Nature Scientific Reports. Fast-tracking fees history and concerns.

Nature Scientific Reports has adopted is piloting fast-tracking for a fee.

Four years ago, I noticed that several journals had adopted such a policy. I raised a number of concerns, such as

  • What happens if the fast-tracking period elapses and a reviewer hasn’t gotten their review in yet? Will the decision about the manuscript be made without that review?
  • How is the additional money used? Does any go to reviewers?
  • Does the action editor know when a particular manuscript is being fast-tracked? Do the reviewers? To avoid monetary influence, both should be blind to this, but that seems impossible if these things are to be expedited.
  • Will articles which benefited from fast-tracking be indicated in a note associated with those articles? Without such a policy, all articles in the journal may be sullied, at least in the minds of cynics.
  • Are the fees worth risking the appearance of favoritism for money, the disadvantage in speed to scientists with fewer resources, and the possible loss of public trust in science?

We started a petition against the policy, and our complaints seem to have led to the demise of the policy at a few journals. For details, see my previous posts on the topic.

I suggest that the tag #fastTrackFee be used on social media to discuss this.

Animal visual arcana, tweeted

I started tweeting under the name VisFact, in addition to my normal account.

To make vision science more interesting to undergrads, I frequently contrast human visual abilities with those of various animals.

Vision is so important that some animals have evolved eyes bigger than their brain. So vision is definitely important enough to deserve this twitter account!

open letter to Society for Neuroscience regarding their new open-access journal

The below letter was spearheaded by Erin McKiernan and requests that the Society for Neuroscience bring its new open-access policy in line with emerging best practices for sharing of data and ability to re-use content. 

Dear Society for Neuroscience,

This is an open letter concerning the recent launch of the new open access journal, eNeuro.

We welcome the diversification of journal choices for authors looking for open access venues, as well as the willingness of eNeuro to accept negative results and study replications, its membership in the Neuroscience Peer Review Consortium, the publication of peer review syntheses alongside articles, and the requirement that molecular data be publicly available.

As strong supporters of open access, we welcome the commitment of the Society to making the works it publishes freely and openly available. However, we are concerned with several aspects of the specific approach, and outline herein a number of suggestions that would allow eNeuro to provide the full benefits of open access to the communities the journal aims to serve. 

Our first concern relates to the specific choice of license. The purpose of open access is to promote not just access to published content, but, equally important, its reuse. The default use of a CC BY-NC license places unreasonable restrictions on the reuse of articles published in eNeuro, and is incompatible with the standards of open access as set out by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI). NC restrictions have significant negative impact, limiting the ability to reuse material for educational purposes and advocacy to the detriment of scholarly communication. NC-encumbered materials, for example, cannot be used on Wikipedia or easily incorporated into Open Educational Resources. The NC clause also creates ambiguities and uncertainties (see for example, NC Licenses Considered Harmful) and there is little evidence on benefits of the clause to justify its use. In contrast, the value of the CC BY license is outlined in detail by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association. How will authors or the broader community benefit from restrictions on the commercial reuse of eNeuro content? The eNeuro fees policy acknowledges CC BY-NC is incompatible with the requirement of funders such as Research Councils UKand Wellcome Trust, and offers their authors the solution to upgrade to CC BY for a $500 surcharge. This penalizes authors funded by such agencies, as well others who choose to adhere to BOAI principles. We believe that the only way for eNeuro to deliver on its open access commitment is to make all articles CC-BY, and to set the fees to an appropriate level to support this choice.

Our second concern relates to data access. We commend the journal’s requirement that all molecular data be publicly available, but we believe the policy on sharing other types of data should be improved. The current language does not guarantee data will be made available, does not speak to the terms of data licensing, nor describes a course of action if a request for data is not fulfilled. The criterion of “appropriate scientific use” is also vague:  Would reuse of data for educational purposes, for example, meet that criterion, and who would make that decision? Open data aids in verification and replication of results, creation of new analysis tools, and can “fuel new discoveries”. The value of open data has been recognized by the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the BRAIN Initiative, and the Human Brain Project. Immediate sharing of all data types in an open repository (preferably underCC0) should be a requirement, unless prohibited by law (e.g., privacy laws). Several flexible outlets, such as Figshareand DataDryad, are available that make this easy and cost-effective.

