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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2015

Initiatives to Aid the Scientific Community With Eric Eich, PhD
Bradley Cannon, Psi Chi Writer
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Are you confident in your ability to conduct research and publish articles in top-tier psychological journals? Today, Dr. Eric Eich, the 2012–15 Editor in Chief of Psychological Science (PS), elaborates on the overarching aim for five initiatives he created at PS that he believes are important for researchers and publications to consider for the future. He also provides concrete strategies to become a successful researcher and elaborates on his recent experiences while directing the flagship journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The Five PS Initiatives
To begin the present interview, Dr. Eich takes a few minutes away from his personal research writing at home to explain that “groundbreaking” and replication studies are both critical to psychological science because it has become clear over time that groundbreaking research is not as valuable unless it has been proven to be replicable. However, he and many others (Asendorpf et al., 2013; Makel, Plucker, & Hegarty, 2012; Nosek, Spies, & Motyl, 2012) have found that replications and incremental studies are often less likely to appear in prestigious journals due to the tendency of PS and other journals to focus on new, interesting, and exciting discoveries. Because this discourages authors from submitting replicable content to strengthen previous studies and psychological science as a whole, Dr. Eich sought to correct this issue and others at PS by creating the following five initiatives (Eich, 2014).

1.

Revising Word Limits
One way Dr. Eich encouraged authors to include replication and incremental research at PS was to eliminate the word limits on methods and results sections that are implemented by many psychological journals (Eich, 2014). As he explains, “In the past, most studies had essentially one experiment because that was all the authors could report in such a short space, but now they can routinely have two, three, or four experiments. Removing these word limits helps steer people to report more than just one interesting finding to make sure that their research has a solid foundation and can actually be replicated.”

Dr. Eich had some assistance in making this change after a conversation with Dr. John Maunsell, who was then Editor in Chief of the Journal of Neuroscience, which switched to a somewhat similar exercise a few years earlier (Roediger, 2013). At the time, Dr. Eich had been concerned about whether the articles would become too long going forward, but looking back today, he says, “The research articles and research reports we publish now are longer than they used to be, but authors haven’t gone crazy with the total length, and they certainly seem to like having the freedom to more fully describe what they did and what they found. That was the basis for the Revising Word Limits initiative, so it has worked out really well.”

2.

Clarifying Evaluation Criteria
The second initiative (Eich, 2014) was inspired by Endel Tulving, who “drilled into all of his graduated students” that, whenever reading or listening, two questions should usually be asked: (a) What do you know now that you did not know before, and (b) Why should you care? Much later, Dr. Eich told these questions to Dr. Walter Mischel (Columbia University, NY) who suggested a third question: (c) How are the claims made in the article justified by the methods used?

After writing an article about this, Dr. Eich found that a lot of reviewers were spontaneously adopting these three questions for themselves. To elaborate on the reaction, he says, “I never intended for these questions to be set in stone, but people seemed to resonate to it. And so, when I laid out these five new aspects about PS (Eich, 2014), I said that we would evaluate all manuscripts in that way going forward. All the other editors happily seemed to adopt this as well because the questions basically sharpen the discourse by focusing more clearly on what an acceptable paper should or should not be.”

3.

Enhancing Methodological Reports
The third initiative involved having authors complete four specific disclosure statements. As Dr. Eich explained in a previous interview, “The disclosure statements cover four categories of important methodological details—exclusions, manipulations, measures, and sample size—that have not required disclosure under current reporting standards (of PS in particular or psychology journals in general) but are essential for interpreting research findings” (Roediger, 2013, para. 18).

Adding to this, Dr. Eich says in the present interview, “This initiative goes back to the Revising Word Limits initiative to encourage people to have a more full account of their methods and results. This initiative also encouraged people to tie in the significance of embracing new statistics in their introduction and to report 95% confidence intervals instead of just the more traditional ways of doing things in the past because it is probably a more meaningful statistic.”

