Monday, 27 December 2010


... is the name of the café in which I am sitting, in Buenos Aires. The temperature at 10.20am is a cool 27c. And except for the connecting flight this afternoon to Patagonia, this is my last trip of 2010 - there were 16 others this year (8 of those 16 were to the USA; I'm excluding trips within the UK). It's true that 4 of those trips were "vacation" (Argentina, Samos, Tenerife, and now Argentina again), but on only one of those did I in fact do no work (Samos). So I fully and guiltlessly intend to take a week off while I'm here! And for once, NO journal work (unless there are any emergencies - I did manage to clear my queues before leaving). Instead, I hope to draft a grant proposal, something which, perversely, I'm really looking forward to doing.

Other things high up on my list to look forward to while here in Argentina: swimming in the river, fishing (and maybe this time actually catching a fish), eating, improving my Spanish, and eating some more...

Am looking forward to a very fat 2011!

The only downside (other than the calories)? I miss my kids. Needless to say, they never read this. But who knows... Perhaps one day they will, and perhaps they'll stumble across this post, and then they'll know.

- Posted, in an amazing feat of technical wizardry, from my iPhone

Thursday, 23 December 2010

It's that time of year again...

... when we go mad, spend money on all sorts of useless things, eat to excess, and travel from one end of the country to the other in order to do all this. This year has been complicated by what the media would have you believe is a natural disaster on the scale of hell freezing over. It IS true that my pond is suffering under the weight of a couple of inches of ice, and that my attempts to stop the ice closing over have only been partly effective. But the fish, those that are still alive, appear grateful for my efforts.

The Xmas season brings with it all sorts of weird, wonderful, and expensive gadgets, many of which remind me that the words "need" and "want" are in fact synonymous. One gadget I shall not be buying, but which I saw described only this morning, is an iPod dock. No ordinary iPod dock. This one, when not playing music, is a DNA sequencer.

My own DNA is in fine form, although I realize that having hit the big 5-OH this year, my DNA is likely degrading, and moulting nucleotides like a large tabby... Probably, I should have taken the advice I overheard on my recent flight back from Philadelphia (to which I had returned last week just three weeks after my last visit). One of the air stewards (is that what they're called now, or are they instead Aerial Customer Liaison Operatives?) was engaged in earnest discussion with one of the inmates passengers, discussing the pros and cons of different protein supplements, vitamins, and enzymes. The ACLO had been working out seriously for a while now, but wanted to move to the next level, and improve his "definition". His soul mate, sitting next to me, knew more about metabolism, supplements, and body bulk than I thought it was possible to know. It was only when they each took out copies of Muscle & Fitness that I decided it was time for me to accept, perhaps with less pride than I'd like, the dough-like ill-defined mass that is me.

Happy Xmas!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Holy Cow, Batman!

My first post from my iPhone! I still have to upload the past photos etc. But various unforeseen events meant that my time has not been my own. My main concern now is the ridiculous ease with which I can post from the comfort of my bed. Or the train. Or my car (I'll slow down for those posts...)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Blogging on the move

Well... I thought it was about time I could blog from my iPad, something that I can't do with RapidWeaver, the software I use for managing my website. So I'm exporting my blog that's currently hosted on my own website onto (i.e. here), which is easier said than done, because there's a limit of 50 posts per day, and I've got 164 to upload. But that's ok - another 3 days and it'll be sorted. Worse is that the pictures aren't seeming to export (I'm using RapidBlog by Loghound - maybe there's a setting somewhere, otherwise I'll have to import by hand. Again, not so bad as there aren't that many). So once that's all done, I'll just link to here from my website, and it will look pretty much as it always looked. Or at least, that's the idea.

In the meantime, it's likely that the post immediately after this one will be a couple of years old... so if you're looking for my more current posts, just go to my current blog.

UPDATE [8th Dec.] All the entries are now here, and I've just got to sort out the pictures. That's tonight's job.

Stay tuned!

Friday, 3 December 2010

-12.5c and falling fast

The foot of snow in the garden, the two inches of ice covering the entire pond save where the heater is keeping a small area ice-free, and the almost -13C (9F), seem to be having the desired effect - submissions to the journal this week are at about a third of their normal levels. Harsh winter? Bring it on!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Happy thanksgiving

For those not in the know, today is Thanksgiving in the USA. I’m not sure one day would be enough in which to thank all the people who, for one reason or another, I would want to thank. Half of them (and not all are in the USA) would probably be surprised they’re on my list, and would just think it weird if I did thank them. Of course, thanksgiving isn’t really about thanking people you know. It’s about thanking those clever genetic engineers without whom that turkey would taste significantly less bland.

Sunday, 21 November 2010


It does astonish me, as I sit on the plane waiting to take off from St. Louis, that they like to board passengers with seats at the front of the plane before boarding those with seats at the back. This would not be so bad if we were not in the USA - land of opportunity, freedom, and enormous carry-on baggage. The current scene in the plane is reminiscent of a log-jam... the rather large businessman with the over-sized baggage will, within the next few minutes, succeed in stuffing said baggage into the tiny overhead compartment. And when that happens, and he sits down, the pressure that has built up behind him, comprised of 70 or more compacted passengers, will suddenly be released. Bodies will be hurled the entire length of the cabin.

So the Conference of the Psychonomic Society has come to an end, and the intensity of intellectual action that unfolded over the course of the past few days has now abated. St. Louis was the perfect location - it provides no distractions whatsoever. Though it must be admitted that "the arch" is impressive - an imposing monument to ... well... arches. It also has to be said, in St. Louis's defense, that it does host some excellent and memorable restaurants. The conference itself lived up to Psychonomics' usual standards, although the topic of many of my conversations did inevitably drift towards, or open up with, questions about my (rather peripheral) involvement in the Hauser affair (this is the Harvard professor who published data in the journal that I edit that was most likely fabricated - a conclusion I reached based on information passed to me by the authorities at Harvard). Of equal interest, it would seem, was how I feel about having been misrepresented by the NYT (they incorrectly reported that I no longer stand by my earlier conclusion), whether there is anything I can do about that, and what this says about the integrity of the press these days.

