cognitive science
and more

Earlier today, the European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP) sent out an important email to its members. In this email, ESCoP announced that they will launch a new open-access journal. They further announced that they will break with Taylor & Francis (T&F), the publisher of their current journal, Journal of Cognitive Psychology (JCP). ESCoP's new open-access journal will not be a continuation of JCP. Instead, it will be an entirely new journal, with a new name, and with a new publisher.

A major academic society is moving toward open access—this doesn't happen everyday, and it's therefore an important and positive move. But it's also a surprisingly radical move. What drove ESCoP to make this decision?

Here's what I know, based on discussions and emails with those that were directly involved (I wasn't).

ESCoP initially wanted to transform JCP, their current journal, into open access, or at least to offer an affordable open-access option, while staying with T&F. But, oddly, ESCoP don't own their own journal: JCP is property of T&F. ESCoP is like the journal's caretaker: They get paid a small amount to select an editorial board, promote the journal, etc. But T&F own everything, from the journal's name to the papers published in it. And T&F decide what happens with the journal—the publisher is pulling the strings.

Subscription fees are T&F's main source of income. Unsurprisingly therefore, T&F weren't very co-operative when ESCoP presented their open-access ambitions. When it became clear …

Read more »

The Eye Tribe is no more! Why?

The Eye Tribe is a cheap eye tracker. Cheap as in really cheap. As in 100 times cheaper than the competition. As in $99 when other eye trackers cost thousands of euros.

When the Eye Tribe was released in late 2013, its price tag was revolutionary. Competitors quickly followed, and right now there are several cheap eye trackers on the market—thanks, at least in part, to The Eye Tribe.

But it seems that I should say: The Eye Tribe was a cheap eye tracker. Because earlier today, I, and with me many others (see also Edwin Dalmaijer's post), received the following disturbing email from them:

Unfortunately, we’ve decided to go in a different direction with our technology and will stop development of our products.

So what happened? There's no news from the company other than this email, and a similar email sent to people who pre-ordered the now-cancelled Eye Tribe Pro, which was set for release in early 2017. They have removed all products from their website. But no explanation.

I'm sure we'll learn more in the future, but for now I can think of three plausible reasons for this surprising development:

  • Perhaps they simply went bankrupt. The $99 price tag may have been too low, causing them to lose money despite—I assume—selling a large number of eye trackers.
  • Perhaps they have been sued by another eye-tracker manufacturer—murder through litigation. If you search on Google, you'll find several references to Tobii, manufacturer of another cheap …
Read more »

Some thoughts on Cognition's refusal to go Open Access

Earlier this year, David Barner (UC San Diego) and Jesse Snedeker (Harvard) launched a petition to ask the editors of the psychology journal Cognition to move their journal to 'fair' open access: All articles should be made freely available for anyone to read, and publishing fees should be far lower than the current $2150 per-article option (authors can currently choose to pay this to make their article open access).

If Elsevier, the publisher of Cognition, would refuse to cooperate, the entire editorial board should resign and relaunch the journal under a different name and with a fair open-access model; this bold move would not be unprecedented: the editorial board of Lingua—reborn Glossa—did just that.

This petition was signed by 1660 people, many of which are prominent academics. I signed it as well.

Image adapted from Michael Eisen (license: CC-by)

The editorial board of Cognition responded with an editorial in which they suggested the following 'compromise': Things stay as they are, but authors can request a discounted publishing fee. How much of a discount? And by which criteria? They don't say.

This is typical Elsevier maneuvering: Whenever academics revolt, Elsevier respond with a counterproposal. This gives the impression that they are open to negotiation. But they are really not: The counterproposal is not an acceptable compromise at all—just a rhetoric trick to smother the conversation.

Like this:

  • Scientist: There are two apples on the table. You always have both, but I don't think that's fair. I propose that …
Read more »

How to get over academic writer's block

Do you know the feeling of staring at an empty page? Cursor blinking. Coffee getting cold (but still drinking it). You kind of know what you want to write: you have an experiment, some data, and you have a fairly good idea of how your data relates to previous studies. But somehow the words don't appear.

It feels awful, that's how. And if you're a researcher struggling with a manuscript, you probably know the feeling.

Below are a few tips to just write. There's no magic bullet; but a few common-sense tips can help you to get over the worst of your writer's block. And for what it's worth: they work for me.

Here's a truth: everyone who writes occasionally gets stuck. As I was about to delete the previous sentence because it's ambiguous, I realized that it's doubly true. Because [ everyone who writes | occasionally gets stuck ]; that is, even writers who normally write easily sometimes have trouble getting their words on paper.

But [ everyone who writes occasionally | gets stuck ]; that is, if you don't write often, you'll get stuck for sure, and get stuck properly. A writer is like an engine that needs to keep running; otherwise she gets cold and rusty. Many researchers write only a few short papers a year, and that's not enough to keep the engine warm. Clearly, the best remedy is therefore to write more: more papers, blog posts, love letters—anything to keep the engine running. (WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter don't count though …

Read more »

What is the passive voice (good for)?

In sentences with an active voice, the person or thing that performs the action (the doer) is the grammatical subject of the sentence; and the recipient of the action (the doee? ) is the object:

The researcher conducted an experiment

In sentences with a passive voice, it's the other way around: the recipient is the grammatical subject, and the doer is specified by a preposition (usually 'by'):

The experiment was conducted by the researcher

The passive voice is bad, mkay. Or least it tends to lack force and to take the speed out of a sentence. That's why most authorities caution against it:

An especially perverse passive voice arises when an active sentence without a recipient (i.e. if nothing is done to anyone) is made passive. In that case, 'it' needs to stand in for the missing recipient ('it is …'). This also happens when there strictly speaking is a recipient, but the recipient is not the subject of the passive sentence. Are you still following? Example! You often see this in academic writing, where authors happily commit crimes against humanity such as:

In the present article, it is investigated whether […]

Instead of:

Here we investigate whether […]

But what is the passive voice exactly? The examples above are clear: they are either clearly passive or clearly active. But things aren't always as clear. Consider:

I was excited by the idea of going out with her

Is this passive or active? If, like Wikipedia, you consider 'excited' to be an adjective, then …

Read more »