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.
If 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.