So that's that. I am now headed to Philadelphia, where yet more excellent food and equally excellent science awaits me. I am, quite literally, flying off into the sunset (not sure why, as I suspect that Philadelphia is in the opposite direction... I sure hope the pilot's satnav hasn't jammed).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

@ 36,000 ft

OMG – I just spilled Bloody Mary Mix all over the full 11.6 inches of my MacBook Air! Stupid turbulence… This does give me some useful perspective, though; I now care very much less about the NYT journalist whose integrity I've been forced to question - my napkin provides a greater service to humanity …

Sunday, 7 November 2010

too much time on my hands

So... having cut the grass and the rushes around the pond, and having felt pretty good about the ever-expanding swathes of moss that make my lawn look particularly lush, I checked up on Cognition (the journal I edit) and felt good about that too - despite a 10% rise in submissions this year compared with last year, all my queues are clear. This year I’ve felt like my load has come down considerably. Oddly, the numbers indicate otherwise. I’ve made over 400 final decisions this year (accept or reject), slightly more than the number of manuscripts I’ve assigned myself (as distinct from those I assign to the Associate editors - the split is roughly 50:50). And of those manuscripts, I ended up triaging (i.e. rejecting without sending out to review) 49%. That’s a lot. There are different ways of defining triage rates, and the more conservative one (the proportion of final decisions that were triage decisions) puts me at 45% this year (with a four-year average of 35%). I’m evidently more productive this year than last (10% more decisions than the same time last year). So... a pat on the back, please. And the fact that I have some amazing collaborators scattered around the world with whom I’ve actually managed to publish a paper or three this year, and with whom another couple of papers are being produced, means that I have much to feel satisfied about. So... to all those people, without whom I could not feel so good on a Sunday lunchtime, and to all those other people who’ve sent supportive emails in light of recent events (see previous blog entries), my sincere thanks. And to whoever invented moss, my thanks also.

Finally, I’ve gone a whole week without buying a single watch. There’s self-control for you! My last watch was a limited edition (of 50), designed by a pair of brothers here in York. Ridiculously cheap for the price. However, my kids, who have little appreciation for anything at all, unless it’s downloadable and in the category “game”, think it’s complete rubbish.

Friday, 29 October 2010

the Hauser affair and the new york times (updated 6 nov.)

In an article on 25th October, Nicholas Wade, writing in the New York Times, gives the impression that I have stepped back from my initial interpretation of what I had been told about Hauser’s misconduct. He selectively quotes from me (see archived entries from August and September) to support the contention that the discrepancy between Hauser’s raw data and the published data were due to “devastating error, but not fraud”. In fact, there has been no stepping back. As I make very clear in this blog (and repeated in emails to Mr. Wade - see below), the information I have received, when taken at face value, leads me to maintain my belief that the data that had been published in the journal Cognition was effectively a fiction - that is, there was no basis in the recorded data for those data. I concluded, and I continue to conclude, that the data were most likely fabricated (that is, after all, what a fiction is - a fabrication). It is true that I did write here that there existed an alternative explanation for what happened, based on a sequence of errors. However, for that interpretation to be correct (i.e. that the data reported in Cognition were due to an unfortunate sequence of errors), the information I had been given, by Harvard’s Dean, would have to have been incorrect. Why exactly this is the case is simple: the investigation found no explanation for how the raw data might have given rise to the published data. As I pointed out in this blog, if all that had happened was that the wrong stimuli had been played to the monkeys, it would be possible to work out how the raw data did nonetheless end up as the published data. It’s not rocket science, and Harvard does, after all, have access to some of the best minds around. Indeed, some of those best minds were involved in the investigation, one way or another. So the only way that one could salvage the “unfortunate sequence of errors” explanation is if one supposed that not all the videotapes had been available for analysis. But again, my understanding is that they were. And in any case, if they weren’t, there would have been an explanation for how the raw data ended up as the published data (albeit an explanation that could not be verified). Again, I was told that there was no explanation for how one could go from the one to the other. So at the end of the day, it comes down to this: Do I believe what the Dean told me were the results of a long, careful, and painstaking investigation, or do I simply make up a “Just So Story” instead?

My frustration with the New York Times piece is that it was picked up by The Crimson, who went so far as to say that I had retracted my criticisms. For the record, I have not. I would implore all journalists to read carefully what I have written, rather than relying on hearsay and speculation.

I shall be writing to the editor of the New York Times to correct the misrepresentation of my views. I shall copy that letter to The Crimson. And when I have done that, I shall update this blog with a copy, regardless of whether NYT or The Crimson publish it. This entire saga is about the misrepresentation of truth. It is ironic that the journalists who profess to expose truth place such little value in it.

UPDATE: On sending the letter to the New York Times, I receive an automated reply saying that I was not permitted to publish the same text in any other medium. Consequently, I have decided not to post the letter here unless the New York Times choose not to publish it. If that’s the case, I will update this post with the (unpublished) letter. If they do publish it, I shall update with the appropriate link. In the meantime, the following snippets from email exchanges with Nicholas Wade should set the record straight:

15 Sep 2010, Nicholas Wade wrote at 19:27:
should one assume that you are now receding from or withdrawing your statement to me of Aug 27?  “Given the PUBLISHED design of the experiment, my conclusion is that the control condition was fabricated,”

15 Sep 2010, I replied at 19:33:
I'm not withdrawing it. ... Given the content of the examined videotapes, any other conclusion than the one I reached and which you quoted would simply be implausible. So I stand by what I said.

UPDATE (November 6th): After writing to Nicholas Wade, and then to the letters page of the NYT, and then to his editor, and receiving no reply, I wrote 6 days later again. I did eventually receive a reply. They stand by their article and make no apology for ignoring my email clarifications to Mr. Wade. Colleagues who have read previous entries on this blog have had no problem interpreting where I stood on this issue. But such colleagues are not in the business of selling newspapers and hype, whatever the cost. So to set the cat amongst the pigeons, I have been told, and I shall not reveal more, that when the details of the investigation are eventually published, words such as “shocking” will flow freely. Here is the letter that NYT declined to publish. I shall not respond to any requests from NYT in the future.

Nicholas Wade writes, in Difficulties in Defining Errors in Case Against Harvard Researcher (10/25/2010), that I have retreated from my suggestion that Marc Hauser, found guilty of scientific misconduct by Harvard University, had fabricated data.  He selectively quotes from me to conclude that Hauser committed “a devastating error, but not fraud”. In email exchanges with Mr. Wade, and on my blog, I explicitly wrote that I have not changed my interpretation of the evidence as described to me by the Harvard authorities. I explained how the alternative explanation, based on a sequence of errors, both lacked credibility and was inconsistent with information given to me by Harvard. The investigation of scientific misconduct is about the distortion of truth. The New York Times should care as much about the truth as does Harvard, and I trust that this clarification of my position can be added to the record.

