading this post have probably both viewed the film and read the book. That said, I'll keep this brief to avoid spoilers to the extent I can.

Let's just start by stating the obvious. The book and the film are drastically different experiences. Some of the events and characters in the book overlap with the film, but not entirely. There is a Lorraine Broughton in both media, although the only time she appears to be blonde is when she briefly wears a blonde wig. She's definitely bright in both the book and the film, and can handle herself in combat both in book and film (although the film is much more generous in terms of fight scenes). Who she really is otherwise is completely different, depending on whether one is reading the book or watching the film. There is also a David Percival in both, although the Percival we encounter in the book is an aging rogue British spy, and the in the film he's a considerably younger agent who's "gone native" during his tour in West Berlin. In both the book and film he crosses the border between East and West Berlin with ease. In both, he is clearly misogynistic and arguably something of a narcissist. Otherwise, there's little resemblance. The exact nature of the list that Broughton is supposed to find differs depending on whether you read the book or view the film. I think it's safe to say that the ultimate fate of the Stassi official who wishes to defect is similar in both, even if the sequence of events leading to the end of his particular story differs. By the time I got done listing differences, I would probably consume multiple posts, including the way that Broughton and Percival are first introduced.

I'll refrain. Instead, what I will note is that the film is focused more on the psychology of the characters and their interactions. There's some question about Percival's motives, so much of the way the story plays out in the book hinges on the question of the extent to which Broughton's superiors fall victim to confirmation bias. I think that same question is there in the film, but made more obvious. The graphics in the novel paint a stark picture of the events that unfold, and do succeed in giving the reader the impression of West and East Berlin as cold and unforgiving spaces in which to exist, especially as the Cold War was about to come to a close. There is a sense of paranoia that the book successfully portrays that the film might just barely miss. The film brings in much more color and action, places more emphasis on romantic entanglements and their significance in a profession that is based primarily on secrets and lies. Both the book and film explore the nature of trust in such an environment. In each, Broughton has a different reaction to the protests in East Berlin in late 1989 when she switches on the television for the first time - and those reactions hint at where her loyalties ultimately may rest. Which is which I will leave up to you.

In most cases, I tend to prefer the book to the film. In this case, although I enjoy both, I probably enjoy the film a bit more. I suspect part of that has to do with my position at the time the Berlin Wall was about to fall. At the time, I was a student and like many young men and women in 1989, I was astounded by how quickly events unfolded in what would soon become the former Soviet Bloc. I think the film does a better job of capturing that sense of surprise, wonder, and optimism in a way that the book does not. The book views the impending demise of the Cold War in a way that I could almost imagine seasoned intelligence agents viewing those same events unfolding: probably more realistically and pessimistically. That said, I think that both the book and the film offer a glimpse into what it was like to be alive in late 1989 and the significance of the events occurring in that era. Both have merit in that sense. Just realize that each is a different experience, and for all intents and purposes the book and film might as well be separate universes. I am under the impression that there will be a sequel to the film. I will be curious as to how that will work out. Most likely, I'll be at a theater when it is released.

Monday, May 21, 2018

If you ask your students to make a resume for a Marvel character...

... it is inevitable that one of them will choose Groot. Hilarity ensues.
The student would have earned an A in my class as well.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Flexible measures with word completion task in aggression research

Recently, I bookmarked Malte Elson's website, As of now, Elson's work involves examining the competitive reaction time task (CRTT) and the Go/No-Go Task. I am familiar with the CRTT in part because I worked in a lab that relied on the CRTT for our assessment of aggressive behavioral outcomes, and in part because it is (as Elson duly notes) arguably the most common measure of aggressive behavior in lab research. His concerns are ones that we should take seriously, and the article that he and his colleagues published four years ago is one I consider required reading.

My interest is in another increasingly common measure - this time involving assessment of accessibility of aggressive cognition. Although there are plenty of methods available (each, I suspect with its own benefits and shortcomings), I am noticing more and more a reliance on variations of a word completion task WCT). The idea is simple enough. Participants are presented with a series of word fragments and are required to complete the word fragments to form words. Some of those words may be aggressive and some may be non-aggressive. For example KI__ could be completed as KICK or KILL (aggressive) or KISS or KIND (non-aggressive).

There are at least two versions of the WCT of which I am aware. One was developed by Craig Anderson and was first used in the late 1990s, and the first published results using Anderson's WCT appeared in 2003 and 2004 (note that I was a coauthor of the latter article, and I utilized the WCT in one of the experiments). Anderson's WCT contains 98 items, only half of which allow for the opportunity to complete the fragments as aggressive. Anderson usually recommends using the proportion of aggressive words completed (aggressive words/total words completed) as the measure of accessibility of aggressive thoughts. More recently, Brad Bushman developed a shorter version of the WCT that includes only 22 items, each of which can be completed to form aggressive or non-aggressive words.

