Dear APS: It’s not me, it’s YOU !

This year I decided not to rejoin APS.  I’ve been a member for many years, am a Fellow, was on the board, and have been an CE, AE, and Editor of various APS journals.  Last week, I got an e-mail begging me to come back.  I had three reasons not to rejoin but didn’t talk about them publicly because I thought it was just me.  Now it’s clear, it’s not me APS, it’s YOU.

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 6.28.59 PM.pngIf you want us to get back together, there are three things you need to do.

The SECOND of the three reasons was recently mentioned by several people on social media.  APS elections.  APS sent out links for voting (or so I’m told, not being a current member). It is silly that along with the ballot, APS provides little information about the candidates.  They give candidates space to indicate various bits of affiliation and service.  But there are no vision statements, nothing about priorities or initiatives, and certainly nothing about the contentious issue of science reform.  The election becomes a popularity-of-sorts contest.  (So, turns out, it wasn’t only me who has been displeased with that process.  It’s you.)

Watching, Sad and Embarrassed

The FIRST, and major, of the three reasons is the decay of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science and APS’s continued failure (despite much complaining) to do anything about it.  Again, I thought this was only my worry – having been the previous EIC, of course I wouldn’t like all of the changes.  But a few weeks ago, some Facebook groups concerned with methods in psychology were filled with disdain as they saw Editor Sternberg publish yet another invited special section (this time nearly a fully issue): (1) extolling the virtue of citation counts, (2) with nearly all US male authors, and (3) with a foreward and afterward by himself that barely talked about the invited articles and instead was filled with gratuitous self-citations.  These actions resulted in an open letter to APS assembled by Chris Crandall and signed by about 160 people.

The letter notes the focus of the articles and selection of authors – and refers back to how similar concerns were raised after the infamous “Am I Famous Yet” special section, in which a special section on “Merit” in psychology mostly devolved into a section about becoming famous, with 6 articles by men and 1 first-authored article by a women titled, “Scientific Eminence: Where are the Women?”  After some outcries, Sternberg decided to offer to have a follow-up section on the topic.  The selection of papers for that issue (or, rather, lack of selection) is described here by 6 female authors, who had independently come up with similar themes in their (de facto) rejected submissions.

Discussion circling the open letter to APS also referred to Sternberg’s style of introduction and afterward/postscript to the sections.  Nearly all special sections have both.  And nearly all of them are not traditional introductions that are concerned with informing readers about the what/why/how of the topic to come.  Rather, nearly all look like articles from the sections themselves – indeed, articles where the author focuses on his own work (whether central or tangential to the topic), with about half of the 40-60 citations being self-citations.

I believe that this is an editorial abuse of power: Using the label of Introductions/ Afterwards to write articles of several pages extensively extolling and citing oneself rather than focusing on the topic of the section.  (Yes, I wrote introductions to many special sections when I was editor. None had these characteristics. You can look them up.)

But – here’s the thing:  Sternberg has asserted that all papers in Perspectives go out for peer review, including his own introductions and discussions.  I found it difficult to believe that any peer reviewer, or any action editor, would have signed off on what he has published.  And now I’m ready to say:  I don’t believe it.  Aside from the Introduction to the first special “famous” special section (which at best went out for a “light” review), I do not believe that Sternberg used anything approaching peer review on his own articles.  (Unless you believe that “peer review” means asking some folks to read it and then deciding whether or not to take their advice before you approve publication of it.)  And, I am confident of this “beyond a reasonable doubt” (as we say in the law game).

To Get Back Together

So, APS, before we get back together, I want you to fire Sternberg as Editor of Perspectives.  I would like you to do it because, using the techniques above, he has made the journal, and APS, a laughingstock.  And you should do it before he does so again in his next special section, in which his rambling introduction and postscript take us on tours of his youth and, un-peer reviewed, garner him another 39 self-citations.

For now, I’m going to skip my THIRD reason for quitting APS.  But in some ways they are all of a piece.  APS needs to stop acting like it is the new radical psychological society, reacting against the anti-science of APA, and consisting of 400 friends meeting in someone’s living room.  With 30,000 (now minus one) members, it’s time to take its responsibilities to the membership, and to the science, more seriously.

This was indeed my last issue.  But it doesn’t have to be.  It’s on you.

Photo on 4-19-18 at 3.41 PM.jpg


This entry was posted in Perspectives on Editing, Professional Society Responsibility. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Dear APS: It’s not me, it’s YOU !

  1. This is a bold argument. And a strong one. If it’s right in its details—and there’s no reason to think it isn’t—then APS should act as boldly as this open letter.

  2. Daniel Ozer says:

    And to add to (at least my own) list: The recent brochure mailed to members announcing the 2018 Awards, providing information redundant with what has been made available elsewhere (e.g., The Observer). The Bio/CVs published here contain, for most part, a listing of other awards and accomplishments of the already well-known winners, though institutional affiliation was all that was provided for early career winners about whom one might want to know more. The mailing costs alone could have easily covered costs of APS convention attendance for several graduate students. That is where the money should have gone– Not to further aggrandizement of our successful colleagues.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t all of this just a predicatble result of having editors have that much power to begin with. I am sure he is not the only editor possibly abusing his power as editor, nor will he be the last. I understand your frustration, but i am a little surprised at all this fuss in general. In my reasoning peer-review, journals, and editors are largely responsible for the mess psychological science is in. You can kick this dude out, but another one will take his place, and who knows what he/she will do. To me, the real solution is to stop putting so much energy in a deeply flawed system consisting of organizations, journals, editors, peer-reviewers, etc.