Finally: I have been asked why I care about any of this, and why I felt the need to respond to journalists’ requests for my opinion (it was they that contacted me, not the other way around). The answer is simple: As the current Editor of the journal in which Hauser published 15 of his articles, one of which is now known to have contained fictitious data, it is my job to care. Just as it is my job to take a stand against the spreading of falsehoods, whether by rogue scientists, or rogue journalists. And that’s my final word on this matter, until, that is, the full details have been published and I can write here the following: “I told you so”.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

dilemmas of a modern world

Should I or shouln’t I:
  • cut the lawn (seeing as it might rain)
  • fix the Heron deterrent around the pond (seeing as the Heron is looking at it)
  • worry about the one baby fish I spotted yesterday (seeing as it looked awfully lonely)
  • go see The Social Network (seeing as I’m the only person not to have seen it)
  • take the weekend off (seeing as the journal’s queues are cleared)
  • work on the revisions to a paper (seeing as I’m evidently incapable of taking the weekend off)
  • change broadband provider (seeing as my current one can’t resolve my ridiculously slow speeds)
  • buy the new MacBook Air 11-inch (seeing as I have no excuse at all: I just want it)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

my lawn, my blog, your windows

Time has flown. My lack of blog has been due to intense work-related activity punctuated by occasional (work-related) despair, and the distractions afforded by the ethical shortcomings of one of the more prolific authors in the journal I edit. Today, on the other hand, was spent considering more mundane matters, such as the quality of nextdoor’s lawn, which resembles Wimbledon’s grass tennis courts before the playing season has had the chance to ruin the neat and luscious stripes. My own lawn is, in parts, satisfyingly luscious, green, and soft underfoot. The challenge is to fight conventional wisdom, and to allow the moss to spread to the rest of the lawn. What I can’t quite grasp is why we genetically engineer grass seed that will grow well in the shade, when I believe we should instead be engineering moss to grow well in full sunlight. My lawn would be a better place for that. I can dream...

Hits to this blog have returned to normal after the highs of late August and early September. Harvard Magazine will soon be running a piece that again quotes from me (and this blog), so I shall be curious to see whether hits go up again. It is strangely addictive, monitoring who comes here and when. (Ok, so it is not as addictive as my pond, or even my moss... perhaps because I can’t actually find out who comes here - I can only find out where from, with what browser, on what operating system, etc.). Interestingly, and depending on which kind of publication referred to my use of the F-word, the operating systems from whence came the masses changed quite considerably. The New York Times sent 453 visitors on August 28th. 55% of these were from Apple machines (Macs, iPhones, iPads, etc). Only 40% came from Windows. But Slate Magazine sent 949 visitors on September 7th, with 70% coming from Windows, and only 27% coming from Apple. Does this reflect different readerships? Are NYT readers more Apple-oriented? Or was it simply that the 28th fell on a Saturday and the 7th on a Tuesday, with Macs primarily reserved for weekend use? I suspect it is none of these: It is surely no coincidence that 55% of 454 visitors (August 28th: NYT) is almost exactly the same as 27% of 949 visitors (September 7th: Slate); evidently, it was the same number of Apple enthusiasts on both days, with the only difference being that Windows users came late to the party. Finger on the pulse... that’s Apple folk for you.

For those that worry about my archaic use of the word “whence”: I can categorically assure you that this has been the first time I have ever used that word. It will be my last. My profound apologies.

And for those that worry about my archaic use of the word “Windows”: Again, my profound apologies.

And for those Windows users whom I’ve totally alienated: My profound sympathies apologies.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

100 days left

Yep - 100 days left till another year. And what wasn’t there to like about the first 265 days?

Almost 38 weeks have elapsed. Sadly, I no longer measure time in years, months, weeks, or days. Nope. 38 weeks is not 265 days (or thereabouts). It’s zillions of manuscripts sent to review, zillions of manuscripts triaged (not sent to review), and gazillions other editorial decisions (accept, reject, revise). Ok. I’ll admit to a modicum of exaggeration. Each of these numbers is only in the hundreds (a word that in the present context rolls off the tongue as easily as a mouthful of hair). And all this while I’ve been applying for grants, writing papers, organizing conferences, going to conferences, planning / managing / collaborating on research (yes, not many people realize that I also do research), dealing with some of the fallout from the Hauser affair, and hardest of all, dealing with the one hangover that I suffered through all of this. Yes; just the one. And no, I do not mean that it was a very long, 265-day hangover. In fact, it barely qualified as a hangover. And in any case, no one noticed. I blame Brian.

Today is notable, aside from being 100 days away from 2011, for the outdoor temperature: 20C. It is an absolute certainty that it will not be this hot again until next year. The fish are already in lazy mode. It’s catching: The kids are in lazy mode too. As am I.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Harvard analytics

In August, the New York Times linked to my blog. In September, linked to my blog. The peaks below show the effect this had on visitors to this website. The first peak was due to the NYT, and the second, higher one (969 hits), was due to Evidently, my use of the F-word engendered much interest.

With luck, things will soon return to normal and I will be able to resume updating my blog with the usual trivia and minutiae of my personal/professional life that, as before, will attract no interest whatsoever.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Harvard misconduct: setting the record straight, Part 2

I have thought long and hard about my comments in my previous post. Did I overstep the mark by using the F-word? I shall freely admit that my interpretation of the information I was given by the relevant Dean’s office is heavily dependent on the knowledge that Harvard found Professor Hauser guilty of misconduct. I am assuming that Harvard abided by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) policy on misconduct; the relevant information on what constitutes misconduct and how it must be investigated are described here (skip to p. 28384 - the numbering starts at 28370). It is important to realize that the burden of proof is with the accuser, that honest error or difference of opinion is not a basis for misconduct, that the respondent (the accused) is given the opportunity to contest the findings of the investigation into misconduct, and is given access to the evidence on which basis those conclusions were reached. And for ease of exposition, here is the ORI definition of misconduct (p. 28386):

Research misconduct means fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. (a) Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them. (b) Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record. (c) Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit. (d) Research misconduct does not include honest error or differences of opinion.