Please make sure to read through Anderson's description of the task as he developed it. The WCT is flexible to the extent that it can be administered in such a way that it is timed or untimed, and that one could use either the proportion of aggressive words completed or the total number of words completed as the measure of accessibility of aggressive thoughts. Although Bushman, as far as I am aware, provides no guidance on how to administer or score the version of the WCT that he developed, I would wager that it is potentially just as flexible as far as administration and scoring. Obviously the concerns Elson might voice regarding the CRTT are ones I might now voice regarding the WCT. In addition, we have very little evidence of the reliability of the WCT. I am currently in the process of cataloging all studies in which either Anderson's or Bushman's WCT was used to measure accessibility of aggressive cognition. I routinely examine each article for any psychometric information, such as internal consistency. I found, so far, one published article in which reliability data for a version of Anderson's WCT is reported. Unfortunately, the coefficient alpha is only for a 63-item version of the WCT, rather than the full 98-item WCT. The alpha appears to be acceptable (.81), but there did not appear to be much of a rationale for why a shorter version was used. I am having to assume that since the study was based on adolescents the number of items was limited. I hate assuming. Thus far I have not found any other reliability data. However, my search is only in its infancy. As far as Bushman's, thus far nothing regarding its psychometric properties is available - at least in print. The only information I have is from an unpublished data set, in which an experiment did not appear to work. I examined the WCT's internal consistency as a means of understanding what might have gone wrong, and was a bit taken aback by my discovery that the coefficient alpha was only .53 (regrettably, as that data set is not my own, I am precluded from publishing a full research report - but I do think that potential users of Bushman's 22 item WCT should have some fair warning). That could be a fluke. However, I just do not know, and that bugs me.

As of now, I see two problems: 1) the WCT is apparently administered and scored "flexibly" (i.e., inconsistently) and 2) we don't have a good handle on the reliability of either instrument. Hence, I am concerned about the validity of the WCT as a measure of aggressive cognition. Hopefully, my efforts to catalog the available research will enable me to at least understand the contexts in which the WCT is used and some idea of its psychometric properties. I am hoping to do some new research examining the reliability of both versions of the WCT in order to gain a better idea of the psychometric soundness of each instrument, and if needed begin the process of developing a more sound version of the WCT than currently exists.

My motivation here is hopefully fairly obvious. I like the idea of a WCT, as it has the potential to enable researchers to conduct cognitive research in traditional lab settings without the necessity of expensive software, as well as potentially useful in ecological valid contexts or in applied contexts. I need to know that when I use either instrument, that it is one that will yield valid results (i.e., true, regardless of whether or not we can reject the null). At the moment, I am a friendly skeptic. I would like to be confident that either or both of these instruments work as intended, but I am not so sure currently.

The usual conflict of interest statement: I have coauthored articles with both Anderson and Bushman at various points in my career. This post is not intended as an expression of either good or ill-will toward either of these individuals. I respect their work. That said, I do believe that truth comes before personal loyalties, and that includes the truth about instruments that these individuals have developed.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Friendly reminder about mass shooters

This is an off-the cuff post, with no links. You can find the relevant info yourselves, I hope. More than likely, I am repeating myself to a large degree so you can often find source material elsewhere on this blog even.

Since we had another school shooting in the US on Friday, I wanted to reiterate a few things:

1. There is no link between video game violence and perpetrating a mass shooting. Mass shooters turn out to be less prone to play violent video games than the population at large. There appears to be a causal link between violent video game play and aggressive thoughts and behaviors, but those effect sizes tend to be fairly small, although hardly trivial. Still, the sorts of behavioral outcomes we're likely to find are more along the lines of someone dropping an F-bomb or using obscene gestures than anything that would even remotely resemble actual violence. If you play video games or live with gamers, in general don't worry (even if the NRA or other alarmists tell you to).

2. The above can largely be said for violent media consumption in general. I don't know about what sorts of music, music videos, or films mass shooters watch, but I somehow seriously doubt that the root of their atrocities will be found in those particular media. Like I might observe with violent video games, ask why other developed nations have the same consumption patterns we do in the US, but without the mass shootings. There may be other issues to consider regarding media violence, but inciting actual violence appears not to be one of those issues (again, ignore NRA alarmists or other mass media alarmists).

3. There is no apparent link between mental illness and mass shooting, just as there appears to be no link between mental illness and violent crimes (broadly defined). The prevalence of diagnosable mental illnesses among mass shooters is probably about equivalent to what we find in the general population. Again, keep in mind that mental illness is a very broad term that characterizes a wide variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavior patterns, from substance abuse to schizophrenia. I get wary of those who use such a broad term as a crutch when trying to explain why mass shootings occur with such frequency. Stop stigmatizing those who live with psychological disorders. Much of the discussion regarding mental illness has only further stigmatized people who are already dealing with quite enough.

4. What I do find plausible is that mass shooters just happen to be in a society in which there are a lot of firearms circulating, which is very much unlike the social conditions one finds in other developed nations. Note that I am not arguing that utilizing the sorts of gun laws on the books in the EU, Japan, or Australia would serve as a panacea, as those motivated to perpetrate acts leading to mass casualties will certainly try to find ways to do so. Rather, I am arguing that it would be considerably more difficult for them to do so.

5. Often under-reported is the role that political radicalization plays. Many (though not all) mass shooters in the US tend to gravitate towards ideologies that use violent eliminationistic rhetoric. Many of these individuals gravitate towards neo-Nazism or equivalent ideologies. In that regard, we can view these as equivalent to acts of terrorism. If I were a counter-terrorism expert, I would be studying these individuals, examining what they were consuming prior to their atrocities, and developing tactics to prevent further radicalization. Whatever media consumption these individuals show is likely the sort that has invited them to essentially reject the society in which they live. Some hard questions need to be asked about the prevalence of radical literature and media, and perhaps some harder questions need to be asked about how to minimize its impact on our citizens.