4.
Promoting Open Practices (Open Science Badges)
Starting in January 2014, PS served as the launch vehicle for the fourth initiative (Eich, 2014), which was inspired by 11 researchers led by Dr. Brian Nosek. These researchers had been concerned about a lack of open research practices in comparison to other fields, so they created a system to incentivize individuals to make their research more easily replicable.

 
The Open Data badge recognizes authors for “making publically available the digitally shareable data necessary to reproduce the reported result.”
 
The Open Materials badge recognizes authors for “making publically available the components of the research methodology needed to reproduce the reported procedure and analysis.”
 
The Preregistered badge recognizes authors for “having a preregistered design and analysis plan for the reported research and reporting results according to that plan” (Eich, 2014).
 

Dr. Eich says, “The Open Practices initiative was interesting and complex. In some fields, such as economics, it is required that people make their data publically available. However, that hasn’t been true in psychology, so the question that interested me next was ‘How did these fields get to the point where it became regular or mandatory for people to post their data?’ I am not an economist, but I learned that essentially what happened was that some of the ‘big guns’ in their fields started voluntarily posting their data, and it finally reached a tipping point where it became normative that everyone should do so.”

Dr. Eich says that this initiative started slow “like anything else.” However, he notes that participation has drastically increased (Archive of all online issues, 2015). He explains, “My hope is that, in a couple more years, it will become the norm so that whoever is editor at that point can say, ‘Going forward, this is what we’re going to do. Post your data, post your materials,’ and we’ll just move on.”

5.

Embracing the New Statistics
For Dr. Eich, the purpose of the fifth initiative (Eich, 2014) was “to try to get people away from just null hypotheses significance testing,” which he says is how most researchers in North America and most of the world are trained. He says, “It has been well-documented that there are a lot of inherent problems with, for example, the infamous p value and in the interpretation thereof. In some cases, it is useful, but there are also many limitations.”

Thus, Dr. Eich asked Dr. Geoff Cummings, a leading proponent for new statistics, to write an article like a tutorial to show how to use these new statistics. To Dr. Eich’s surprise, he received far more submissions embracing the new statistics than he expected. In fact, several submissions had no p values whatsoever, which he said seemed almost heretical in an empirical journal at the time.

According to Dr. Eich, there are currently a few places that teach these statistics such as the Netherlands where it is very common because a lot of universities teach it and have become experts in it. However, despite the initial success of this initiative at PS, these statistics will never be used on a truly large scale so long as people are not trained in that way.

Additional Initiatives for the Future
6.
Publishing a New Disclosure Statement
Dr. Eich also thinks it would be valuable for authors “to answer questions such as whether they reported all independent variables, dependent variables, sample sizes, how they determined these variables, and whether they dropped anyone out of the study or made any other notable observations.” He has suggested to the Association for Psychological Science (APS) that it should become routine to publish the authors’ responses, possibly in the supplemental materials. This information would be valuable, not just for the editors’ eyes, but for outside readers and researchers as well.