Finally, while we commend eNeuro’s commitment to transparent peer review, we worry that only publishing a synthesis may sacrifice the richness inherent to the review process. We believe the neuroscience community would be better-served by having access to the complete reports from reviewers, as offered by PeerJ, several Biomed Central journals, and others. Reviews should also be licensed CC BY to allow for reuse in teaching materials, for example. Reviewers can be provided a mechanism to communicate confidentially with editors, removing the risk associated with making the full reviews publicly available. Reviewers should also be given the opportunity to sign their reviews for added transparency and to receive due credit for their work (e.g., through Publons).

Based on the above points, we recommend that eNeuro:

  • Makes CC BY the default license and provides equal pricing for all CC licenses;
  • Provides a transparent calculation of its article processing charges based on the publishing practices of the Society for Neuroscience and explains how additional value created by the journal will measure against the prices paid by the authors;
  • Considers offering full waivers to authors, especially those from low-income countries, who are unable to afford any publication fees;
  • Requires authors to deposit their data in a public repository (preferably under CC0), unless there are legal or ethical reasons not to do so;
  • Publishes full individual reviewer reports (CC BY licensed) alongside each article.

We hope the Society for Neuroscience will collaborate with the academic community to facilitate the dissemination of scientific knowledge through a journal committed to fully embracing the principles of open access.

We kindly request that you allow your response(s) to be made public along with this letter, and look forward to hearing your response soon.

Signatories –

Please note that the views expressed here represent those of the individuals and not the institutions or organizations with which they are affiliated.

  1. Erin C. McKiernan, independent scientist, SfN member
  2. Marco Arieli Herrera-Valdez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
  3. Christopher R. Madan, University of Alberta
  4. Philippe Desjardins-Proulx, Ph.D. student
  5. Anders Eklund, Linköping University, Sweden
  6. M Fabiana Kubke, University of Auckland
  7. Alex O. Holcombe, University of Sydney
  8. Graham Steel, Open Science, Scotland
  9. Diano F. Marrone, Wilfrid Laurier University
  10. Charles Oppenheim, Professor, independent
  11. Zen Faulkes, The University of Texas-Pan American
  12. Jonathan P. Tennant, Imperial College London
  13. Nicholas M. Gardner, Marshall University
  14. Avinash Thirumalai, East Tennessee State University
  15. Travis Park, Monash University & Museum Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
  16. Ben Meghreblian,, London, UK
  17. Sean Kaplan, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  18. Chris Chambers, Professor of cognitive neuroscience, Cardiff University, SfN member
  19. Joshua M. Nicholson, Founder of, PhD Student Virginia Tech
  20. Jan Velterop, BOAI signatory and past Director of BioMed Central
  21. Timothée Poisot, University of Canterbury
  22. Jérémy Anquetin, Section d’archéologie et paléontologie, Switzerland
  23. Liz Allen, ScienceOpen
  24. Johannes Björk, Institute of Marine Sciences, Barcelona, Spain
  25. Ross Mounce, University of Bath
  26. Scott Edmunds, GigaScience, BGI Hong Kong
  27. Mayteé Cruz-Aponte, Universidad de Puerto Rico – Cayey
  28. Joseph R. Hancock, Montana State University-Bozeman
  29. Nazeefa Fatima, University of Huddersfield, UK
  30. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal
  31. Elizabeth Silva, San Francisco, CA
  32. Björn Brembs, University of Regensburg, Germany
  33. Gerard Ridgway, University of Oxford, UK
  34. Pietro Gatti-Lafranconi, University of Cambridge, UK
  35. Xianwen Chen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway
  36. Jacinto Dávila, Universidad de Los Andes
  37. Benjamin de Bivort, Harvard University
  38. Stephen Beckett, Ph.D. student, University of Exeter
  39. Mythili Menon, University of Southern California
  40. Adam Choraziak, behavioural strategist at RedJelly marketing
  41. Graham Triggs, Symplectic
  42. Guillaume Dumas, Institut Pasteur, FR
  43. Jeffrey W. Hollister, University of Rhode Island (adjunct)
  44. Célya Gruson-Daniel, Centre Virchow-Villermé, Université Paris Descartes, FR
  45. Gary S. McDowell, Tufts University, USA
  46. Pierre-Alexandre Klein, Institute of Neuroscience, Université de Louvain
  47. Julien Laroche, Akoustic Arts R&D Lab, Paris
  48. Alex Thome, University of Rochester
  49. Nicolas Guyon, Karolinska Institutet
  50. Sibele Fausto, University of São Paulo, Brazil
  51. Nonie Finlayson, The Ohio State University, SfN member
  52. Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Imperial College
  53. John Wilbanks, Chief Commons Officer, Sage Bionetworks
  54. David Carroll, Medical Student, Queen’s University Belfast
  55. Noelia Martínez-Molina, Brain Cognition and Plasticity Lab, Barcelona University
  56. Maximilian Sloan,  Laboratory of Molecular Neurodegeneration and Gene Therapy, University of Oxford
  57. Stephen Eglen, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, SfN member