6. Ultimately, let's accept that these individuals are not "misunderstood" and in most cases were not "bullied" - they don't need a hug or a date to prevent them from committing the atrocities for which they are responsible. Any claim to the contrary is just crazy talk.

7. Social learning is probably involved to some degree. Many of our contemporary school shootings have the feel of being copycat crimes. There has been some speculation that school shootings in particular are the result of a Columbine effect. I would not yet rule that out. To the extent that these violent incidents do have social learning component, I do have some suggestions. The biggest suggestion is not to give the perpetrators their 15 minutes of fame. Arrest them, learn from them, but otherwise keep them as hidden from view as possible. Instead, focus on the victims - the injured and deceased. Instead, focus on the punishments doled out to those perpetrators who survive after their attacks. Just because a behavioral process is acquired is no guarantee that it will be performed. In the case of violence, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will often be a disconnect between acquisition and performance. We know from social learning experiments that when modeled antisocial behavior is explicitly punished, such behavior is almost never performed. Let's make not of what social learning research can teach us, and put those teachings into practice.

I mention the above in large part not only as an educator, but as a parent. I have one child in college and two others in the K-12 system (at least for a few more years). I want them to outlive me. I don't want to see their schools in the news because some terrorist decided to attack that location. I also have a fairly long memory, and recall that during my adolescence (the late 1970s and early 1980s) I just assumed that I could go to school and come back home each day relatively unscathed. The worst I experienced was usually boredom. My age cohort treated going to school, or going into any public place in relative safety as a birthright - which is especially noteworthy given that violent crime was at its peak during those years. I really wanted my kids to have that same birthright. They deserved it, but never got to experience life without that particular stressor.  Being an adolescent or young adult is stressful enough without the worry of whether someone might be carrying on campus that day with the intention to kill as many of their peers as possible, or wondering if that fire alarm is real or just a tactic used by a mass shooter to draw them out in the open. I realize that it is politically incorrect (at least to the extent that lobbyists and legislators have dominated the debate have deemed it) to suggest that we change our gun laws to resemble those found in other developed nations, but I am not exactly interested in being politically correct. I am more interest in the opportunities for potential mass shooters to act out their fantasies are minimized, and that if they do manage to act anyway, that the damage they are able to inflict is minimized. Anything less, as a parent or as a professional is unacceptable.

Christian Nationalism Associated with Opposition to Gun Control

The research mentioned in the above tweet appears worth consideration. I'll provide the link to the preprint just in case the tweet ever disappears.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dehumanization: A precursor to discrimination...and worse

Yesterday, we were subjected to this quote from Trump regarding deported immigrants: "They're not people. They're animals."

C'mon, you say. It's just words. However, words lead to actions. As a reminder:

Brian Resnick at Vox offers a useful explainer on the damage that dehumanizing language can inflict. His treatment is perhaps a bit on the mild side, but it should suffice.

There is ample evidence that once individuals are dehumanized, they are subject to more harm than those who are not dehumanized. There is actual experimental evidence to demonstrate this phenomenon. The Bandura experiment used a fairly mild dependent variable (electric shock levels), so we will keep that in mind going forward. That said, the main takeaway is when people are dehumanized (described as animals such as rodents, parasites, untermenschen, etc.), they become subjected to acts of aggression that they would not be subjected to otherwise. One of the subtly brilliant moves made by Milgram when he developed his obedience experiments was to introduce a level of deindividuation: the participant (i.e, the "teacher") was never referred to by his own name, but merely as Teacher. The confederate in the experiment (i.e., the "learner") was only referred to as Learner, and never by his own name. That level of deindividuation is clever in part because it adds a layer of superiority to the participant (Teacher) in terms of status over the confederate (Learner). That particular situation in a short period of time led to the participants ("teachers") believing that they had subjected another human being to potentially grave harm.

Again, to repeat, the experimental evidence involves relatively mild stimuli and relatively mild behavioral responses, and yet we can see how the conditions for atrocities can be created in the process. Influential people, such as national leaders or major media personalities who use dehumanizing language are in a position to invite their followers to approve of and potentially engage in human rights abuses. The historical record is littered with examples, as Joshua Raclaw duly notes in his tweet. One of the more alarming phenomena to emerge in the aftermath of the 2016 election was an apparent normative shift coupled with an attitudinal shift regarding those groups who were targeted by Trump during his campaign. In particular, once Trump was elected, and essentially an authority figure in waiting, a subset of American perceived that the norms had changed to allow abuse to those Trump targeted, and their explicit attitudes toward Trump's targets became more negative. I've noted before that a subset of the population is predisposed to harbor authoritarian attitudes and that there is evidence that individuals showing higher levels of authoritarianism (and especially authoritarian aggression) tend to show higher levels of approval for any of a number of human rights abuses - including violent treatment of prisoners and the use of torture. I have been involved in reporting some of that data, as have others. Given the uptick in violence perpetrated against disadvantaged groups in the US in the last year and a half, I would wager that what we are witnessing is an explicit endorsement by a major office-holder (arguably the most influential officeholder) to discriminate against and behave violently toward those deemed "unfit" by said officeholder. We have noted that same officeholder refer to some of those involved in racial violence last summer as "very fine people." To his authoritarian base, the message was clear - and it should serve as a clear warning to the rest of us. I usually tell my students that major human rights abuses do not happen overnight: they are cultivated over the course of years. It takes years of regular exposure to dehumanizing language (think radio talkshows beginning in the 1990s, cable outlets like Fox News, and emerging media outlets like InfoWars over the last decade or so) and the emergence of just the wrong leadership for those abuses to occur. Study a bit of history in addition to whatever data the social sciences provide. We are living at a particularly dangerous point in history.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


This week I am dedicating mostly to decompressing. I turned in my grades Monday at both my home campus and at the one where I adjunct. I chaired what I hope is the final curriculum committee meeting for the academic year and completed the paperwork that comes with chairing that particular committee, and went to an advising session for incoming first-year students (and will attend one more later this week). Mostly though I have been resting, catching up on some personal reading, and just spending time with family. I am also doing a bit of reflecting on the past semester and going over what went right and what could use some improvement.