I have already given one interpretation of the information I have received. But there is another. It is conceivable that the data were not fabricated, but rather that the experiment was set up wrong, and that nobody realized this until after it was published. As I detailed in my last post, the monkeys received two stimuli at test, and these were meant to be of two different types, but the investigation found that in fact they were both of the same type. So perhaps the computer program that generated the sounds was written wrong (this kind of thing happens), and perhaps no one checked what sounds it was producing before running the monkeys on the procedure (this would be sloppy), and no one scoring the sounds listened to them as they were playing (this would be appropriate given the method), and perhaps no one checking the scoring afterwards listened to those sounds (this would be appropriate if the checking of the scoring was to ensure consistency, but would be sloppy in respect of not checking after the experiment that the monkeys had been listening to the right thing... after all, perhaps NO sound was being played to the monkeys! How could one know without listening? And if one did listen, given that the two test patterns were meant to be of different types, but were in fact always the same, it would only require listening to one pair of test trials to know that the stimuli were wrong). So it could go unnoticed if there were several breakdowns in experimental rigor. And so the data would have been analysed assuming that the two test trials were of different types, when in fact they were of the same type. So how come the paper retracted from Cognition reported a significant difference between the two types? Well... in principle, if you split the data into two, having assumed that half the data were of one type, and half of another, even though the two halves of data are in fact from the same condition, you could get a difference just through chance. In fact, the statistic reported in the paper suggests that you’d get a difference due to chance around 1 in 50 times. So it’s not totally implausible. Is this what happened? Well... if it is, it would still be the case that the raw data would show this chance effect (that the monkeys responded, just through chance, more on some of the trials than others) - it should be possible to recreate the data that were reported in the Cognition article that was retracted. Evidently, though, that was not the case. If it had been, the investigation would have found an explanation for how one could go from the raw data to the published data. And the findings, as presented to me, do not suggest that videotapes had been lost (which would explain why the pattern of data reported in the article could not be replicated from the raw data) - the information I was given makes reference to the examination of the video recordings and the raw data. If the raw data are intact (I have no reason to believe otherwise, on the basis of the information I have been given), then I am satisfied that there is no straightforward (or even more complex) explanation for how the published data were generated, except for the obvious one.

So what should we conclude? It is conceivable that there was in fact no intent to deceive or fabricate if we assume a whole chain of procedural errors including the loss of some of the original data (perhaps I am reading more into the Dean’s letter to me than I should). So if we suppose that data might have been lost, is it still more plausible to assume that there was misconduct here? We still do not know what actually did or did not take place in the Hauser lab. We do not know what actually were the charges against Hauser - that is, which aspects of the ‘workflow’ were deemed to have been misconducted. We don’t even know for sure whether any of the charges are associated with the Cognition article specifically. The Dean’s publicly released letter said that “problems” were found, but it was not clear whether these problems were associated with misconduct. Instead, they could just have been as I described above: sloppy science compounded by chance data and perhaps data loss (though I would have worded the information I was given quite differently if the investigation had concluded that data was indeed missing). So perhaps the charges of misconduct are about something else. And in that case, I would be the first to change my continuing view that, in respect of the article published in Cognition, there was an intention to deceive. I just find it hard to believe that a top lab, run by such a smart person, would compound error after error. But anything’s possible. The issue is whether it’s probable. And given what I have been told, I think the scenario I have outlined is, quite simply, not probable (this is not to say that the investigating team won’t have considered it. I would be surprised if they had not).

It is time now, I believe, to step back, and allow due process to conclude. Most likely, neither of the parties involved (Harvard, Hauser) are able to say anything publicly if there are still federal investigations underway. My hope is that the investigation’s results will be published (I believe they will be), and that when he is able to, Hauser will himself given an account of what he did or did not do. But further conjecture is unlikely to yield new conclusions. My own interpretation may be wrong, in which case, with the right information, I will be the first to wish to correct it.

Unless something major happens to change my thinking about all this, I intend to resume my normal blog-specific activities as soon as is practicable - I much prefer to speculate publicly about the mundane and the personal. I am looking forward to the time when the F-word can resume its usual connotation.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Harvard misconduct: setting the record straight

Here is my official response to, and interpretation of, the investigation by Harvard University into the circumstances that led to the retraction of an article published in 2002 in the journal Cognition (before my time as Editor-in-Chief, but that is irrelevant). I’m posting this here to avoid any misunderstanding given that my comments to the press will likely be misquoted. At least now, I can point them to this blog, and save myself a lot of phone calls.

The article was multi-authored, but the retraction of this article attributed to Professor Marc Hauser sole responsibility for the need to retract the article. Anyone who does not know who that is can simply skip this post.

As Editor of the journal Cognition, I was given access to the results of the investigation into the allegations of misconduct against Marc Hauser as they pertained to the paper published in Cognition in 2002 which has now been retracted. My understanding from those results is the following: the monkeys were trained on what we might call two different grammars (i.e. underlying patterns of sequences of syllables). One group of monkeys were trained on Grammar A, and another group on Grammar B. At test, they were given, according to the published paper, one sequence from Grammar A, and another sequence from Grammar B - so for each monkey, one sequence was drawn from the "same" grammar as it had been trained on, and the other sequence was drawn from the "different" grammar. The critical test was whether their response to the "different" sequence was different to their response to the "same" sequence (this would then allow the conclusion, as reported in the paper, that the monkeys were able to discriminate between the two underlying grammars). On investigation of the original videotapes, it was found that the monkeys had only been tested on sequences from the "different" grammar  - that is, the different underlying grammatical patterns to those they had been trained on.  There was no evidence they had been tested on sequences from the "same" grammar (that is, with the same underlying grammatical patterns). Why is this important? Because if you just tested the monkeys on one underlying pattern, and you record how many times they turn around to look towards the hidden loudspeaker (this is how it was done), perhaps they would turn round as often if they heard **anything** coming from that speaker. So you'd need to include the "same" condition - that is, the sequence of syllables that had the same underlying pattern as the monkey had been trained on, to show that the monkeys *discriminated* between (i.e. turned a different number of times in response to) the different grammars.

It would therefore appear that the description of the study in the Cognition paper was incorrect (because the stimuli used during testing were not as described), and that the experiment *as run* did not allow any conclusions to be drawn regarding monkeys' ability to distinguish between different grammatical patterns. Given that there is no evidence that the data, as reported, were in fact collected (it is not plausible to suppose, for example, that each of the two test trials were recorded onto different videotapes, or that somehow all the videotapes from the same condition were lost or mislaid), and given that the reported data were subjected to statistical analyses to show how they supported the paper's conclusions, I am forced to conclude that there was most likely an intention here, using data that appear to have been fabricated, to deceive the field into believing something for which there was in fact no evidence at all. This is, to my mind, the worst form of academic misconduct. However, this is just conjecture; I note that the investigation found no explanation for the discrepancy between what was found on the videotapes and what was reported in the paper. Perhaps, therefore, the data were not fabricated, and there
is some hitherto undiscovered or undisclosed explanation. But I do assume that if the investigation had uncovered a more plausible alternative explanation (and I know that the investigation was rigorous to the extreme), it would not have found Hauser guilty of scientific misconduct.