7.
Incentivizing Video Recordings
Dr. Eich has also encouraged APS to create a new sort of open materials badge with a special rider attached to it to incentivize people to do videos of their procedures, ideally from both the point of view of the experimenter and the participants. As he says, “This could be invaluable to future researchers, especially for social psychology experiments because the social interaction or interplay between participant and experimenter can be really subtle and cannot be captured in words.” Making videos of this sort publically available could be extremely helpful so that future researchers could see exactly how an experiment was conducted.
Educating Future Generations
As Editor in Chief, Dr. Eich reviewed literally thousands of manuscripts and picked up many unique insights about effective practices for conducting research, navigating the publishing process, as well as methods to teach these skills to other. Indeed, he believes firmly in the importance of giving students the opportunities to learn, so much in fact that the last course he taught at UBC specifically dealt with providing fourth-year undergraduates with in-press, but not yet published, PS articles for them to practice reading and reviewing.
He says, “In class, we would compare the students’ reviews with the real reviews I actually had in hand. I also made a deal that, if a student found a fatal flaw, they would get an automatic A, which one person did, so that worked out well. The experience was really edifying for the students. When they first started, I found that they tended to say things like, ‘I did not quite understand this or that particular sentence.’ However, as they got better and became more confident, they began to see the bigger picture, and their views changed dramatically.”
“It was very cool to watch this happen. That’s the benefit you get out of doing reviews with students, so the more advisors or graduates and undergraduates who can get involved in the process, the better. It’s fun to do. It’s really challenging, and there’s no right or wrong way about it.”
An Average Day as Editor in Chief
To emphasize the excitement and satisfaction that can emerge from a career in conducting and presenting research, we asked Dr. Eich to describe what it was like to be selected as Editor in Chief of PS. In response, he said that leading PS was such an unusual journal that he simply could not say no.
“I wasn’t really looking for it, but it was a remarkable and unique opportunity. The best and worst thing about it was the sheer amount of reading. In terms of education, it was like being in graduate school on steroids. During my first year, I think I averaged a little over three manuscripts reviews a day, seven days a week. The years after that, I was down to two reviews a day, which actually seemed light by comparison. Certainly, as far as the variety of topics, you get to read some really amazing stuff, and it is a privilege to be able to do so. PS is a high-profile journal, so sometimes there are people who either like it or don’t like it, but that is not to complain about it. It is really quite exhilarating, and my predecessor, Rob Kail, mentored me well so that I was up to speed when I started. I served about two months as an associate editor and two months as a senior editor. Rob always said, ‘Do not ever get sick. That’s the key.’ ”
Indeed, as Dr. Eich humorously recounts, he had to learn this lesson the hard way when he and his wife, Jeanne Elliott, caught the flu in 2013. “I was out for about five days, and then I came back with 26 manuscripts waiting to be reviewed. Fortunately, I never got sick again after that.”
“On one level,” he explains, “it is fun being in the control room so to speak. And I really enjoyed the whole process of getting the five new initiatives up and running to raise the journal’s publication standards and to aid the broader scientific community. That took about a year to accomplish. That was really the most fun because I didn’t want to just push paper in any sense.”
Future Pursuits
In July 2015, Dr. Eich moved on to new endeavors as the Vice Provost and Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs at UBC to return to his passion of improving the education of future generations by combining the university’s huge influence in teaching and research. He says, “There are already a number of universities like Washington University in Saint Louis and the University of California, Los Angeles that have great traditions as far as doing cutting-edge work on how people learn and the limitations of memory in an academic setting. I’m very interested in that, and a large number of people here at UBC are interested in that as well. My task is to try to pull these two groups together.”
Dr. Eich is already involved in some activities to support this latest task such as a whole week devoted to celebrating learning research in May 2016. Just as he eagerly became Editor in Chief of PS and kept his eyes open for differences he could make while he was “in the control room,” he is now excited to implement his considerable skill set and, in his words, “rather empirical” mindset to undertake this new challenge. Students and adults alike would be wise to follow his example when pursuing their own personal endeavors.
Dr. Eich’s Advice for Aspiring Researchers
Find Friends and Make Mentorships Count!
Dr. Eich is quick to express how crucial mentorship experiences have been in advancing his academic path. In fact, Dr. Eich was not looking to become involved in psychological research at all until he was teamed up with Dr. Herbert Wiengartner (University of Maryland, Baltimore County). “We started doing research together during my undergraduate junior year, and then he arranged for me to get—I think it was originally an unpaid and then a paid—research assistantship at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the cognitive neuroscience lab that he was working in and also doing pharmacological studies on memory. That was an incredible mentorship. Endel Tulving was also an amazing man to work with throughout graduate school. Dr. Gordon Bower, who is now retired from Stanford University, has always been a rock for me as well. I could always turn to him for advice, and we became good friends. I also met Dr. Robert Kail, who was phenomenal in helping me get up to speed on PS. I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of mentors.”