Teaching about replicability is a bit new for me. I have broached the topic a bit here and there, but it really wasn't until last fall semester that I really devoted considerable time to this important topic in one of my upper level methodology courses. This spring, I worked a bit more systematically at weaving in facets of the broader conversation on replicability into all of my courses. In Social Psychology, I added notes and discussion regarding classic studies that appear to be little more than zombies (ego depletion and IATs top my list). In statistics, I am probably looked at as "old school" to the extent that I rely on null hypothesis testing. I am increasingly emphasizing the importance of looking at effect size information, and statistical power in my presentations and demonstrations. If I can get the university to agree to it, I will likely download some freeware (that I know is safe) to show students how to determine the samples they need to achieve sufficiently powerful experimental research. Until then, my discussions will have to be a bit more conceptual. Effect size calculations are easy, and I am routinely including that discussion as we examine each new hypothesis testing technique, emphasizing the importance of replication along the way. For the most part, I haven't received complaints from students for doing so, even if that means deviating from textbook material. Actually, students who get to know me well notice that I often view whatever textbook I am using with a certain amount of contempt, so they expect a certain amount of my class time to be "off the books" as it were. I'm still fairly minimal in my treatment regarding replicability issues in my lower-level courses, but at the Senior level, we spend about a third of the term on nothing but replicability - my Capstone section is a good example. In that course students read the original Open Science Collaboration article from a few years ago, along with several other articles, and they are expected to write critically about what they are reading. I am still experimenting with how to assess their knowledge, and after reading their final papers this semester, will probably drastically alter the nature of that final paper to force the issue, given its importance. I have not yet seen the course evals. Hopefully those give me some direction - although my experience has been that evals tell me little that is useful. The more helpful feedback comes from peers. Certainly any suggestions for readings are always welcome.

I am still struggling to figure out how much replicability material I can expose students to at the lower levels without being overwhelming. Some suggestions in that regard would be helpful as well. The upshot is that I did a lot of rebooting my courses. I think I was a bit underwhelming in my first attempt to reboot my social psych course, and hopefully with some time over the summer will have that one a bit more to my satisfaction. If I had my way, I'd ditch the textbook and rely strictly on open educational resources for that course, but because of an agreement I made with a colleague who also teaches the same course, I will have to refrain for now, pointing out the zombies as I go along.

One of the most inspiring professors I encountered as an undergraduate was a gentleman named Edward Stearns. By the time I started taking classes from him, he was close to retirement. What was fun about him was that although he appeared somewhat old-school, he made one hell of an effort to stay current. I doubt he ever published a manuscript during his career, but he was always toying around with new software and teaching us stuff that was, for the time, quite cutting edge. He could even use contemporary slang correctly. Increasingly, I want to be that person. I will undoubtedly continue to have my flaws as a person and as a researcher, but I do want to model the importance of learning from one's mistakes and of always trying out new techniques and ideas, in many ways learning with my students in the process. I think that there is a tendency among those of us who are mid-career, and definitely among senior educators and scholars to get set in their ways and become blind to the changes that are occurring around them. I'm trying a different path, and it is one that is increasingly leading me to side with some relatively young skeptics and "data thugs" in the process. Where that path leads is uncertain, but I hope it is one that enables me to be a better advocate of my particular science to my students and a better researchers during my remaining couple decades of work ahead.

Wow, I have had a busy day

I wonder what has happened on my science blog feeds while I was away?


Note: this seems to be a daily ocurrence since the replication crisis became a thing.

Elsevier in the news again

And not in a good way:

Sweden stands up for open access - cancels agreement with Elsevier

Elsevier has quite the reputation for squeezing every last Dollar (or in this case Euro) from universities. The Swedish government has had enough.

I've not been especially impressed with Elsevier either as a peer reviewer on occasion for some of its Psych journals, nor have I been impressed with Elsevier as an author (one I coauthored actually got lost, delaying peer review and eventual publication by well over a year; another had upload portals that failed to work, requiring authors to send their manuscripts to the editor via email - and authors never did get proofs prior to publication, which was a bit unusual).

I am not sure that universities that sever their ties with this particular business are really losing all that much.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

My advice for those at teaching institutions regarding collaborations

In my more cynical moments, I'd say avoid collaborations - especially those with high profile scholars - like the plague. The moment anything goes wrong, expect to be thrown under the bus.