As a further bit of background, it’s probably worth knowing that according to the various definitions of misconduct, simply losing your data does not constitute misconduct. Losing your data just constitutes stupidity.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

scientific fraud, whisky, coffee, and fine food

Last week was taken up with the Cognitive Science conference in Portland. Much of the conversation centred around the revelation, revealed in the Boston Globe, of academic misconduct perpetrated by a famous Harvard professor. I had some small part to play in the revelation, having recently received the official retraction of a paper that he had previously published in the journal I edit (although it was published before my time at the journal). The retraction confirmed that there had been an internal investigation at Harvard - a much-needed piece of evidence in the face of Harvard’s initial stone-walling of requests for information. Shortly after the Boston Globe published their piece, Harvard relented and confirmed the investigation. Although I cannot reveal the information I am privy to, I have every confidence that the full details of the misconduct, and the findings of the inquiry, will shortly be made public. My own view in all this is that we should not be too quick to throw out the science perpetuated by this individual - there is little doubt he contributed some important and useful ideas to the scientific literature. But we should be quick to show that wilful misrepresentation (and misreporting) of data cannot be tolerated: Harvard need, sooner rather than later, to report the sanctions that will be imposed against this individual. It would be a travesty of justice, I believe, if he kept his tenured position and all that happened, perhaps, was that he would be barred from receiving federal (government) funding for future research - after all, there are many researchers who fail to receive funding simply because there’s too little to go around, and if the worst that happens to him is that he joins the ranks of the very many researchers who, for quite different reasons, also fail to receive federal funding, then that sends a dreadful signal to those researchers - fake your data, and if you’re found out, there’s no need to worry as you’ll just go back to square one, which is in any case where you are now. I concede that if Harvard are prevented, for whatever reason, from firing the man, it may be difficult to come up with appropriate disciplinary action (I dislike the word punishment, but ultimately, the example that has to be set requires just that). But the scientific community is watching, and Harvard may well be judged on how they deal with this.

The talk of scientific fraud did not distract me or various colleagues from talking science, planning science, and drinking some excellent whisky. I am now in Philadelphia, a regular port of call given my collaboration here (for which, as I mentioned in my last post, I just recently received funding - three years’ worth to collaborate with people in Philadelphia, New York, and a city that shares not very much with either of these two: Dundee).

La Colombe, which is almost just around the corner from my hotel, continues to be my favourite coffee shop, and recently added to the list of must-visit stores is Di Bruno - I could live there quite easily if they would just let me sleep in a quiet corner...

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Samos, Tenerife, Cognition...

Since last posting, my feet barely touched the ground. I returned from Germany, having enjoyed a personal chauffeur service in a rather nice BMW Z4 (or some such.. what would I know? It had just two seats, no roof, a BMW badge, and most importantly of all, a driver familiar with the accelerator and break pedals; he may even have used the clutch, but I have no evidence of that...), and flew two days later to holiday in Samos with Silvia, where we were the guests of the Honorary (German) Consul. I now regret the German failure to secure the World Cup, as I can attest to the generosity and humor of their Consul on Samos. Oh... I forget. He’s not German. Oh well... I take that back - I have no regrets whatsoever that the Germans failed to secure a World Cup win. Viva España!

Got back from Samos a week later, and flew two days later to Tenerife for a family holiday. Villa, pool, volcano, whales, dolphins, beer... all essential ingredients to a successful holiday. The cetaceans were wild, seen and photographed during a boat trip. The beer was almost as wild.

Now... anyone familiar with my journal duties will no doubt feel aggrieved at what appears to have been way too much time away from the journal’s coalface. So here are the facts lest anyone complain: This year I have processed on average 16 manuscripts each week (split roughly equally between dealing with new submissions and with revisions - so this means accepting or rejecting manuscripts, recommending revisions, or sending out to review). In the past three weeks, during my vacation ... vacation ... I averaged 19 manuscripts in each of those three weeks. I also revised a manuscript of my own (and a student’s) for resubmission to Psych Science, read and commented on a student’s thesis chapter, and learned I had been awarded £600K by one of the UK research councils for another three years’ research in my lab. Needless to say, I write this because of some bizarre sense of guilt at having been away from my desk for so long. But despite the work that I somehow managed in these last three weeks, I do feel rested and relaxed, and even a little tanned. And hey - I have another three days before I fly to the Cognitive Science conference in Oregon...

Other journal statistics that may be of interest - as of today, I have this year triaged (rejected without sending to review) 45% of the new submissions that I have handled. But with an acceptance rate of 20%, that actually means that any author who gets past the triage stage has a roughly one-in-three chance of eventually being accepted into the journal. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not.

On a more practical note: We receive more submissions during the summer months than at any other time, and because I have two fewer associate editors working with me than I should have (Elsevier gave us the money for two more, in view of the increased submission rate), I have inevitably been unable to keep up with the flow of submissions - we all (the other associate editors included) are working as hard as we can. But it is not enough, and this means that it can take a few weeks from when a manuscript enters one of the queues (as a new submission, or as requiring a decision) to when it can be dealt with. Fortunately, most authors are either very patient, or are themselves on vacation and have not noticed. A minority, like me, will be working so hard that they barely have time to notice anything at all. To them, I offer this advice: MORE BEER.

Monday, 5 July 2010

german football & basque cuisine

I flew, last week, to a fantastic workshop (technically, two workshops) in San Sebastian (northern Spain). The people, the science, and most importantly, the food, were all terrific. I was taken one night to a 3-star Michelin restaurant (undeniably a rare experience), and the other nights, although starless (Michelin-wise, not sky-wise), were almost as memorable; the food was astonishingly good (I would recommend Mil Catas - way cheaper than the Michelin-starred restaurants that litter the place, and the ‘Pintxos’ are out of this world - Mil Catas won 1st prize in last year’s Pintxos contest). The culinary delights on offer almost made up for the total glee with which the Lufthansa pilot announced, on the flight over, each and every humiliating goal that the English football team suffered at the hands feet of the German team. Things were barely better on the way back: The flight back was delayed an hour - most likely because the German air traffic controllers were too busy watching the Germany v. Argentina match. And once in the air, the Lufthansa pilots did again feel the need to announce with considerable glee the total drubbing of the Argentinian team. What with England and Argentina now out of the cup, I feel I have lost my purpose in life. Not.