open letter to the AAAS regarding their new open-access journal

Below is the text of a recent open letter I signed, spearheaded by Jon Tennant. Here he explains why he spearheaded the below letter to the AAAS requesting they make changes to their policy regarding their new open access journal, Science Advances. 

Dear  AAAS,

This is an open letter concerning the recent launch of the new open access journal, Science Advances. In addition to the welcome diversification in journal choices for authors looking for open access venues, there are many positive aspects of Science Advances: its broad STEM scope, its interest in cross-disciplinary research, and the offering of fee waivers. While we welcome the commitment of the Association to open access, we are also deeply concerned with the specific approach. Herein, we outline a number of suggestions that are in line with both the current direction that scholarly publishing is taking and the needs expressed by the open access community, which this journal aims to serve.

The first of these issues concerns the licensing terms of the journal articles. The default choice of a non-commercial licence (CC BY-NC) places unnecessary restrictions on reuse and does not meet the standards set out by the Budapest Open Access Initiative. Many large funders, includingResearch Councils UK and the Wellcome Trust, do not recognise this as an open license. The adoption of CC BY-NC as the default license means that many researchers will be unable to submit to Science Advances if they are to conform to their funder mandates unless they pay for the upgrade to CC BY. There is little evidence that non-commercial restrictions provide a benefit to the progress of scholarly research, yet they have significant negative impact, limiting the ability to reuse material for educational purposes and advocacy. For example, NC-encumbered materials cannot be used on Wikipedia. The non-commercial clause is known to generate ambiguities and uncertainties (see for example, NC Licenses Considered Harmful) to the detriment of scholarly communication. Additionally, there is little robust evidence to suggest that adopting a CC-BY license will lead to income loss for your Association, and the $1,000 surcharge is difficult to justify or defend. The value of the CC BY license is outlined in detail by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association.

We raise an additional issue with the $1,500 surcharge for articles more than 10 pages in length. In an online-only format, page length is an arbitrary unit that results from the article being read in PDF format. Can the AAAS explain what the additional costs associated with the increased length are that would warrant a 50% increase in APC for an unspecified number of additional digital pages? Other leading open access journals, such as PeerJ, the BMC series, and PLOS ONE, offer publication of articles with unlimited page lengths. The extra costs create constraints that may adversely incentivize authors to exclude important details of their study, preventing replication and hindering transparency, all of which are contrary to the aims of scholarly publication. Therefore it seems counterproductive to impose this additional charge; it discriminates against researchers’ best effort to communicate their findings with as much detail as necessary.

We feel that the proposed APCs and licencing scheme are detrimental to the AAAS and the global academic community. As such, we recommend that Science Advances:

  • Offers CC BY as standard for no additional cost, in line with leading open access publishers, so authors are able to comply with respective funding mandates;

  • Provides a transparent calculation of its APCs based on the publishing practices of the AAAS and explains how additional value created by the journal will measure against the significantly high prices paid by the authors;

  • Removes the surcharges associated with increased page number;

  • Releases all data files under CC0 (with CC BY optional), which has emerged as the community standard for data and is used by leading databases such as Figshare and DataDryad.

We hope that you will consider the points raised above, keeping in mind how best to serve the scientific community, and use Science Advances to add the AAAS to the group of progressive and innovative open access scholarly publishers. We hope AAAS will collaborate with the academic community to facilitate the dissemination of scientific knowledge through a journal committed to fully embracing the principles of Open Access.

We kindly request that you allow your response(s) to be made public along with this letter, and look forward to hearing your response soon.