In my less cynical moments, I'd say make sure that there is an explicit understanding of what each of you expects to contribute to a project and also an explicit understanding of the differences in organizational culture that may well lead to differences in time constraints, resources, and so on. Do what you can in good faith to avoid misunderstandings. If misunderstandings occur later on, don't be surprised. Oftentimes, if those with privilege are to err at all, it is to err on the side of protecting their status. Always know that they are the ones with status, and you have very little status. If you have been to major conferences and seen the light go out of some scholar's eyes the moment they realize where you work, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Many of us who work at primarily instructional institutions (regional 4-year colleges/universities and community colleges for example) are going to spend the vast majority of our working hours teaching, preparing and updating teaching materials, administering exams, grading, meeting with students, and usually advising students as they get ready for the next semester's classes. In addition, we're likely to have some expectation of service involvement - so think of committee meetings. We tend to take those service commitments quite seriously, by the way. There may be research and professional development expectations, but those will often be put on even keel with service, and will definitely take a back seat to teaching. It is worthwhile to assume that our library resources will likely pale in comparison to what is available at the R-1 and R-2 universities in the US, that we will often times have very makeshift lab spaces (if we're lucky) and minimal access to statistical software. One should also assume that any time the institution's budget goes Charlie Foxtrot, professional travel and any other professional expense reimbursements are the first to be cut. The bulk of us have families, and we like to see them every once in a while (we tend to assume the same for our more famous and privileged R-1 colleagues as well, just so we're clear that work-life balance is important no matter where one works).

It has been a good while since I last was seriously involved in an R-1 environment, and that was in grad school. I think the phrase "publish or perish" is still definitely apt in that environment, as is the pressure to publish exclusively in premier journals (folks like me don't deal with those pressures). An R-1 scholar, especially one who is adept at landing grant funding, is pumping out manuscripts at a rate that I almost find unimaginable. Faculty at R-1 institutes do not spend much time in the classroom, and still can count on teaching assistants to do the heavy lifting in terms of grading and office hours. I certainly don't begrudge such scholars their privileged positions. Presumably they've done something to earn that. However, I do get the impression that their relative privilege makes them a bit blind to the lived reality of the rest of their peers. These folks need to get out a bit more. If they actually lived how we did for even a semester, they'd hopefully wake up just a bit. I think what I am driving at is that if you want to work with someone who really is famous, make sure that they are sufficiently woke when it comes to your particular set of circumstances. If you get the impression that they are not, just remember an old Bokononist expression: "It is never a mistake to say goodbye."

At some point I wish to spend some time discussing collaborations with undergraduate students on your own home campus. I think there is some value to such relationships, and they are often part of the life blood of your own campus culture (that is how I would characterize my own situation). I do see a great deal of value in doing such work, as it can sometimes enable undergrads to net an initial publication, but more importantly gain an insight into what grad school life will be like.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A personal musing

Whatever else you do in your life, surround yourself with people who will encourage you to be a better professional, and more importantly a better person. I've tried to do so, although not always successfully. If nothing else, I can say that in my role as an educator, I have managed to do so. Right now I am fortunate to work for and with some of the most amazing people that I have ever had the privilege of knowing. That' much of the reason why I am still where I am, rather than constantly scanning the ads for faculty positions. Oh, and the community has welcomed me and my family with open arms from day one. This is home to me, for all intents and purposes. As I have noted before, if you realize you have a good thing, appreciate what you have. In my case, it took a combination of a lot of timely and positive feedback from students and alums (and on-campus colleagues) and the realization that one of my collaborative relationships was truly toxic to drive that particular point home for me. Thankfully, I am surrounded by people who truly matter. I will never be highly cited nor will I be particularly well-known, but honestly that is not something I want. Nurturing future researchers, inciting some critical thinking, and preparing the next generation to join the workforce, and enjoying the truly beautiful friendships and family that I have been fortunate to cultuivate are truly enough. The rest means nothing.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Money is probably a poor motivator

Ron Riggio's most recent blog post touches on some reasons why money is a poor motivator in work environments. Any of us who are public service employees (which includes those of us working in any level of education) can relate. We're not on the sort of reinforcement schedule that would lead to continuous hard work (i.e., variable ratio), but instead work on some sort of salary or fixed contract basis. More pertinent for those of us who work as educators, the organizations employing us are usually underfunded to begin with and are not going to have the means to offer more than a 2% raise, if we're lucky. If the threshold for a pay raise leading to a desired change in work performance is around 5% to 7%, forget it. I have a pretty good idea about the budget situation where I work, and I get it. Really the most pertinent point is that many of us who become educators at any level did so for motivations that are at best tangentially related to money. Assuming that basic needs and lifestyle needs are met well enough, the motivators are often ones having more to do with the meaningfulness of our work, or some basic perks that don't cost a dime to offer. The reality is that I find what I do worthwhile and meaningful. If I wanted to get rich, I would have taken one of the career paths suggested by my parents (well-intentioned as they may have been at the time). Neither of those paths were ones that got me fired up. I doubt I would have found much happiness nor made much of an impact on others' lives to the extent that I do currently. Of course, don't get me wrong. If my employer gets sufficiently funded to offer massive pay raises, I won't turn that down. But if that is not in the cards, I won't necessarily lose much sleep. I've noted before that the gig isn't a bad one: reasonably flexible hours, plenty of flexibility in terms of how to go about classroom management and research, and a department staffed with people who are like a second family to me (and money cannot buy those types of relationships). Basically, figure out what makes your employees tick and reinforce accordingly. Money cannot be ignored (we have to survive and thrive after all), but a lot of non-monetary reinforcers will work just fine for many workers.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Of all the stupid reasons to reject a manuscript

