X Users Didn’t Like a Paper’s Tone and Findings, So They Got It Rejected

This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire

By Ross Pomeroy
Real Clear Wire

At Frontiers in Psychology, it seems that users on X are now part of the peer review process.

On January 4th, the paper “Meta-analysis: On average, undergraduate students’ intelligence is merely average,” was accepted to the journal. That same day, the abstract was published with the notice that the “final, formatted version of the article will be published soon.”

Soon thereafter, the paper went viral, quickly accruing over 54,000 views, wide discussion on X and Reddit, and coverage in popular media (including RCS). It garnered this attention for its intriguing yet simultaneously obvious finding: over the past 80 years, as a far greater proportion of North Americans attended college, the average IQ of college undergraduates dropped from around 120 to 102, just slightly above the average of 100.

As the authors, Bob Uttl, a psychologist and faculty member at Mount Royal University, and his students Victoria Violo and Lacey Gibson, noted, “The decline in students’ IQ is a necessary consequence of increasing educational attainment over the last 80 years. Today, graduating from university is more common than completing high school in the 1940s.” College students no longer come solely from the ranks of the highly intelligent and privileged, they come from all corners of society. Uttl and his colleagues noted that this has implications. For example, academic standards and curricula might have to be adjusted. Moreover, employers can’t assume that applicants with university degrees are more capable or smarter than those without degrees.

A little over a month after Uttl, Violo, and Gibson’s paper was accepted and the abstract published, they were abruptly notified by email that it was rejected. They were apprised that Specialty Chief Editor Eddy Davelaar, a Professor of Psychology and Applied Neuroscience at Birkbeck, University of London, overrode the three peer reviewers who approved the paper and even his own handling editor. His reasons were subsequently forwarded to Uttl and his colleagues.

While Davelaar raised a couple of issues with the paper’s methods, the vast majority of his focus was on its tone. He wrote that the use of the word “merely” in reference to college students’ just-above-average IQ was “demeaning.” He also noted that the authors’ critiques of other scientists’ works “could have been packaged more sensitively.” He also called unfounded the authors’ opinion that the widening participation policies of universities were the cause of undergraduates’ falling IQs.

In emails viewed by RealClearScience, Uttl extensively refuted Davelaar’s issues the same day the paper was rejected (Feb. 6), to which he received no reply from Davelaar or Frontiers for six days. On February 12, Frontiers replied saying that Davelaar’s concerns remained. If they were addressed, “the manuscript could be reconsidered for publication.”

Uttl subsequently published his refutations of Davelaar’s methodological criticisms online. Lending strength to his arguments is that fact that three peer reviewers and even Davelaar’s own handling editor did not find fault with Uttl’s paper.

Davelaar’s problems with the paper’s tone and conclusions were harder to address, because they were his opinions. It seemed strange that an editor’s opinions should supplant those of the paper’s authors. It’s not his paper, after all.

In response to a request for comment, Frontiers stated that an article can be rejected at any stage before official publication. A public relations manager then quoted their editorial process, “…if a manuscript does not meet our editorial criteria and standards for publication, or if peer-review or research integrity concerns are raised by any review participant or reader (abstracts are published online ahead of official publication), the journal’s chief editors and Frontiers’ Chief Executive Editor will investigate these concerns, regardless of peer review or acceptance stage.”

Frontiers added:

The Speciality Chief Editor (SCE) reviewed the paper in line with our clearly stated editorial process when concerns were raised about the abstract, particularly about underlying bias. The SCE assessment concurred with some reviewers’ judgements, identifying substantive flaws in the meta-analysis and bias in the tone of the paper. The authors were given further opportunities to revise the paper in line with reviewer and SCE comments. These requested revisions were not made but once again disputed.

RealClearScience reached out directly to Davelaar for comment, but he has not replied.

Uttl was curious what brought on the sudden rejection of his already accepted paper, so he asked representatives at Frontiers. He was told that “several posts” on X triggered Dr. Davelaar’s review. As readers were only able to view the abstract, and thus weren’t able to assess the authors’ methodology, it seems clear that they complained purely about the authors’ tone and provocative conclusions. Davelaar only found ‘problems’ with Uttl, Violo, and Gibson’s methods afterwards.

Uttl and his co-authors were not apprised of the content of the X posts.

“I think an editor or whoever owes it to us to tell us what the issues are, allows us to respond, before rejection,” he told RCS in an email.

Uttl, Violo, and Gibson have since had their publication fees refunded and have submitted the paper for publication at another journal.

This article was originally published by RealClearScience and made available via RealClearWire.

The post X Users Didn’t Like a Paper’s Tone and Findings, So They Got It Rejected appeared first on The Gateway Pundit.

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