Experimental Analysis

Annals of Interesting Peer Review Decisions

Dec 7 '11

Tom Bartlett describes the efforts of two psychologists to publish replication results for an article, which had purported to show that people could use ESP to predict whether they would be shown erotic pictures in the future. The replication found no observable effect, but (according to the authors’ account of it)had a difficult time finding a publisher.

bq. Here’s the story: we sent the paper to the journal that Bem published his paper in, and they said ‘no, we don’t ever accept straight replication attempts’. We then tried another couple of journals, who said the same thing. We then sent it to the _British Journal of Psychology,_ who sent it out for review. For whatever reason (and they have apologised, to their credit), it was quite badly delayed in their review process, and they took many months to get back to us.

bq. When they did get back to us, there were two reviews, one very positive, urging publication, and one quite negative. This latter review didn’t find any problems in our methodology or writeup itself, but suggested that, since the three of us (Richard Wiseman, Chris French and I) are all skeptical of ESP, we might have unconsciously influenced the results using our own psychic powers. … Anyway, the BJP editor agreed with the second reviewer, and said that he’d only accept our paper if we ran a fourth experiment where we got a believer to run all the participants, to control for these experimenter effects. We thought that was a bit silly, and said that to the editor, but he didn’t change his mind. We don’t think doing another replication with a believer at the helm is the right thing to do … [the] experimental paradigms were designed so that most of the work is done by a computer and the experimenter has very little to do (this was explicitly because of his concerns about possible experimenter effects).

Although the Bartlett piece doesn’t make this suggestion, I can’t help wondering whether the reviewer was one of the authors of the original piece. Myself, I’ve had a couple of interesting interactions with editors over the years, but nothing that even comes close to matching this.