The whole thread is worth reading. Scroll down a ways and it turns out that the mystery journal (I admit that I wish the author would name names) is one published under Elsevier. Having dealt with Elsevier's journals as either an author or reviewer, let's just say that the experiences generally left a bad taste in my mouth. I'm increasingly hesitant to submit anything in any of its journals relevant to me. That's a set of stories for another time. In this case the question is one of authors' work rejected for not citing the specific journal's articles enough. That's a problem. Authors cite the work that is relevant to their specific research question, or at least that is what they should do and nothing more. They do not cite work simply to stroke an editor's ego, or to give the journal in question a greater citation count and hence greater impact factor. That the authors were essentially given an ultimatum to cite stuff from this mystery journal not acceptable, and I am glad that the authors are choosing not to resubmit to that journal.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Summer plans

I still have to finish drafting a final exam, and I will have final exams and projects to grade all this coming week. I will have few moments to breathe. That will end, I'll take a few moments to rest, and then I have some time for some scholarly writing. Hard-earned, and sometimes painful experience has taught me that my best time to write is during those few weeks before the first summer session for classes starts, and then during July and early August. I do have some writing commitments to take care of and some data sets and analyses that need to be published. In many cases, initial drafts are already complete. In one case, I just need to complete a cover letter and settle on an initial journal for publication.

I imagine the easiest route for me will be to take care of an invited book chapter first, as it has a tangible deadline toward the end of this month. I have been re-reading articles and going over notes I use in my classes already. That topic is on implicit motives. I think, given recent research on IATs, I should be able to cover this chapter quite well. It doesn't hurt that I am quite familiar with McLelland's work on measures of implicit achievement and dominance motives. I have a good idea of how that chapter will look by the time it needs to be submitted.

I have three different weapons effect papers that are in various stages at the moment. One is a narrative review that I just submitted. I should have an idea late this summer if I can at least get a revise and resubmit on it. I am taking a more skeptical tack on this one, given the findings from my meta-analysis that is already in press, and the opportunity to communicate with an audience outside my usual discipline is one that I find intriguing. One that Meagan Crosby and I have worked on and that we've presented just needs the cover letter. Then it gets sent off. That I can easily do this month. Finally, I have a data set that is very small n and I would ordinarily be hesitant to try to publish, but because of how it ties in to some other research on threat detection, I am going to try to get it submitted somewhere. I suspect that I will work on that paper a little later this summer. My initial hope was that these would be my final contributions to the weapons effect literature, as my skepticism about behavioral outcomes has left me a bit discouraged. However, a student and I were brainstorming and if she is still wanting to approach me with a design idea, I'll take on one more. That study would potentially help settle some speculation about the viability of a situated inference model (SIM) approach to the weapons effect.

I need to get back to the Type A and Aggression meta. Preliminary database building and analyses are done. I'll report those findings at a conference next year. It probably isn't the first thing one would think of tackling after completing a high profile meta, but I am not exactly one who follows the whims of fashion. This is another one of those projects in which a student is involved, and I really want her to have a published article out of this if at all possible. The usual methods of hunting down fugitive literature have already been exhausted. We'll hit the listservs next.

Beyond that, there is a paper that has been on the back burner for way too long. It deals with how we scientists communicate media violence research with each other and as a consequence to the public. The basics of this paper are already in place. It need considerable editing, and I hope the student who spearheaded this particular paper is still willing to take the lead. If so, I will be delighted. The topic of science communication is one that is increasingly near and dear to my heart. This particular student struck a nerve with me when I saw the initial draft, and I think he convinced me that we really do need to rethink how we not only communicate among ourselves but with the public, because what we are doing now clearly is not working. I think the more difficult endeavor is how we as scientists studying media violence communicate with each other, given that the major players have taken clearly demarcated sides and neither respect nor trust those on the other side, and given the reluctance of those of us who are relatively minor players to end up cannon fodder for the major players. By comparison, communication with the public is a piece of cake. We have some ideas and some tentative answers. I'd like to have a submitted draft late this summer or early fall.

That's an ambitious list for an educator, and I suspect the high priority stuff will get done, and some of the stuff on the back burner will remain there until next year. I do have some travel plans shaping up. I want to spend some time with my parents. At my age, opportunities to do so are becoming increasingly rare. Those moments matter far more than what is in print. I will spend a week in Tampa reading AP Psychology essays and hanging out with some of the coolest people I know. A Cali trip is in the works. We need to pay tribute to a fallen family member and visit with those who remain. And of course no trip to Cali is complete without hitting the beaches and finding the good food trucks.

As far as this blog is concerned, I'll try to keep it updated as time permits. Certainly some words about media literacy matter, and I'll contribute what I can when I can. I also want to use this as a forum to sound off on some of my thoughts about aggression-related cues as recent experiences have left me more of a skeptic than I once was. I may have a few things to say about choosing one's collaborators wisely, as I have not always done so in the past. The short of it: at this point, I think I am happier and a better writer as a solo act (or working exclusively with students). I used to be good about posting photos from conferences, etc. The last year or so got away from me. I'll try to correct that a bit, and hope I don't bore too many of you in the process. Okay. That's it for now. Time to rest up and get ready for another finals week.