Anyhow, my new iPhone 4 makes up for all that. Whether it will help me lose the very considerable weight I gained as a result of the irresistibly good Basque cuisine is another matter entirely. It is even conceivable that San Sebastian will displace Philadelphia as my favorite eating hole. But much as I have been seduced by the allure of San Sebastian, I can assure anyone who cares to listen/read that the best coffee is still to be found in Philly.

There is more to tell, but it will have to wait until after this weekend. I shall be in Germany, no doubt watching an entire nation rise up as one each time their national team scores yet another goal. But while my ears will be occupied with the sounds of German triumphalism, my stomach will be occupied with thoughts of the Basque Country. Ok ... so perhaps my stomach is incapable of thought. But as it increases in size, it is only a matter of time before it achieves self-awareness. World-domination will follow soon after. If I don’t explode first.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


I believe it to be no coincidence that the culinary highlights of my life have been served up primarily in one city, albeit at different establishments. The city in question - Philadelphia - is host to the finest coffee (La Colombe), the finest fine-dining (Vetri), and the finest wackiest tea (Bubbles Tea House). The tea in question  does indeed contain bubbles - tapioca bubbles (more ball than bubble) - which sit at the bottom of whichever flavour tea you choose (I had iced peach tea), and which you suck up through an extra wide straw. I'd never had anything like it. It was a totally new (and somehow unlikely) experience.

Equally unlikey, but no less satisying, are the astonishingly good-looking brain scans that my collaborators in Philadelphia have collected. Research barely gets more exciting than this.

Very much less exciting, is all the work I'm behind with. Aside from an experiment to analyze, a thesis to read, three papers to revise, and a gazillion manuscripts to process at the journal, I'm also giving three talks over the next two weeks (one in Austria, two in Spain). One of them is to an advisory board that I'm a part of - advising Elsevier on the next-generation online tools for managing their journals. My talk, based on way more experience than anyone should have to endure, will be about "The mobile editor: The challenges of editing a journal at 30,000 feet" (gives a whole new meaning to "the mile-high club”). The challenge, by the way, is that everyone these days is into “cloud computing” - they forget that “the cloud” is completely useless when you’re flying through them.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


That’s the name of the grant review panel that, for the past 5 years, I have been going to three times each year (LCOM - Language and COMmunication). It’s a part of the National Institutes of Health in the USA. Yesterday was my last session as a ‘permanent’ committee member (it’s a fixed-term, after which you are gracefully retired off the committee). I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss the science. I’m going to miss my committee colleagues. I’m going to miss their smart comments, their integrity, and their friendship. It was a privilege to work with them. It was a privilege to be considered one of them.


That’s how many manuscripts I either sent to review, triaged, or made editorial decisions on last week.

It is also, coincidentally, the time in seconds it took between the O2 website being updated to introduce the new iPhone and my entering my details so as to be amongst the first to possess it. My iPad, by the way, continues to amaze me. And others. Just today (in Washington DC, where I was attending an NIH review panel), a complete stranger came up to me in Starbucks and said “Is that an iPad? F@!k, that’s amazing!” (Apologies to anyone offended by the pr@fanity - he said it, not me!). I let him touch it. But only after he’d washed his hands...

Gadgetry is taking over the world. It is all too common to see people walking along oblivious to anything but the conversation they’re having with what most often appears to be an imaginary friend. Inevitably, they have a bluetooth earpiece attached to their ear like some monstrous slug glued to their head. Today, though, saw the inevitable culmination of this obsession to talk. I was at Union Station in Washington, DC. The power-dressed woman coming towards me was talking nineteen to the dozen, apparently giving orders to some hapless assistant. But there was not a headset to be seen. Nothing. Not even a clip-on microphone. I figure she hadn’t noticed that her earpiece had jumped ship. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. After all, I could have been wrong, and she might have had some new-fangled gadget embedded in her person. Or been completely mad. I guess that is a plausible alternative. But I like the idea more that she’d dropped her earpiece without realizing. And I suspect her assistant would have liked that too.

Saturday, 22 May 2010


The title of this page is my age in days, taking account of leap years...

Last Sunday was my 18,263rd day-birthday. Silvia organized a surprise party for me, with help from various friends. And despite having children whose idea of a secret is on a par with a daily news broadcast, I had no idea of what awaited me as I climbed the stairs into the restaurant: Family, friends, colleagues, ex-students, their children, and even balloons. My reaction was not dissimilar to someone choking back the tears... except that I think I may have failed to choke them back - I don’t do ‘nonchalant’.

Amongst the many highlights of the day was my birthday cake. I am including a photo here, though with some trepidation. I’m not entirely sure what that naked woman is doing there! Technically, the cake was sponsored by Elsevier... (with thanks to Debbie!)
Other highlights included the many texts and Facebook messages. And last night we completed the birthday celebrations (a mere 6 days late). Sam had been unable to come to the party (he was braving the Yorkshire Moors in order to earn some certificate or other that attests to his survival skills - it must have been hard out there... he didn’t have his cell phone! It can barely get any worse...). So we went off to a nearby restaurant where a combination of black pudding, pancetta, sirloin, prawns, beer, and a rather fabulous red wine (Argentinian, of course), sealed the deal. There’s a lot to be said for getting to the ripe old age of 18,263.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

key notes

Originally, this entry described the highlights of my last month. I uploaded it fine, checked it, and proceeded to watch The Mentalist. But not content with the lead protagonist’s insightful solving of this week’s crime, I decided to edit the entry, and that’s when it all went wrong: Somehow when I uploaded the changes, I managed to corrupt the entry. I blame that unpronounceable but ash-filled volcano. So this is Version 2: Highlights of the highlights.
  • Top of the list is my new and very lickable iPad. I used it to give a keynote at a conference in Lund (that’s Sweden, for the geographically challenged). It worked flawlessly. Though I fear it may have attracted even more attention than my talk. Lund is home to some excellent bars that I would recommend to anyone. However, “excellent” is most definitely not how I would describe the Danish/Swedish rail system. Trains were cancelled, platforms changed, and the wrong announcements given over the public address system... I could have stayed in the UK for that kind of service!
  • In close 2nd place are DeLonghi, to whom I gave great fat wads of money today. In return, I am about to receive two PrimaDonna Avant bean-to-cup machines. They are still a rarity in the UK, but are, according to the reviews, fantastic. My lab, and associated colleagues, will no doubt suffer huge increases in caffeine intake, thanks to the equally huge (absurdly huge) discount that DeLonghi gave us. Delonghi: Official sponsors of the Psycholinguistics Research Group at York.
  • In 3rd place is the University of York online credit card payment system, which I have finally, and successfully, bent to my will (with the not inconsiderable help of colleagues in the Finance Office). It is now possible for people to register, if they so wish, for the AMLaP 2010 conference.
And that’s it. This weekend is The Weekend of the Big 5-0. I’m determined to convince myself that life does not start at 40, but a whole decade later. I shall do my best to get through the weekend without too much self-indulgent worry about the ever-more-rapid passing of time. I wouldn’t mind its passing if it weren’t my time that was doing the passing...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