Signatories (please note that we do not formally represent the institutions listed):

  1. Jonathan P. Tennant, PhD student, Imperial College London (, @protohedgehog)
  2. Timothée Poisot, University of Canterbury (, @tpoi)
  3. Joseph R. Hancock, Montana State University-Bozeman (, @Joe_R_Hancock)
  4. M Fabiana Kubke, University of Auckland, New Zealand (, @kubke)
  5. François Michonneau, University of Florida (, @FrancoisInvert)
  6. Michael P. Taylor, University of Bristol (, @MikeTaylor)
  7. Graham Steel, Open Science, Scotland (, @McDawg)
  8. Jérémy Anquetin, Section d’Archéologie et Paléontologie, Switzerland (, @FossilTurtles)
  9. Emily Coyte, University of Bristol (, @emilycoyte)
  10. Benjamin Schwessinger, UC Davis (, @schwessinger)
  11. Erin C. McKiernan, independent scientist (, @emckiernan13)
  12. Tom Pollard, PhD student, University College London (, @tompollard)
  13. Aimee Eckert, MRes student, Imperial College London (, @aimee_e27)
  14. Liz Allen, ScienceOpen, San Francisco (, @LizAllenSO)
  15. Dalmeet Singh Chawla, Imperial College London (, @DalmeetS)
  16. Elizabeth Silva, San Francisco (, @lizatucsf)
  17. Nicholas Gardner, Marshall University (, @RomerianReptile)
  18. Nathan Cantley, Medical Student, Queens University Belfast (, @NathanWPCantley)
  19. John Dupuis, Librarian, York University, Toronto (, @dupuisj)
  20. Christina Pikas, Doctoral Candidate, University of Maryland (, @cpikas)
  21. Amy Buckland, Librarian, McGill University, Montreal (, @jambina)
  22. Lenny Teytelman,, Berkeley, CA (, @lteytelman)
  23. Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge, UK (, @petermurrayrust)
  24. Zen Faulkes, The University of Texas-Pan American,, @DoctorZen)
  25. Robert J. Gay, The University of Arizona/Mission Heights Preparatory High School, AZ, USA (, @paleorob)
  26. Peter T.B. Brett, University of Surrey, UK (, @PeterTBBrett)
  27. Anders Eklund, Linköping University, Sweden (, @wandedob)
  28. Johannes Björk, Institute of Marine Sciences, Barcelona, Spain (, @AwfulDodger)
  29. William Gunn, Mendeley, London, UK,, @mrgunn)
  30. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada ( @nikkiannike
  31. Philippe Desjardins-Proulx, Ph.D. student (, @phdpqc).
  32. Joshua M. Nicholson, PhD candidate Virginia Tech, VA and founder The Winnower, VA (, @thewinnower)
  33. Scott Edmunds, GigaScience, BGI Hong Kong (, @SCEdmunds)
  34. Steven Ray Wilson, University of Oslo (, @stevenRayOslo)
  35. Stuart Buck, Vice President of Research Integrity, Laura and John Arnold Foundation (, @stuartbuck1)
  36. B. Arman Aksoy, Ph.D. student, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (, @armish)
  37. Nazeefa Fatima, University of Huddersfield, UK (, @NazeefaFatima)
  38. Ross Mounce, University of Bath, UK (, @rmounce)
  39. Heather Piwowar, Impactstory, (, @researchremix
  40. Avinash Thirumalai, Ph.D student, East Tennessee State University (
  41. Jason Priem, Impactstory (, @jasonpriem
  42. Clayton Aldern, University of Oxford, UK (, @compatibilism)
  43. Marcus D. Hanwell, Technical Leader, Kitware, Inc., (, @mhanwell)
  44. Kristen L. Marhaver, NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Carmabi Foundation (, @CoralSci)
  45. David Michael Roberts, ARC Research Associate, University of Adelaide (
  46. Brian Hole, Ubiquity Press, UK (, @ubiquitypress)
  47. Alexander Grossmann, University of Applied Sciences Leipzig, Germany and co-founder of ScienceOpen, Berlin/Boston (, @SciPubLab)
  48. David L.Vaux, Assistant Director, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia (
  49. John Murtagh, Repository Manager, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine @LSHTMlibrary
  50. Alecia Carter, University of Cambridge, UK (, @alecia_carter)
  51. Alex O. Holcombe, University of Sydney (, @ceptional)
  52. Ignacio Torres Aleman, Cajal Institute, Madrid. Spain. (
  53. Sarah Molloy, Research Support Manager, Queen Mary University of London (, @moragm23)
  54. John Lamp, Deakin University, Australia (, @johnwlamp)
  55. Matthew Todd, The University of Sydney and Open Source Malaria,