Volunteer at a Lab
Dr. Eich encourages students who have a taste for getting involved in research to go for it. “This will really bring all of the classroom stuff you are learning to life so that you can see it in a different way. If you can get a paid position, then so much the better, and this doesn’t have to be a psychology lab either. In terms of professional publication, there might not be any specific courses about editorial work, but you will also pick that up as a valuable skill when you get involved in conducting research.”
Ask to Review Manuscripts With Your Mentors
Students should consider politely but persistently asking if they can help when their advisor conducts a review. As Dr. Eich points out, this is a great way to learn how reviews are done, and the earlier students begin to practice the better. “When I was editing at PS, I would often be asked by reviewers, ‘Would you mind if I do a review with my undergraduate or graduate students?’ I would always say ‘yes!’ and I wish more students and advisors would do that because I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Improve Your Writing Skills
It is Dr. Eich’s opinion that the biggest problem students have while writing occurs when they do not have a clear target in mind. In this case, they tend to write to themselves with their own inner voice, which Dr. Eich says is a mistake. “It’s a lot better to have someone in mind—not a fictional person, but a real person—who you know is very smart but who isn’t in the field. Then, write with that specific person in mind to see if they would understand. Sometimes, actually ask that person to read your work. The person should be very smart, smarter than you are really, but not in the area that you are writing about. I think that helps a lot because otherwise people write for themselves, which causes them to think they are being clear when they’re really not. This strategy has been very effective for me and a lot of other people.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up
Students learn the most by putting themselves out there. However, what many students may not know is that this is true in the classroom as well as during the research process and the publication editorial process too. As Dr. Eich explains in the case of the editorial process, “It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes authors do come back and say ‘I think you missed the boat on such and such’ or they might explain why a comment wasn’t fair. We always take this seriously, and I will even sometimes recruit new reviewers if necessary. Other times, authors have come back after I rejected a paper to say, ‘I think you misunderstood such and such.’ In this case, we may ask them to clarify something in their paper and then resubmit it as a new submission.”
Submit to Student Publications
Dr. Eich also encourages students to submit their work to student publications. “If they’re undergraduates, by all means, get involved. Psi Chi, of course, is phenomenal with that. In fact, I was a Psi Chi member in an Introductory Class for Psi Chi at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County back in 1973, so that’s a terrific way to get involved as well. A lot of student journals are very high quality.”
References
Archive of all online issues. (2015). Retrieved September 25, 2015, from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/by/year
Asendorpf, J. B., Conner, M., de Fruyt, F., de Houwer J., Denissen, J. J. A., Fiedler K., . . . Wicherts, J. M. (2013). Recommendations for increasing replicability in psychology. European Journal of Personality, 27, 108–119. doi:10.1002/per.1919
Eich, E. (2014). Business not as usual. Psychological Science, 25, 3–6. doi:10.1177/0956797613512465
Makel, M. C., Plucker, J. A., Hegarty, B. (2012). Replications in psychology research: How often do they really occur? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 537–542. doi:10.1177/1745691612460688
Nosek, B. A., Spies, J. R., & Motyl, M. (2012). Scientific utopia: II. Restructuring incentives and practices to promote truth over publishability. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 615–631. doi:10.1177/1745691612459058
Roediger, H. L. (2013). What’s new at Psychological Science? An interview with editor in chief Eric Eich. The APS Observer, 26(9). Retrieved from www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/november-13/whats-new-at-psychological-science.html

Eric Eich, PhD, received his doctorate in cognitive psychology from the University of Toronto in 1979. After three-plus years as Editor-in-Chief of Psychological Science, he is currently Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs at the University of British Columbia (UBC). He is also a Distinguished University Scholar and professor in UBC’s Psychology Department.

Dr. Eich’s work is chiefly concerned with the interplay between cognitive and emotional processes. Some of his specific research interests include: mood congruence and mood dependence in learning and remembering; memory impairments associated with bipolar affective illness; the cognitive correlates of dissociative identity disorder; and subjective, behavioral, and neural differences between field (first-person perspective) and observer (third-person perspective) memories. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Association for Psychological Science, Dr. Eich is a recipient of the UBC Killam Research Prize, the UBC Dean of Arts Award, and a two-time winner of the Knox Master Teacher Award.

Copyright 2015 (Volume 20, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


 
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