Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Current Opinion on Current Opinion in Psychology

I found the following tweet to be amusing - in the sense of being funny/not-funny:
Typo note: I think Chris Noone meant "not show any benefit!"

With that out of my system, let me offer a couple thoughts about Current Opinion in Psychology.  The journal is published by Elsevier. Its stated mission is to:

In Current Opinion in Psychology, we help the reader by providing in a systematic manner: 
  1. The views of experts on current advances in psychology in a clear and readable form. 
  2. Evaluations of the most interesting papers, annotated by experts, from the great wealth of original publications.
Sounds noble enough. In theory those who either have library access, some coin to shell out for the cost of the articles (most are hidden behind a paywall, as it costs over $4000 for authors to publish an open access article in the journal - note that this estimate is based on what similar Current Opinion journals charge), or are facile at using such alternative means of obtaining full-text copies of articles (e.g., will be able to read short, understandable summaries of recent developments in important areas within the psychological sciences. Note that the journal charges libraries $2358 per year (plus tax) and each article costs $31.50 to download. That's a problem if the "current opinion" on offer could be counted on for accuracy. But, what if the "current opinion" is less than accurate? How does that happen? Good question.That's one for the editors in charge of the journal, the Editorial Assistant (April Nishimura), and the Associate Publisher for Life Science and Social Science (Kate Wilson) - and they aren't likely to talk.

I certainly think questions need to be asked about how guest editors get chosen in the first place. Are they recruited? Do they come up with what they think would be a brilliant idea for an issue and get a green light? How do guest editors go about selecting authors to write brief narrative reviews? What decision criteria do they rely upon? Do they simply choose their best friends? Do they look for skeptics to provide a fair and balanced treatment of the topics covered in a particular issue? What is really going on with the peer review process? I've noted my experiences before. Let's say that a 24 hour turn-around time is frightening to me, as I have no reason to believe that a reviewer could actually digest even a brief manuscript and properly scrutinize it in that time frame. How is the much-ballyhooed eVise platform actually used by the editorial team responsible for this journal? Is it actually used to properly vet manuscripts from the moment of initial submission onward? If not, why not? That becomes a critical question given how much Elsevier loves to brag about their commitment to COPE guidelines. If not, we also face ourselves with an observation made elsewhere: that all eVise does is create a glorified pdf file that any one of us could create using Adobe Acrobat. We are left wondering if any genuine quality control actually exists - at least in a way that is meaningful for those of us working in the psychological sciences. What if the process, from recruiting guest editors to vetting manuscripts, is so fundamentally flawed that much of the "current opinion" published is more akin to the death throes of theoretical perspectives moments before they are swept into the dustbin of history?

At the end of the day, I am left wondering if the psychological sciences would be better served without this particular journal, and if we could simply instead as experts blog our reviews on recent developments in our respective specialties, or offer some tweet storms instead. Heck, it would certainly save readers some time and money, and authors some headaches. That is my current opinion, if you will.

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