  56. Anusha Seneviratne, Imperial College London (, @anushans)
  57. Guido Guidotti, Harvard University (
  58. Joseph McArthur, Assistant Director, Right to Research Coalition(, @mcarthur_joe)
  59. Carlos H. Grohmann, University of São Paulo, Brazil (
  60. Jan de Leeuw, University of California Los Angeles, (
  61. Jung H. Choi, Associate Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology (
  62. Ernesto Priego, Centre for Information Science, City University London, UK (
  63. Brian Pasley, University of California, Berkeley (
  64. Stacy Konkiel, (, @skonkiel)
  65. Elizabeth HB Hellen, Rutgers University (
  66. Raphael Levy, University of Liverpool (
  67. Paul Coxon, University of Cambridge (
  68. Nitika Pant Pai, McGill University, Montreal, Canada (
  69. David Carroll, Queen’s University Belfast  (, @davidecarroll)
  70. Jacinto Dávila, Universidad de Los Andes (, @jacintodavila)
  71. Marco Arieli Herrera-Valdez, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (, @brujonildo)
  72. Juan Pablo Alperin, Simon Fraser University, Canada (
  73. Jan P. de Ruiter, Bielefeld University (, @JPdeRuiter)
  74. Xianwen Chen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (, @xianwen_chen)
  75. Jeanette Hatherill, Librarian, University of Ottawa, Canada (, @jeanetteanneh)
  76. Katharine Mullen, University of California Los Angeles (
  77. Pedro Bekinschtein, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina (; @pedrobek)
  78. Quentin Groom, Botanic Garden Meise, Belgium (, @cabbageleek)
  79. Karen Meijer-Kline, Librarian, Simon Fraser University, Canada (, @kmeijerkline)
  80. Pietro Gatti-Lafranconi, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, UK (, @p_gl)
  81. Jeffrey Hollister, USEPA, Narragansett, RI (, @jhollist)
  82. Lachlan Coin, University of Queensland and founder of Academic Karma ( @AcademicKarma )
  83. MooYoung Choi, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University, Korea (
  84. Oscar Patterson-Lomba, Harvard School of Public Health (
  85. Rowena Ball, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia (
  86. Daniel Swan, Oxford Gene Technology, UK ( @DrDanielSwan)
  87. Stephen Curry, Imperial College London, UK (, @Stephen_Curry)
  88. Abigail Noyce, Boston University (, @abbynoyce)
  89. Jordan Ward, UCSF, San Francisco, CA, USA (, @Jordan_D_Ward)
  90. Ben Meghreblian,, London, UK (, @benmeg)
  91. Ethan P. White, Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA (, @ethanwhite)
  92. Sean R. Mulcahy, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA (, @srmulcahy)
  93. Sibele Fausto, University of São Paulo, Brazil ( @sibelefausto)
  94. Lorena A. Barba, George Washington University ( @LorenaABarba)
  95. Ed Trollope, Director, Things We Don’t Know CIC (, @TWeDK)
  96. Stephen Beckett, Ph.D. student, University of Exeter (, @BeckettStephen)
  97. Andrew D. Steen, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (, @drdrewsteen)
  98. Mari Sarv, Estonian Literary Museum (, @kaskekanke)
  99. Noam Ross, Ph.D. Candidate, Ecology, University of California-Davis (, @noamross)
  100. Erika Amir, Geologist, Massachusetts, USA (, @geoflier)
  101. Martin Paul Eve, University of Lincoln (, @martin_eve)
  102. Franco Cecchi, University of Florence (
  103. Jason B. Colditz, University of Pittsburgh (, @colditzjb)
  104. Philip Spear, postdoc, Northwestern University (
  105. Mythili Menon, University of Southern California (, @mythmenon)
  106. Matthew Clapham, University of California Santa Cruz (,@meclapham)
  107. Karl W. Broman, University of Wisconsin–Madison (, @kwbroman)
  108. Graham Triggs, Symplectic (, @grahamtriggs)
  109. Tom Crick, Cardiff Metropolitan University (, @DrTomCrick)
  110. Diano F. Marrone, Wilfrid Laurier University (
  111. Joseph Kraus, Librarian, University of Denver (, @OAJoe)
  112. Steven Buyske, Rutgers University (
  113. Gavin Simpson, University of Regina (
  114. Colleen Morgan, University of York ( @clmorgan)
  115. Kara Woo, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, UC Santa Barbara (, @kara_woo)