Thank goodness for internet archives part two

The host for a conference I attended about four years ago changed its name, its URL, and to a certain degree its mission and staff not long after that conference concluded. Its program could have gone down the proverbial memory hole had it not been for the Wayback Machine. Fortunately, before the program was erased from the Budapest Metropolitan University's website, an archive of that program was stored on the Wayback Machine. I like to make sure I have not only hard copies or downloadable copies of my conference participation, but have access to a website. The latter will become increasingly valuable as my university moves to a more electronic based portfolio format. In addition, this document describes what appears to be the final George Gerbner Conference on Communication, Conflict and Aggression held at Budapest Metro. I liked that particular conference because it was cross-disciplinary (although definitely dominated by Communication researchers) and relatively intimate. It's a setting that enables me to learn from people who are studying some of the same phenomena that interest me, albeit using somewhat different methodologies and theoretical models. That is highly valuable, and we could use more such opportunities. In the meantime, Gerbner's hundredth birthday is next year. I don't know if there are plans to hold a conference there given next year's significance - after all, the host institution and the individuals who spearheaded that conference have all experienced tremendous changes over the last few years. If not, there are always the memories.

Thank goodness for internet archives

Sometimes the internet archives remind us of nonsense that we should never take seriously, and of those who profit off of such nonsense (e.g., Dave Grossman). This opinion piece, first published about 18 years ago, offers a thorough debunking of both Grossman's reading of military theory as well as his wild claims about violent media and real-life violence. As I have stated before, I would not be at all surprised by any newly published report showing some mild incremental increase in aggressive behavior following exposure to some contemporary form of media violence (including video games). The measurements we have available in lab experiments are ones that are fairly mild to begin with (these days usually blasts of noxious noise, hot sauce, or negative evaluations - any of which are as far from violence as one can imagine), and even if we had rather strong effect sizes to work with, we would not be able to make claims about real-life violence from such research. Regrettably, the Grossmans of the world tend to get the attention, the talk show appearances, and the book deals and even more regrettably get taken seriously. I wish that it were not so. Wishful thinking will not make the problem go away. What I can do is advocate, as well as I can, as an educator and very obscure researcher for a sensible reading of the media violence research literature. There is apparently a middle ground if one is willing to try to make even a mild attempt to view that literature objectively. One will find that many perfectly qualified researchers running generally okay empirical studies and meta-analyses disagree about the extent that violent media influence aggression, and like with any social science literature, one will find that a complete reading of the published and unpublished research reports shows conflicting and often contradictory findings. In other words, we should offer careful conclusions given what the available research tells us. In doing so, we should make it clear that at least as far as real-life violence is concerned, there is nothing to fear from the latest action film or FPS game.

Returning to our Wikipedia Hijinks

Earlier I wrote about how even the appearance of self-editing one's own Wikipedia entry was a very, very bad idea. One reason is apparently something called the Streisand effect.
So one consequence of the events noted a few days ago is pretty obvious - one potentially draws unwanted attention to one's own activities, in particular those that may be characterized as less than ideal. I would love to see documentation of the increase in views of the negative information, as a 2500% increase does seem quite whopping. Not saying it isn't true, but records of page views would be helpful to make that case.

As noted before, there are some problems with the entry as it currently stands, even after the Wikipedia editors stepped in and undid the damage from mid-April. I have to reiterate that I am not an objective resource on these matters, and will refrain from editing that entry myself, as that would also expose me to a conflict of interest as a registered Wikipedian. Now if I were to edit, I probably would start with current affiliations. One question I would ask is if holding what appears to be a guest lecturer position at Vrije Universiteit (VU) is really the same thing as that of professor, and whether being a guest lecturer really counts as an official faculty position. Still seems like a pretty cool gig, but perhaps less than how it has been made to appear. If a Wikipedian decides to research that matter, I would urge no contact with the fine folks at VU as they probably have better things to deal with. Besides, if one utilizes the evidence that is already quite publicly available, I think someone could draw the necessary conclusions and at least make that part of the entry's conversation (known as talk), and perhaps make the necessary correction to the entry. Just sayin'. I would also urge anyone editing that page or those of any other living scientist to take great care before making edits - it's good common sense and Wikipedia policy.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Strange bedfellows

This was a post from a pro-NRA Twitter user. Most of us understand that the problem of gun violence in the US is unlikely related in any way, shape, or form to time spent playing violent video games, nor is it entirely clear that such games, or media violence more generally, harm children. There is a lesson here. We as a scientific community have only so much control of the narrative. We collect data - sometimes well, sometimes poorly - and we report our findings. How the data get used or misused by the general public is partially outside of our control. This is a wonderful example. I seriously doubt Bushman would endorse the NRA position on practically any issue. And yet work that he has authored or coauthored is being used to bolster a claim by the NRA meant to distract us from some of the more likely causes of gun violence (such as the fact that we have a lot of firearms circulating within the US). Here is a time when I think that we really need to give the skeptics their due. There is a legitimate claim that we can make that violent video games specifically and violent media more generally increase aggressive thoughts and behaviors. Those effects are not negligible, but are quite mild - a point that I think even Bushman will admit. In other words, I suspect that the effects we can measure in the lab are relatively mild to begin with, and at least as far as aggressive behavior (broadly defined) we can note that there is some effect, but not one that would amount to more than a gamer dropping an occasional F-bomb. Interpersonal violence, which is at the extreme end of the set of behaviors we cover under research on aggression, is unlikely to be predicted by violent video game play or by consumption of violent media. I consider any claim that there is a link between media violence and real-life violence as laughable, at best. There is a link to some very mild aggressive responses, but those responses generally don't have serious social consequences, at least as far as aggressive behavioral responses are concerned. There may be other concerns, but real-life violence is furthest from my mind. Talk sense about media violence, be responsible about what the data tell us, and we can minimize how much our research will be misused. If we fail to do so, we will end up with activists and special interest groups misusing and abusing our findings for their own nefarious purposes, seemingly without limitations.To me, the choice is clear.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wrapping up another semester

