BBS Editorial (1978)
The Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) is a journal of Open Peer Commentary modeled on the "CA Treatment" feature of the journal Current Anthropology (CA) to whose founding editor Sol Tax and current editor Cyril Belshaw we wish gratefully to acknowledge our permanent indebtedness. They have not only provided our idea and example but also graciously assisted the BBS project in its formative stages.
An Open Peer Commentary journal is none of the following:
1. a specialty journal publishing experimental reports
2. a theoretical journal publishing formal theoretical work
3. a review journal publishing surveys of research areas
4. a general journal publishing syntheses of research areas for the nonspecialist.
Examples of journals in each of the above categories should be familiar to behavioral and brain scientists (and will be discussed in detail below), but there currently exists only one journal devoted to the kind of service to be offered by BBS, and that is CA. CA accepts for CA Treatment only anthropological articles that have been judged by a substantial number of referees "as presenting a controversial viewpoint worthy of argument and discussion from various subdiscipline perspectives". Such an article is then sent to 50 commentators specially selected to contribute their ampliative and critical perspectives. Their commentaries are then published together with the original article and the author's response. The result has been a unique and extraordinarily effective form of scientific communication that partakes of some of the virtues of 1-4 above, but, more especially, generates the information, immediacy, and stimulation of a research conference coupled with the rigor and discipline of the refereed formal written medium.
The CA service has been extremely fruitful and is regarded as contributing substantially to both the communication and the generation of data and ideas in anthropology in a way that is simply not possible by any other means. Anthropologists actively aspire to invite Commentary upon their work and it is generally acknowledged that CA has exerted a remarkable unifying effect on the Sciences of Man, stimulating research, critical analysis, cross-disciplinary (and cross-nationality) fertilization, and more recently a mounting extradisciplinary admiration on the part of nonanthropologists who have been attracted to this fascinating journal when an occasional Treatment has impinged upon their own disciplines. Some of the most devoted nonanthropologist admirers of CA have been behavioral and neuroscientists, which is partially predictable from the fact that it is into the behavioral and brain sciences that interdisciplinary interests in the Sciences of Man are most likely to spill over. We also take this as a sign that the behavioral and brain sciences will be a fertile soil for implementing the Open Peer Commentary service.
The behavioral and brain sciences
These can be subdivided roughly (and somewhat arbitrarily and nonexclusively) as follows:
A. BEHAVIORAL BIOLOGY (including behavior genetics, animal communication and intelligence, human ethology, invertebrate, lower vertebrate and mammalian behavior, primatology, sociobiology. etc.)
B. COGNITIVE SCIENCE (including artificial intelligence, human information processing, linguistics, mathematical models, philosophy and philosophy of science, psycholinguistics, psychophysics. etc.)
C. NEUROSCIENCE (including higher CNS function, invertebrate neurobiology, human neuropsychology, motor systems, neuroanatomy, neuroethology, neurochemistry and neuropharmacology sensory systems, etc.)
D. PSYCHOLOGY (including clinical, cognitive, comparative. developmental, personality, social and physiological psychology, experimental analysis of behavior, etc.)
It would be prejudicial and counterproductive (not to mention that it would not be consonant with the spirit of the Open Peer Commentary concept) to rule that the "focus" of BBS is to be, say, cognitive psychobiology, or human as opposed to animal studies, or studies emphasizing brain rather than behavior. On the one hand, it is unlikely that any narrow range of subject matter would be sufficient to sustain a journal exclusively devoted to the Commentary service. Moreover, in narrowing the content spectrum, one would also be narrowing the comment spectrum and thereby reducing the potential of the service to cross-fertilize, integrate, and, indeed, reduced to a sufficiently parochial level, even to inform in any fashion distinguishable from that of a conventional review journal.
