He’s annoyed that PNAS desk-rejected his article.

Baruch Eitam writes:

This may be a rant I don’t think so and so I am sharing it with you but one can never be sure.

Just had a paper desk rejected from PNAS. You may not appreciate the journal but it is one of the most important journals a psychologist can publish in. So if I think work out of my lab is important enough to interest “the general scientific community” I send it there.

The paper in question builds on 10 years of my group’s research on what we termed reinforcement/reward from being effective. In an elaborate program of research (published in psychology journals), we found, using the key measures of cognitive psychology—response time and response frequency—that “pure effectiveness” is rewarding (it’s more theory-laden but I think this is sufficient).

In the relevant study, we measured more than 100 clinically depressed individuals and showed that their responsiveness to effectiveness is identical to that of the general population.

Why is this important? Because major depression is thought to be caused by/to involve muted responsiveness to reinforcers so our study suggests that either this is incorrect or that multiple reward systems exist.

This is the editorial board’s evaluation which is seemingly the basis for desk rejection (my emphasis):

Editorial Board Member Comments:

Thank you for sending PNAS your paper on this important topic. Unfortunately, our general-science audience would be unlikely to find this research programmatic enough to be fully convinced—nor does it have a distinct innovation in other ways (sample, methods). A specialized journal might be more receptive.

So why did I think this would interest you? I find this to a manifestation of both the confusion/crises that scientific psychology is in and a strong example of how this biases the work done by experimental psychologists looking for recognition.

Why? To buy into our interpretation of the data you need to accept the fact that my behavioural measures index reinforcement. As I wrote above we laboured to make this case for years. But experimental psychologists themselves are not sufficiently sure of this nor would a group of them agree on what would count as a “significant (basic) discovery”.

This means that we (whoever we are) are F. As the gates to the “general” journals open only by hype or curiosities. Or even worse, by the status of the authors.

Note: As some of my best friends and respected colleagues published fantastic papers in such journals I would like to stress that this is not always the case: only that as a general rule I find it to be correct.

What do you think?

My reply: Oh, PNAS is terrible! I’ve published there myself, but they publish lots of crap. But any journal is pretty random.

Eitam’s paper (with Shirel Bakbani-Elkayam, Tohar Dolev-Amit, Eitan Hemed, and Sigal Zilcha-Mano) is here. I have no view on it; you can form your own judgment on where it should be published. As noted above, publication in any particular journal is random, so I don’t think you can hold it against PNAS for rejecting this particular submission.