Tactile perception demonstration: The “comb illusion”

At first, I was underwhelmed by this one.

comb, finger, and stick

Run the stick along the comb. With your eyes closed, notice the resulting percept: something moving down your finger.

Running an object (like a stick, or a pen) along the fine teeth of a comb, causes successive teeth of the comb to deflect laterally. There is no appreciable up-and-down component to the teeth’s movement, just the side-to-side movement. 

If you place your finger along the top of the comb’s teeth and close your eyes while you stroke the teeth with the stick, you’ll feel something running along your finger. I wouldn’t call this much of an illusion, so I didn’t think much of it at first. But Hayward & Cruz-Hernández (2000) pointed out that from this phenomenon, we can conclude your finger is able to sense lateral force, essentially skin stretch, not just indentation of the skin. The brain interprets the successive stretch signals as an object running down the finger. That stretch alone can result in these percepts is interesting.

There are several sorts of touch receptors in the skin. Most detect vibration or indentation. Stretch is detected by a rather distinct class, the Ruffini corpuscles, which are the specialized endings of nerves that carry the corpuscles’ signal to the spinal cord.

Now run the stick along the comb without your finger on top. Look carefully at the comb’s teeth. If you drag the stick along with some force, you’ll be able to see the teeth move a bit. But try running the stick along with very little force, at an acute angle so the side of the stick barely touches the comb, and runs smoothly. Make it nearly parallel to the plane of the comb, so it’s smooth enough that you don’t get the clicking sound and bump-bump vibration from successive teeth that occurs if the stick protrudes between the teeth. I noticed that when doing this, the deflection of the teeth is so small that looking directly at the ends of the teeth, I can’t see the deflection.

Yet if you put your finger again atop the comb, you should still have the sensation of something running along your finger. Hayward & Cruz-Hernández (2000) suggest that here the teeth move only by microns, and I believe them, as we ought to be able to see even a few microns of deflection when we look closely at the comb. Indeed, I suspect that the teeth may be moving less than a micron.

This shows how extraordinarily sensitive our sense of touch is- more spatially acute than vision. But note that the exquisite sensitivity of touch here comes from an ability that has no direct analogy in vision. In vision, when we think about spatial sensitivity, we think of acuity,

Spatial resolution in vision is limited by receptor spacing. Image: Gerald Westheimer.

Spatial resolution in vision is limited by receptor spacing. Image: Gerald Westheimer.

which is limited by receptor spacing (although hyperacuity makes it a bit more complicated than that). Vision has nothing like touch’s stretch receptors, which here are not limited by spatial spacing, but rather by the minimum force the Ruffini corpuscles can register.

Touch can also best visual acuity in another way. Receptors sensitive to ultra-high-frequency vibration allow us to discriminate a rough surface from a smooth one even when the roughness is created by features much smaller than a micrometer. For that phenomenon, I created a picture to put the spatial scales involved into perspective. I might explain it more another time. 


V. Hayward, M. Cruz-Hernandez, Tactile display device using distributed lateral skin stretch, in: Proceedings of the Haptic Interfaces for Virtual Environment and Teleoperator Systems Symposium, Vol. DSC-69-2, ASME, 2000, pp. 1309–1314. 

Registered Replication Reports are open for submissions!

Science is broken; let’s fix it. This has been my mantra for some years now, and today we are launching an initiative aimed squarely at one of science’s biggest problems. The problem is called publication bias or the file-drawer problem and it’s resulted in what some have called a replicability crisis.

When researchers do a study and get negative or inconclusive results, those results usually end up in file drawers rather than published. When this is true for studies attempting to replicate already-published findings, we end up with a replicability crisis where people don’t know which published findings can be trusted.

To address the problem, Dan Simons and I are introducing a new article format at the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science (PoPS). The new article format is called Registered Replication Reports (RRR).  The process will begin with a psychological scientist interested in replicating an already-published finding. They will explain to we editors why they think replicating the study would be worthwhile (perhaps it has been widely influential but had few or no published replications). If we agree with them, they will be invited to submit a methods section and analysis plan and submit it to we editors. The submission will be sent to reviewers, preferably the authors of the original article that was proposed to be replicated. These reviewers will be asked to help the replicating authors ensure their method is nearly identical to the original study.  The submission will at that point be accepted or rejected, and the authors will be told to report back when the data comes in.  The methods will also be made public and other laboratories will be invited to join the replication attempt.  All the results will be posted in the end, with a meta-analytic estimate of the effect size combining all the data sets (including the original study’s data if it is available). The Open Science Framework website will be used to post some of this. The press release is here, and the details can be found at the PoPS website.