    Anyway, leaving that whole issue aside, i just wanted to try and make something clear should it matter in some way or form:

    I hope you don’t feel “responsible” (or what’s the most appropriate term to use here) somehow for PoPS, and therefore want to change things there so badly. In my reasoning, a journal does not need a continuous certain level or content of publications and/or editors. I reason papers should be judged individually, and it doesn’t matter in which journal the appeared, or under which editor.

    If i understood things correctly, you did the best you could when you were an editor, which resulted in the to me “legendary” and highly influential special issue on replicability in 2012. That issue will be there forever, and the papers of that issue will perhaps keep positively influencing psychological science long after you left there, and long after the current editor will leave.

    Just know, that you as editor, and all the authors who contributed to that special issue in 2012, were a very big part in me trying to help improve psychological science in the last 5 years. Should i have done anything useful, that was partly because of you.

    For any readeres not familiar with that issue, here is a link to that special issue on replicability from 2012:

    • Thanks. I’m glad that you appreciate the November 2012 issue. I think it is the most important thing I did as an editor and, although some of the articles are already dated (which is a GOOD thing), they defined not only the state of the field then but also proposed many good ways forward (some of which have borne fruit).

  4. Here is what I sent to APS on the first of January this year, replying to their membership renewal message further below. Never received a reply.
    Thanks to Andrew Gelman for his blog post, and thanks to you!

    Best wishes,

    Dear Sarah:
    seriously in doubt, see

    APS was once founded to offer an alternative to lack of quality in APA. What happened?

    Please, what is your position as a director, and what has the board to say?


    At 16:59 Uhr +0000 31.12.2017, Sarah W. Brookhart wrote:
    Dear Ulf,

    Your APS Membership expires today, December 31. Don’t delay another minute, renew now.
    >> Click Here to Renew Your APS Membership <<
    We’re looking forward to another outstanding year of advancements and innovations in psychological science, and we want to make sure you’re a part of it. Please renew your Membership today to ensure that APS's important work on behalf of the field continues without interruption. Renewing today also guarantees continuity in your valuable Member benefits, including being one of the first to have personal access to our newest journal, Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science (AMPPS).
    And, let me take this opportunity to wish you a happy new year. I look forward to continuing to serve you as an APS member in 2018. Feel free to contact us with your questions or comments at


    Sarah Brookhart                                                               
    Executive Director

    1800 Massachusetts Ave NW · Suite 402 · WASHINGTON, DC 20036-1218 USA
    Tel: +1 202.293.9300 | Fax: +1 202.293.9350 l

  5. Also, Sternberg was editor of this journal when they published an article that had a completely false statement about me (and also lied about Ulrich Schimmack). When I pointed out the error, Sternberg and his friends refused to make any correction:

    I am suspicious that this article with the false statements went through peer review. I’m surprised if no reviewers caught the errors (lies, really). Or maybe reviewers caught the errors but Sternberg didn’t care.

    Peer review is not perfect. But saying you do peer review, and then not doing it, that’s really bad.

  6. Isaac Galatzer-Levy says:

    I also quit APS recently. Interestingly, it was mostly related to the reasons listed here. I published a paper in Perspectives (which Bobbie Spellman was action editor for). However, after Perspectives took an article that was a pointed and specific attack at me and a colleagues work masked as a replication crisis issue, I reconsidered participating in APS. I much preferred to participate in other scientific societies with less vitriol. Meanwhile, it seemed like APS was turning into more of a cult of personality and less focused on scientific rigor. Certainly there was lots of criticism of people’s work, but no forward vision about science. At the end of the day I quit, not because I was upset per se. More so, I asked myself if being a member had any positive impact on my career. I couldn’t think of one. So I moved on and doubt I’ll go back

  7. Pingback: Prominent psychologist resigns as journal editor over allegations over self-citation - Malaysian Education Today

  8. Jim Thompson says:

    It’s a failure in management of APS overall. A few years ago, the founding executive director (Alan Kraut) announced his upcoming retirement. APS launched a nationwide search for a new director. A great opportunity to breathe new life and ideas into the organization.

    Guess who they hired after that exhaustive search? The then-deputy director (Brookhart). I highly doubt there were no other candidates other than from within. Meanwhile, Kraut is now Executive Director Emeritus and he runs another organization, PCSAS, which happens to share offices with APS.

    Then look at the Glassdoor ratings of what it’s like to work at APS. Average rating of 1.8 out of 5 stars. Even Walmart, known for paying employees minimum wage with no benefits, earns a 3.2 stars.

    The article about Sternberg’s resonation from PoPS shows the quality of APS management well. Note how they say they’re not sure if they’ll publish his letter of resignation or the petition calling for it. Why not? Isn’t that an issue of interest to readers? I say publish them both, and let readers analyze for themselves.

  9. Pingback: Prominent psychologist resigns as journal editor over allegations over self-citation

  10. Pingback: Prominent psychologist resigns as journal editor over allegations over self-citation - News WordPress theme

  11. Anonymous says:

    Prof. Spellman is exactly correct regarding “APS needs to stop acting like it is the new radical psychological society, reacting against the anti-science of APA.” When volunteering for APS, I was instructed not to use the word “psychology.” Seriously. It apparently sounded “too APA” to staff.
    Mocking APA and placing the word “science” in really big font size cannot be — and cannot be allowed to appear to be — the organization’s primary goals. .

  12. Pingback: Lies, Damn Lies, and Abnormal Psychological Science (APS) | Replicability-Index

  13. Pingback: At 30, APS Needs to Realize That It Has Grown Up | My Perspectives (on PsychScience)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s