Wednesday, 26 December 2012


Yep, it's Boxing Day, and I started work on the journal at 7.30am. Sad, right? But a few things make it totally worthwhile: the people I work with on the journal (they in fact carry the majority of the load, more of which below), the science, the generosity of the people who review the 900+ submissions we receive each year (930 this year so far), and the following statistics: Cognition ranks 15th in Psychology overall (which may not seem like much, but when one looks at the journals that are above it, and the others below it, it is a big deal!), and it ranks 4th in Cognitive Science (same logic - it's a big deal!). Different journals serve different functions - some are review journals, some publish quick 'snapshots' of research, and some (like Cognition) publish full articles describing the original research in detail. We're pretty near the top of the pile if one just considers this latter category. I wouldn't be writing about these statistics if they weren't impressive. 

The things that make it less worthwhile include the huge load on the Associate Editors and myself. I personally handle one new manuscript every single day of the year, seven days a week, come rain or shine, regardless of holidays, illness, personal circumstances, teaching, administration, research.... The AEs each individually handle one new manuscript each 4-5 days. I actually believe I am the only editor on the journal (there's myself and, on a good day, 8 AEs) who gets no reduction in teaching or administration from their host department. How I get any research done remains a mystery (though not to my collaborators, who in fact do all the hard work). And how I manage to keep up with the journal workload is also a mystery. Actually, it's not... I don't. There are things that slip. We can only be machines some of the time, and the rest of the time, we lose power, and need a bit of maintenance. But there is a quick remedy (the equivalent of pouring rocket fuel into the engine instead of the regular kind): chocolate, and family: taken together. Stirred rather than shaken, and most definitely not on the rocks.

Monday, 24 December 2012

irony vs. stupidity

I know that now is not the time to reflect back on the year's most notable events - that's to come next week when the New Year will be almost upon us. But exactly 10 days ago, on 14th December, I couldn't help but notice two news items that, to me, help define the word "irony".

On 14th December, the world shuddered in response to the shootings at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman murdered 20 children and 6 adults. Apparently, he used firearms that his mother (whom he also murdered) had legally acquired. Naturally, this has led to debates about the liberal gun control laws in the US. Objectors to gun control argue, amongst other things, that stricter controls would simply increase the numbers of illegally acquired weapons and would not have prevented this massacre. One counter-argument is that if the gunman's mother hadn't surrounded her children with such weapons, it would not have been so easy for the gunman to go on his rampage. The gun lobby have even suggested that if the teachers had themselves carried guns, this massacre might have been nipped in the bud. But if possessing a gun is such an effective self-defence measure, how come the US, with all its guns, is placed so high in the world rankings of firearm homicides? Evidently, having a gun doesn't stop you being shot at, let alone being killed: America's liberal gun laws didn't save those 20 children.

So why do I describe this story as ironic? Because after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, gun purchases across the USA have soared. And the USA's largest manufacturer of firearms accessories has just announced a few days ago that they sold in three days the same number of ammunition magazines that they normally sell in three and a half years. Ok, so I don't really know if this counts as ironic. Probably it doesn't, and is instead an example of stupidity: After all, when we first heard that cholesterol will kill us all, we didn't all rush out and stock up on eggs, butter, ice cream, and Macaroni and Cheese... Oh, wait... maybe some of us did, and that's why the USA is officially the most obese nation in the world.

Ok, so maybe the reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre isn't a good example of irony. But this other headline, from the same day undoubtedly is: A new £1.5M flood defence system in Worcestershire (a rather wet part of the UK) failed, resulting in severe flooding and damage, because the sensors that trigger the pumps that would have prevented flooding .... became waterlogged. Duh...

Best wishes for tomorrow, and the rest of the holiday season.

UPDATE: Less than an hour after posting the above, I saw a BBC news headline which says that 31,000 Americans have signed an online petition to have a British TV host deported from America for advocating gun control. The petition, which needed only 25,000 signatures to require a response from the US Government, says that the TV host (Piers Morgan, for anyone interested) "is engaged in a hostile attack against the US Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment". Oh no... I'm due to fly out to the US in 3 days: I hope no one reads this blog and (correctly) interprets it as advocating greater gun control; I wouldn't want those Immigration officials to think I'm engaged in a hostile attack...