Saturday, 14 May 2011

end of an era

The following is a letter I wrote last week to the Editorial Board of the journal that I edit. In short, despite offering to stay on as Editor when my contract expires at the end of the year, my publisher declined my offer without any discussion with myself, the Associate Editors, the Editorial Board, or it seems, anyone at all in the field served by the journal. Evidently, they know what's best for the field, and the field itself does not (either that, or I really really p****d them off somehow). My thanks to all those surprisingly many people who wrote letters of support to me expressing their anger and disappointment. But each cloud does have a silver lining, and I look forward to getting my old life back. I may even finally get to write that promised 2nd edition of The Ascent of Babel (a book I wrote back in the late 1990s and on which basis my photographic portrait is now a part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London!)

Dear Board Member,

A quick update on the state of Cognition and upcoming changes.

Submissions are up 175% on when I took over in June 2006 (I anticipate around 950 submissions this year). Turnaround times are averaging around 3 months, and the publication lag (from acceptance to print) is around 3 months also. It is now rare for a manuscript to take as long as 5 months to go through the review process, although it does sometimes happen, of course, and almost always for reasons outside of our control. An increased rate of triage (40-50%) has enabled us to manage this increased submission rate. The Associate Editors make up an extraordinary group of individuals, and I believe that the ethos of the journal makes it a unique publication in the fields of cognitive psychology and cognitive science.

Against this backdrop, Elsevier have decided not to renew my contract when it expires at the end of this year. They have introduced a new policy limiting the Editor to serving no more than two terms of three years each (I will have served 5½ years). They believe that this is a good time to bring in a new Editor, now that I have steered the journal through this period of unprecedented growth, and they are hopeful that the new Editor will not have to suffer the constant accommodation that I have had to make to the ever-increasing numbers of submissions (the increase in submissions has now slowed, to around 7% year-on-year).

I have advised the publisher that time is fast running out to identify someone to take over, and I have suggested that they write to you to solicit suggestions. I believe that all the editors and the Editorial Board should be consulted in this process, something that has not been done to date. I do believe that in the case of a journal such as this one, the field should be consulted, and that the views of the Board are representative of the field that the journal serves. So I am hoping that the publisher will now engage in more open consultation. If you are not contacted within the next few weeks, please feel free to send any comments, suggestions or nominations directly to the journal’s publisher, [name and email address redacted].

I shall remain Editor-in-Chief until the end of the year. It has been an extraordinary privilege to steer the journal through these past 5 years. If there is one thing that characterizes this time, it is the opportunity that this gave me to interact with an astonishingly broad cross-section of exceedingly talented people working across the field. And although it would appear at times as if it was just my hand on the helm, it was in fact held steady there by the Associate Editors, and by Debbie Bowes, the journal’s Editorial Assistant.

Thank you for your continued support, of both the journal and the field that it serves.

With best wishes,

Gerry Altmann

Friday, 6 May 2011


Ok, I have to admit it. I am feeling exceedingly proud of myself. I have just returned from a grant panel in Madrid (where, unlike in the UK, they are sufficiently enlightened to have some really excellent fellowship schemes for junior and not-so-junior researchers). The source of my pride? My linguistic prowess - I navigated the committee in spontaneous spoken Spanish (if I could have come up with a fourth word starting 'sp..' I would have done ...oh... sparkling, spectacular, and spellbinding come to mind also, but only to mind: I neither sparkled nor spellbound. And most likely I was indeed a spectacle). So Spanglish ruled the day. And beer the night.

All the (spanish) talk of junior researchers, and their future careers, prompted me to think, and not for the first time, that what was once called the Research Assessment Exercise, and is now called the Research Excellence Framework, is an even bigger threat to British Science than the British Government and the cuts that they are inflicting on our science. Actually, it's not even about science. It's about academic research more generally. The REF is stifling the academic system, like the virulent weed absorbing all the light, oxygen, and nutrients in my pond. But I shall leave these thoughts for another time and another post.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Behind the scenes...

Ok, so it's been a quiet time here at Blog Central... But great things have been happening behind the scenes. Most, such as the fact that this blog is now optimised for smartphones, happened so far behind the scenes that I didn't even realise myself they had happened until I nerdily explored a few of the new changes at (just visit from your iphone and you'll see the difference). Others, such as the threefold increase in ultraviolet light now irradiating the algae in my pond, were more directly influenced by my existence on the planet. So ultraviolated is my pond that visitors to the garden have to don protective goggles and sun cream. The fish are positively sizzling.