Our Open Letter Was Desk-Rejected at JPSP: An Argument for Sorrow, and an Argument for Joy

In a previous blog post I mentioned an open letter that a group of 27 social psychologists, methodologists, and advocates for open science had sent to Dr. Shinobu Kitayama, incoming editor of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition (JPSP:ASC). The letter was motivated by a recent editorial in JPSP:ASC in which Dr. Kitayama stated his desire to

“see to it that JPSP:ASC functions as a beacon for the active, field-wide effort toward the constructive, future-oriented, positive transformation of the discipline. It is my hope that engaging in these efforts will return our community to a place that young talent willingly and safely bets their futures on. It is with this sense of mission that I feel honored to serve in this role over the next five years.”

In the open letter, “Suggestions to Advance Your Mission”, the authors (myself included) listed a range of measures that JPSP:ASC could implement to enhance transparency and replicability. These measures include adoption of the TOP guidelines; offering Chris Chambers’ Registered Report format; providing badges for open data, open materials, and preregistration; explicitly encouraging preregistration; adopting the pottery-barn rule; encouraging adversarial collaborations and many-lab studies; embracing a more inclusive perspective on statistical reporting, as recently recommended by the American Statistical Association; and starting a dialogue with the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science. The open letter ended as follows:

“Importantly, this action plan takes almost no effort to implement. In general, the goal is to reward authors for responsible scientific behavior, something that is appealing regardless of one’s opinion about the current state of the field. We hope that you are willing to entertain these open science options for JPSP:ASC. The proposed measures will help you achieve your stated mission goal: a constructive, future-oriented, positive transformation of the discipline.”

After some internal deliberation, we decided to submit the open letter to JPSP:ASC, the journal edited by the intended recipient. We felt this would provide the journal with an opportunity to engage in a constructive debate about the merits and demerits of each of the proposed policy changes, particularly as they relate to the editor’s mission statement.

After about one week following submission, we received a “desk-rejection”; that is, our letter was not sent out for external review, because the editor (in this case, Dr. Kitayama himself) believed that even a major revision would not make the letter suitable for publication in JPSP:ASC. In a friendly action-letter, Dr. Kitayama motivated his decision. Two of his arguments have repercussions beyond the open letter. One is cause for sorrow, the other is cause for joy.


The argument for sorrow relates to the fact that we had already uploaded the paper on PsyArXiv and mentioned this in a blog. According to Dr. Kitayama, this prior online exposure devalues the manuscript and makes it less interesting for JPSP:ASC. This is the editor’s call, but I strongly disagree with this speculation; if anything, preprints that generate advance attention will help the journal, as the article will collect more citations and inspire more debate and research. As of yesterday, the open letter preprint had been downloaded 360 times; to my mind, this number signals interest and curiosity, and it seems unlikely that the JPSP:ASC readership would ignore the letter if it were to appear in JPSP:ASC. As a concrete example, consider the 2011 discussion in JPSP:ASC on extra-sensory perception. Both Daryl Bem (the ESP proponent) and the team at the University of Amsterdam (the ESP skeptics) posted preprints well before the articles had appeared in the journal. The original paper and subsequent debate generated tremendous attention. I believe that part of this attention was due to the preprints.

Interestingly, the APA has recently expressed its support for PsyArXiv as an official preprint server. At any rate, Dr. Kitayama’s action-letter suggests that posting a preprint (and mentioning it in a blog) harms one’s chances of subsequently getting the same manuscript published at JPSP:ASC. Perhaps this only applies to comment and letters? I am not aware of any other journal in psychology that adopts such a policy, implicitly or explicitly. And in fields such as physics and statistics, it is standard practice to upload preprints before submitting the manuscript to a journal. One of the reasons for this practice is that the manuscript can benefit from early feedback – and in fact, based on our preprint we received several helpful suggestions on how to improve the letter.


Luckily, there is also an argument that is cause for joy. Dr. Kitayama argues that the APA has recently considered a range of measures to promote open science, and he suggests that our letter is obsolete by the time it would be published. This is fantastic news, and I must admit that it surprised me a great deal. Personally, I had always believed that large institutions and big journals change their policies at a glacial pace. But here Dr. Kitayama implies that within a year or less (!), JPSP:ASC will have adopted many of the suggestions that we outlined in our letter.

Of course it remains possible that, despite one’s best intentions, the proposed changes take longer to implement than currently planned. I will remain skeptical until I see the changes implemented. Therefore I intend to submit the same letter to JPSP:ASC, every year, until either the letter or the journal have become obsolete. We will follow the upcoming policy changes at JPSP:ASC with considerable interest.

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About the author

Eric-Jan Wagenmakers

Eric-Jan (EJ) Wagenmakers is professor at the Psychological Methods Group at the University of Amsterdam. EJ guides the development of JASP.