flying back home

After 10 days in the US, 2 days in the UK, and 2 weeks in Argentina, I’m now flying home. Despite sounding like I’ve done nothing but work, I’ve also learned to fish (though failed to learn the crucial step - the one that involves actually catching a fish); eaten the equivalent of at least one whole cow, assorted pigs, goats, and other, more unidentifiable, food; seen and photographed wild guanaco; seen a night sky over the Patagonian desert that was so clear that the stars extended almost down to the horizon; spoken less Spanish than I should, but more than I could; and sat at the edge of the Rio Nequén drinking maté. The 28 hours flying time (to Patagonia and back) was worth it. As was the Ambien. And the rug, knives, leather bag, artwork, and other assorted souvenirs essentials that I brought back with me. And although happy that I’m about to see my family again back home, I’m sad to have left behind what feel like my other family, in my other home.

Monday, 12 April 2010

my last day in Argentina

... and it’s a sad indictment of my life that I’ve worked each day of these two weeks, except for the two days spent driving from Neuquen (in one part of Patagonia) to Bariloche (in another part, in the Andes) and back again. I processed around 40 manuscripts for the journal, finished and submitted a journal article, and worked on the 2nd draft of a grant proposal. Sad sad sad.


Saturday, 3 April 2010


Yep - that’s where I am just now. Got back from the USA on a Friday morning, and flew to Argentina on the Sunday. I had therefore set foot on three continents in under four days. I think that’s a record for me.

The weather here is fantastic. It’s early autumn, so it can still get up into the late 20s (celsius) during the day. Unfortunately, the healthy glow I’d feel from the fabulous weather is offset by the vast quantities of equally fabulous food that are being forced into me. I now know what those poor geese feel like:

Gerry de Foie Gras

Sunday, 21 March 2010

new york new york

As I look out over the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings from the 16th floor of my hotel, I can’t help but reminisce about last night’s dinner:
  • sea urchin custard
  • tripe
  • sweetbreads
  • oysters
  • and various other things...
I haven’t eaten a meal that was this memorable since eating at Vetri (Philadelphia) last year. The Cooper Square Hotel. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

things that were never meant to be...

Number #1 on my list of things that should never have been conceived is the ridiculously good-looking, high-spec’d, compact, well-reviewed vacuum cleaner that I bought ... for the pond. Pros: at least as challenging as a 5000-piece jigsaw to put together. Cons: everything else.

Number #2 on the list of things that seemed, at the time, to be a good idea is my beard. Or rather, the equipment used to keep it in check. There I was, stood in front of my bathroom mirror, giving my newfound facial novelty a trim, when a freshly hewn hair pinged up off my face and with unerring accuracy targeted itself like an exocet missile straight towards, and into, my eye. Nowhere did it say in the instructions for either my beard or its trimmer that safety goggles are advised.

Number #3 on the list, had I not managed to jump balletically to safety at the crucial moment, would have been the fishing line with which I replaced the garden string that had previously served as a deterrent for the Heron that occasionally feasts on my fish. The fishing line is virtually invisible to the naked eye. Which might explain why, despite having positioned it around the pond only moments earlier, I walked straight into it, and nearly ended up taking an unscheduled swim.

But for these three things, life continues to accelerate towards the future. Later this week I go to the CUNY sentence processing conference in New York. Then it’s off for a few days to Philadelphia, where unsuspecting students are being hauled in off the street, in the name of science, and extruded through an MRI scanner. Their brains, lit up like Christmas Trees, reveal all sorts of useful things that make me ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ while at the same time hoping that my collaborators can decipher it all. I get back to York and then, barely 48 hours later, head off for the sunnier climes of Argentina. I can’t wait. Regrettably, of course, I have to take work with me. But I can think of worse things than sitting in an Argentinian café drinking coffee over an internet connection. Sitting in my office, for example.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

multiple updates

Beard: the verdict is that it suits me. I find it difficult to resist the urge to constantly touch it. No one else seems to share this urge, however. Probably just as well (though I admit to being a tad disappointed...)

iPad: except for the name, the lack of multi-user accounts, multi-tasking, and a front-facing camera for video chat, it is another item that I would find difficult to resist. Multi-tasking could be a deal-breaker, because when traveling, I need to be able to access web-based databases *and* word documents simultaneously (Apple - if you’re reading this: at NIH committee we need to access the online database and simultaneously our notes on the grants we’re commenting on). Apple do many things very well, but they are in danger of forgetting that people multitask, and they need equipment that can multitask with them.

Gaggia: My Gaggia bean-to-cup espresso machine, unlike the iPad, does multitask. It can simultaneously make coffee and leak. Probably, this is an example of multitasking that I could do without. A dose of descaler and a quick prod around the seals with a couple of cotton buds did the trick. But only for an all-too-brief 24 hours. Will need to take a screwdriver to it. Delonghi have offered to step in and help out with a heavily discounted replacement. With luck, and although negotiations are ongoing, they will become official lab sponsors. If only Apple were as approachable as Delonghi...

iPond: Having managed to kill the larger fish in my pond by not clearing the ice off quickly enough (turns out it doesn’t take long), I’ve now installed a pond heater. It’s nothing fancy - just an electric kettle that I dropped into the pond with a longer-than-usual cable feeding into a power-supply. Ok, maybe not an electric kettle... but it does stop the ice covering the entire pond, and so allows the gases that would otherwise accumulate to escape the pond. So when the temperature looks like it’s going to drop, I have to throw the thing in (it’s attached to a polystyrene float), and hope that the fish prefer being lightly broiled than slowly gassed. Needless to say, the running costs of a 600 watt heater are not insignificant, and the lights in the houses all around do noticeably dim as soon as I switch the thing on.

The Olympics: I returned from my US trip in buoyant spirits, brought about not simply by the terrific time I had in San Diego, San Francisco, and Philadelphia, but by the fact that, unlike previous trips, I had returned with my health intact. I got back last Friday. I lasted 6 days. And then the cold hit me. And whereas the iPad believes that streaming is something to do with video, my nose believes it is something else, and is on a mission to use up the world’s entire resource of disposable tissues in as short a time as possible. If streaming were an Olympic sport, my nose would be up there on the winner’s podium.