Professor Daniel J. Simons (University of Illlinois) and I are co-editors for the RRRs.  The chief editor of Perspectives on Psychological Science is Barbara A. Spellman (University of Virginia), and leadership and staff at the Association for Psychological Science, especially Eric Eich and Aime Ballard, have also played an important role (see their press release).

Three features make RRRs very different from the usual way that science gets published:

1. Preregistration of replication study design and analysis plan and statistics to be conducted BEFORE the data is collected.

  • Normally researchers have a disincentive to do replication studies because they usually are difficult to publish. Here we circumvent the usual obstacles to replications by giving researchers a guarantee (provided they meet the conditions agreed during the review process) that their replication will be published, before they do the study.
  • There will be no experimenter degrees of freedom to analyse the data in multiple ways until a significant but likely spurious result is found. This is particularly important for  complex designs or multiple outcome variables, where those degrees of freedom allow one to always achieve a significant result. Not here.

2. Study is sent for review to the original author on the basis of the plan, BEFORE the data come in.

  • Unlike standard replication attempts where the author of the published, replicated study sees it only after the results come in, we will catch the replicated author at an early stage. Many will provide constructive feedback to help perfect the planned protocol so it has the best chance of replicating the already-published target effect.

3. The results will not be presented as a “successful replication” or “failed replication”. Rarely is any one data set definitive by itself, so we will concentrate on making a cumulative estimate of the relevant effect’s size, together with a confidence interval or credibility interval.

  • This will encourage people to make more quantitative theories aimed at predicting a certain effect size, rather than only worrying about whether the null hypothesis can be rejected (as we know, the null hypothesis is almost never true, so can almost always be rejected if one gets enough data).

This initiative is the latest in a long journey for me. Ten years ago, thinking that allowing the posting of comments on published papers would result in flaws and missed connections to come to light much earlier, David Eagleman and I published a letter to that effect in Nature and campaigned (unsuccessfully) for commenting to be allowed on PubMed abstracts.

Since then, we’ve seen that even where comments are allowed, few scientists make them, probably because there is little incentive to do so and doing it would risk antagonising their colleagues. In 2007 I became an academic editor and advisory board member for  PLoS ONE, which poses fewer obstacles to publishing replication studies than do most journals. I’m lucky to have gone along on the ride as PLoS ONE rapidly became the largest journal in the world (I resigned my positions at PLoS ONE to make time for the gig at PoPS). But despite the general success of PLoS ONE, replication studies were still few and far between.

In 2011, Hal Pashler, Bobbie Spellman, Sean Kang and I started PsychFileDrawer, a website for researchers to post notices about replication studies. This has enjoyed some success, but it seems without the carrot of a published journal article, few researchers will upload results, or perhaps even conduct replication studies.

Finally with this Perspectives on Psychological Science initiative, a number of things have come together to overcome the main obstacles to publication studies: fear of antagonising other researchers and the uphill battle required to get the study published. Some other worthy efforts to encourage replication studies are happening at Cortex and BMC Psychology.

If you’re interested in proposing to conduct a replication study for eventual publication, check out the instructions and then drop us a line at replicationseditor @!

Scholarly publishers and their high profits

I recently published the below chart to document the outrageous profit margins of scholarly publishers in the sciences.

Screen Shot 2013-01-09 at 12.35.26 PM

This post is to provide the sources for the numbers in the chart.

The Woolworths number comes from their website, where they write “As a group, Woolworths Limited makes less than seven cents in the dollar before we then pay interest and tax”.

The Rio Tinto figure of 23% is based on the operating profit they report divided by the consolidated sales revenue in their 2011 financial summary.

Apple’s profit of 35% is based on these numbers, dividing their operating income for the year ending September 2012 of 55.2 billion by the revenue for the same period of 156.5 billion.

The 34% number for Springer comes from Heather Morrison’s PhD thesis, in which she writes that “Springer’s Science + Business Media (2010) reported a return on sales (operating profit) of 33.9% or € 294 million on revenue of € 866 million, an increase of 4% over the profit of the previous year.”

For Elsevier, I used the figure reported by investment analyst Claudio Aspesi.

For Wiley, I again used Heather Morrison’s analysis in her thesis, based on $99 million in profit on $245 million in revenue.

Thanks to Nick Scott-Samuel and Mike Taylor.