Psychological scientists are increasingly focused on making their research programs more robust and impactful by integrating multiple fields and levels of analyses. However, in doing so they face numerous challenges, including the need to master the language and literature of several areas. When these researchers then look to publish their integrative findings, they face similar obstacles.
A panel of editors from some of the most respected journals in psychological science gathered at the 2017 International Convention of Psychological Science (ICPS) in Vienna to discuss their viewpoints on conducting and publishing integrative science. They also answered questions from audience members and from moderators Gabriella Vigliocco (University College London, United Kingdom) and APS Fellow Qi Wang (Cornell University), both cochairs of the ICPS program committee, regarding the role of integrative science in the journals.
The panel of editors included D. Stephen Lindsay, Editor in Chief of APS’s flagship journal Psychological Science; Barbara L. Finlay, Editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences; Randall W. Engle, Editor of Current Directions in Psychological Science; and Rebecca F. Schwarzlose, Editor of Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
The editors reflected on how the recent explosion in the number articles being published, largely due to the rise of online publishing, has been both a boon and an obstacle to disseminating integrative science. The increase in specialized knowledge about individual subjects makes it more difficult to be an expert in a whole field, much less across multiple disciplines. Even someone who has been working in an area of study for decades can’t possibly know all the findings related to that area.
This “integration as disintegration,” as Engle called it, requires new approaches in order to produce science that is rigorous and sound across several fields of study. Engle stressed the importance of collaboration and teamwork in approaching integrative studies, and Lindsay advocated for a movement away from the so-called “great man” approach to science, which relies on individual experts with considerable sway in a field, toward a more team-based model in academia that mirrors what is commonly seen in industry settings.
The panelists concurred that securing reviewers in multiple areas of expertise is a major hurdle to publishing integrative articles.
“This is one of the challenges for editors if we’re going to increase the rate at which we’re putting out high-quality integrative science,” Lindsay said. “We’re going to need to have more reviewers, because we need a wider range of expertise than ever before.”
Asked about the issues that arise when an integrative article falling short of standards in one of the fields represented is published, Finlay responded that “there’s an upside — the immediate irate response from the injured field. So I think it has some amount of self-correction built into it.”
Finlay knows this from first-hand experience as the editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a journal with a unique Open Peer Commentary format in which novel and often controversial findings are published alongside 20 to 40 commentaries from experts within and across the fields of psychology, neuroscience, behavioral biology, and cognitive science, as well as the original authors’ responses. This model of publishing allows for people with multiple viewpoints to discuss and respond, and, sometimes, to reach — or at least approach — a general consensus.
The editors advocated for early-career scientists to strive for theoretical and experiential breadth. Schwarzlose encouraged early-career researchers to practice their communication skills, especially by writing short reviews or commentaries as a means of expanding their thinking and honing their skills effectively through writing. Finlay advised young scientists to make themselves indispensable by becoming translators between two areas of study, fluent in multiple methodologies and theoretical viewpoints.
All the editors called for increasing interactions with members of other fields to gain not only the technical knowledge of those fields, but also the cultural knowledge that cannot be gleaned from the scientific literature; as Lindsay put it, “so you can absorb from them things that they couldn’t tell you because they only know them implicitly — things they know but don’t know they know.”
Faced with a question about the difficulty of publishing integrative work in top-tier journals and the potentially negative impact that trying to do so could have on career advancement, Schwarzlose was optimistic.
“If your question is important, then I think that should actually be a bonus for you,” she said. “The challenge for people doing this kind of research is to communicate — to the editor, to the reviewers, to the reader — why these questions you’re asking are so important and why they require the approach that you are coming with. If you can communicate that, then you’re going to have them hooked, because it’s the question and the impact of that question that’s going to be important for getting the piece published and read.”