Research: A rash of new data has hit the lab. Unlike other rashes, this is a good one.

The Journal: A rash of new submissions has hit the journal. Like other rashes, this may require medication. Or plenty of alcohol.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

snow and coffee sometimes mix...

I’m currently in Philadelphia, having arrived two days later than planned because of a snow storm that deposited an officially measured 28 inches of snow on Philadelphia, prompting the closure of its airport, train station, and pretty much all other forms of access. Washington DC had it worse - they had 32 inches, and great swathes of the metropolis and its environs (whatever those are) went without electricity for a day or two. The last time I recall a city being brought to a standstill by snow, it was London. Everything came to a grinding halt. Buses, trains, planes, even the underground. I think the official figure for the snowfall was a half-inch.

So.. Philadelphia... home to the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell, the finest coffee shop in the world, and, matching the quality of the coffee, the finest brain imaging I’ve ever become involved with (oh wait, it’s the only brain imaging I’ve ever been involved with. Well... it’s damned fine all the same! [you have to imagine that last sentence uttered in a very aristocratic British accent. Otherwise it simply doesn’t work]).

Am due to fly back on Wednesday night. Back to a pond that is bereft of the larger of its fish, as well as its pump (it broke, again... but Oase who make it have amazingly good customer service). A new pump awaits me, and will go in at the weekend. In the meantime, I hear that more snow is expected. But so long as I can get to La Colombe (coffee-heaven), I shall not care.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

snow's all gone

Yep. The snows have melted. The ice on the pond has broken up, and the 15 dead fish removed and ‘recycled’. The final toll was 18 fish, at least one of which was killed by a marauding heron. Except for two of the fish, the remainder were all 8 to 12 inches long. These were BIG fish. I console myself with the fact that this was the coldest winter in over 100 years (apparently), and I now have an excuse, in the Spring, to go and buy replacement fish (smaller ones, though, as the cost of these things would have been in excess of £300 for the larger ones).

Life has been quiet since Xmas. I submitted a grant proposal, actioned yet more from the relentless stream of submissions to the journal, went to Germany to give a talk, prepared NIH reviews, bought train tickets, booked hotels, failed (I believe) to secure a sizeable discount on new coffee machines (yes, plural coffee machines), and no doubt failed at many other things too. The Xmas lull was lovely - I did no work for a few days and would have gladly continued the life of leisure. I am already looking forward to next Xmas. By which time my latest acquisition will most likely be long gone. I’ve decided that beards are over-rated, high-maintenance, and no replacement for the joy of handing over hard-earned cash for new gadgetry.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

quick link to give aid

Clicking on the logo above will take you to a page in iTunes from where you can donate to the relief effort with a single click. 100% of the donation is passed on to the Red Cross. The fact that this is the American Red Cross, and not the UK version is immaterial. They don’t care through which channel the money arrives. If you prefer not to go via iTunes, you can go directly to their website.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

cognition: the year in review

Three days into 2010 and I’m already having to think about the journal again... It’s time to get up from beside the fireplace and stop gazing out at the falling snow...

As promised, here are some facts and figures regarding the journal Cognition. This is the journal I edit, together with 6 Associate Editors without whom it would be impossible to manage the journal.

Last year we received 842 submissions. That’s 18% more than the previous year, and almost 50% more than when I took over as Editor-in-Chief back in 2006. Of those 842 submissions, I unintentionally dealt with so many that I’m embarrassed to actually write down the figure here. Collectively, we triaged 36% of manuscripts (i.e. we did not sent them out to review but politely declined them), and we accepted just 21% (we were clearly feeling rather generous in 2009, as we had accepted only 19% in 2008). The average turnaround time between submission and decision (excluding triage cases) was under 3 months, and the average lag between accepting a manuscript and publishing it was also under 3 months. Of course, there were some cases where, for one reason or another, the manuscript languished for up to 6 months, but generally this was because of difficulties in soliciting reviews (often, the reviewers whom we first approached were too busy to accept the invitation to review the manuscript - in fact, almost 40% of the reviewers whom we approached were too busy. This is probably one of the highest such figures in ‘the industry’, but reflects the quality of the reviewers whom we approach). And speaking of reviewers, we approached 1661 different reviewers (and we invited some of these more than once - one reviewer, a member of our ‘editorial board’ completed an incredible 9 reviews in 2009! This particular person did receive a personalised email from me, though a medal might have been more appropriate!).

Despite the relatively fast turnaround, authors who had the misfortune to be handled by myself (let me disambiguate that: it was their manuscripts I handled...) did suffer slightly longer delays: on average, their manuscripts languished up to 4 weeks on various queues (waiting until I decided to handle it myself rather than pass it on to an associate editor, waiting to go out to review, and then waiting for a decision letter once all the reviews were in). But in fairness to myself, this average delay was brought about by two mitigating factors: First, I did travel a fair bit in 2009 (I was away from home for what amounted to the equivalent of two entire months!), and when traveling I can’t clear those queues. And second, and despite not wishing to write down the precise figure, I made on average just under 9 ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ decisions each week of 2009. And that doesn’t include ‘revise and resubmit’ decisions! So it’s not hard to see why there were (and will continue to be) occasional delays. In fact, the statistics show that the rate at which I make those final accept/reject decisions exactly matches the rate at which I receive new manuscripts to handle. Which is just as well, as otherwise the queues would build up and the delays would get longer and longer.

Occasionally, people ask me how I manage this. Ideally, my workload would be around a third of what it actually is - it’s this high because of the huge increase in submissions we received this year, and the inevitable lag between when we get such increases and when Elsevier can put more money into paying for more associate editors (each editor receives a modest ‘honorarium’). Next year, I’ll be able to take on two more associate editors (thank you, Elsevier!), and this will make a big difference as they will reduce my load by almost 50%. But still, it remains the case that I surprise even myself with the workload. It is very clearly the case that I would not have remained sane were it not for an understanding family, understanding colleagues (including a really remarkable set of associate editors without whom I could not conceive of doing this job), fantastic collaborators (without which my research would grind to a snail’s pace), and equally fantastic friends. To all of these people, I say ’thank you’.

Hmmm. It occurs to me that perhaps I am not sitting by the roaring fire, gazing out, over my laptop, towards the snow-covered garden and iced-over pond. Perhaps I did go mad after all, and I am living out a delusional fantasy from the confines of a padded room somewhere in deepest Yorkshire. In which case, it’s not a bad life after all!

Happy 2010!