When Harris Cooper was asked to help start a new psychology journal, he said yes, but with a few conditions. He wanted to design not just a new journal, but a different kind of journal, one that attempted to fix the problems that the field of psychology has been struggling with, like high-profile researchers who commit fraud (see Stapel and Smeesters), and papers that attract a lot of attention yet can’t be replicated (see Bem).
He wanted to build the perfect journal, or as close to it as possible.
The result is Archives of Scientific Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association and edited by Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, and Gary R. VandenBos, executive director of APA’s publications office. It really is remarkable and could be the model for other journals. Certainly that’s what Cooper hopes.
For starters, when an author submits a paper, he or she will have to fill out a standard questionnaire explaining the “rationale, method, results, and interpretation” of the study. There will be a discussion forum (that was VandenBos’s idea) that will allow authors, reviewers, and others to comment on the paper—not unusual on the Internet, but not normal for an academic journal.
Authors will have to provide two abstracts, one technical and one written in plain English. They will also have to write a nontechnical method section explaining how the study worked, who the participants were, etc. Plenty of papers have such sections, but the emphasis here is on straightforward brevity, an effort to force researchers to communicate clearly.
But here’s the most important part: Authors also have to provide the data used in the paper so others can review and (if they wish) attempt to replicate the findings. In some ways, this sounds like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you submit your data if everything’s aboveboard?
One reason is that you don’t want another researcher to steal the data you worked so hard to collect. Cooper and company have tried to deal with this problem by requiring researchers who use the data to make the researchers who collected it co-authors on their papers. So the idea is, rather than someone else taking credit for your work unfairly, you get a publication added to your CV. Also, those who use the data agree that if they find an error, they will inform the authors first.
The journal is open access, too, naturally. Says Cooper: “We’re undertaking a venture that embodies the value of science from Day 1.”
He is particularly attuned to the problems psychology has faced recently. For the last four years, Cooper has been the chief editorial adviser for 70 journals published by the APA. That means whenever there’s a conundrum or an accusation, he’s the one dealing with it.
Cooper hopes that if the journal is a success, others will follow suit, and that in future explaining your methods, writing clearly, and providing your data to other researchers won’t be regarded as newsworthy.