This is the last week of classes at both my full-time gig and at NWACC. I taught my last stats lesson for the semester at NWACC this evening. I have been adjuncting there for about two and a half years now. There are two reasons why I do some adjuncting. One is pretty obvious. As someone who is primarily an educator, my base pay is almost never enough to cover the bills. Some sort of moonlighting was inevitable. The other is that being at NWACC is a sort of homecoming for me each time I am on campus. I am actually a community college product. I went to a different community college - Fort Steilacoom Community College (now known as Pierce College), which is where I got my start. The year I spent there was where I think I finally began to find myself. It was certainly the first place where my peers and some mentors took me seriously, gave me some space to stumble and fail as well as succeed, and in the process become the person I am today. I have often said that community colleges change lives, and typically for the better. Being able to change lives for the better, from the faculty side of the equation is very valuable to me. The university that employs me full time was once a community college. I know that some of my colleagues wish the community college mentality would finally end here. Increasingly, I am valuing the extent that we still maintain some of that spirit. There is something about working with people who may not have been taken seriously before and showing them that their ideas really do matter, that they can challenge themselves in ways they may not have thought possible, and have something to show for the effort that truly defies words. We change lives. Being part of that is something that perhaps our elected officials don't quite appreciate, but I am a true believer in what my students are getting out of the experience - if for no other reason than I have been there. I hope my night class at NWACC continues to get the enrollment needed to continue, because there is some value in what happens there that goes way beyond a paycheck, and I hope we never lose sight of what we do best at my home campus, as we really do change lives here. I've seen it. The grades will be what they are. The lessons learned go way beyond a gradebook and way beyond what can be quantified (yes, I know - blasphemy from someone who primarily teaches methodology courses).

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Something a bit more pleasant

While I was at the NSSA conference in Las Vegas in late March, I had a chance to visit with a former student who now lives in the area. He was an excellent student at UAFS a few years ago, and presented some interesting and fun research on the contagion effect (he was interested in both yawning and laughing) at our Psych Symposium several years back. Anyway, he graduated, enrolled in counseling courses at John Brown University, earned his Masters in Counseling, and has a thriving career. It was great to learn how he used his research skills to help his particular client base, and also great to learn that his intellectual curiosity knows no bounds. We had one heck of a great conversation.

We never know where our students will land. I keep in touch with only a precious few, and I am grateful to keep hearing from them as they achieve any of a number of milestones in their lives. One of the things that folks like me live for is the occasional recognition that we somehow made a difference in someone's life. We do. And in turn, these same students make a difference in our lives. Finals week is drawing near for me, as I suspect many in the academic world. As we are madly grading away and students are completing final projects and exams, let's remember to show a bit of kindness to one another. That will matter in ways that may not seem obvious in the moment, but will be readily apparent in hindsight.

Things not to do in Wikipedia

Edit entries that are about you specifically - or even allow the mere appearance of such to occur. A recent example (potentially):

I did notice that the edits in question (from April 10 and 11, 2018) were corrected by another Wikipedian. A fellow Wikipedian by the handle FuriouslySerene offered this kind note to the user only known by an IP address,

I agree that this is a very odd coincidence that someone would edit out information considered compromising (easily documented info about a retraction involving a grad student he supervised) and add what amounted to some CV-like language to the entry, and that particular someone would be located in Columbus, OH, where Bushman lives and is employed. We can also guess, based on a cursory Google search, that the person editing Bushman's Wikipedia page was using an AT&T account. That's probably more information than one would want to give away. Hopefully it was merely someone completely unconnected thinking they were doing something kind and Bushman was in no way involved in this bit of Wikipedia mischief. There are some definite issues with that entry as it is now, even corrected as of this writing. A resourceful Wikipedian, I trust, can sort those particular issues out without my assistance (as I have had past dealings with Bushman, and cannot be objective, I would much prefer to keep it that way).

I do edit Wikipedia entries every so often. I do so under a username that is probably pretty identifiable, and I do not edit except under that username. I would never let my IP address show up in an edit. That's sloppy. I would make sure I was logged in first, and then edit. In this social media era, any slip-up, and any attempt to cover up a slip-up, will be uncovered - especially by those with something to gain by doing so.

Update: Please note that I am not convinced that Bushman edited his own Wikipedia entry (which from a conflict of interest standpoint is a big no-no) nor am I convinced that he didn't. What I do know is that he has anonymously or semi-anonymously commented on public forums (like pubpeer) in the past, and so this incident is not entirely out of character. The time-stamps of the entries are fairly late night, and from what I know of Bushman's character, he's very much an early-to-rise and early-to-bed sort of person. It is a bit out of character for him to try to make Wikipedia edits, or do much of anything else, after the early evening. I am not saying it's impossible. After all, enough stress can cause a few sleepless nights. I am saying that so far I am not yet convinced he would stoop to editing his own Wikipedia entry. I really want to believe that he wouldn't, and I also want to believe that he would not instigate someone close to him to do so on his behalf. However, I cannot rule that out, based on the evidence I have at my own disposal. That is, to say the least, troubling.