It should be noted that the Sciences of Man, in which Open Peer Commentary has turned out to be so effective, consist of a notably broad spectrum, including paleontology, archaeology, physical anthropology, biological anthropology, primatology, cultural and social anthropology, linguistics, and human ecology. The corresponding organ in the behavioral and brain sciences must retain this scope, and we will accordingly make every effort to assure that the entire BBS spectrum is at all times fully represented, both in terms of articles and commentaries thereon.
The role of BBS relative to existing journals in the behavioral and brain sciences
1. Specialty journals. These are abundant and easy to identify: Behavioral Biology, Animal Behaviour, Cognitive Psychology, Perception, Brain Research, Journal of Neurobiology, Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Developmental Psychobiology, etc. All these journals (and many more like them) are devoted to empirical research reports and occasional theoretical articles (although most theory not incorporated in the empirical report itself is reserved for the theoretical journals, discussed below).
Specialists tend to follow one circle of such journals, and it is rare for a paper to be known to even as much as a quarter of the behavioral and brain scientists who constitute the above readership. This is the case despite the fact that, as should be evident from our earlier classification scheme, the boundaries between these subdisciplines are far from categorical, and coherent work in one area often necessitates forays into areas in which the researcher is not himself a specialist. Often this is done within the rubric of the researcher's specialty and its own journals, so the material never reaches the scrutiny of the appropriate readership. This means, for example, that cognitive psychologists can and will say things about the brain and about animal cognition that might have been greatly improved by feed-back from specialists in those areas; learning theorists will report research and interpretations that would have benefited from criticism by behavioral biologists; neurobiologists will investigate neural mechanisms from perspectives to which more insight may have been added by information scientists; social psychologists will operate in a biological vacuum, psycho-biologists in cognitive poverty, psycholinguists in oblivion of animal learning, and so on. If ever related disciplines would profit tangibly from more cross-talk, the behavioral and brain sciences are such.
2. Theoretical journals. There do exist theoretical and review journals through which researchers can escape the narrow circle of their specialty journals, and indeed this is a valuable function such journals perform, but they cannot provide feedback concerning a researcher's own work; be is only the passive recipient of the products of other workers. Nor can the author of a theoretical article get an idea of how his work is received by the field other than in terms of (a) the responses of a few anonymous reviewers, (b) relatively rare and unsolicited commenting articles (usually negative), and (c) the destiny of his article in terms of citations in the context of other articles. There exists no mechanism for overt solicitation of open peer commentary on one's work.
Theoretical journals include the Journal of Theoretical Biology, which publishes a good deal of theoretical neurobiology; Kybernetik, which is not a cybernetics journal at all but an excellent though somewhat esoteric journal of theoretical neuroscience; Journal of Mathematical Psychology, which publishes mathematical models in the behavioral and brain sciences; Psychological Review, which is not a review journal but a first-rate journal of theoretical syntheses in behavioral and brain science; Cognition, which publishes both empirical and theoretical articles in the area of cognition, language and information processing; Artificial Intelligence, which is devoted to computational models; and Synthese, which publishes work on the philosophical foundations of the sciences. Such theoretical journals are exceedingly valuable, to be sure, but, as mentioned, cannot provide feedback in either direction, either to the author or the specifics of the reader's research. Moreover, with the exception of Psychological Review, which is truly representative of the entire behavioral and brain science spectrum (except hard-core neurobiology and artificial intelligence), the theoretical journals, too, suffer from isolationism. For example, although it formally welcomes such material, it is highly unlikely that Cognition will receive many submissions from neuroscientists since the readership of the journal is largely cognitive, and no real rationale for a common interest is offered to a prospective author in the neurosciences. The service of interdisciplinary Open Peer Commentary offers just that rationale.
3. Review journals. The case is much the same with these. The Annual Review journals (in Psychology, in Physiology, etc.) amount essentially to annotated bibliographies, a valuable service to specialists in the various reviewed sub-areas, but not one that makes it possible to provide any sweep or insight. And they are certainly not the way to become conversant with an area one does not know; at best they can only provide a guide for further reading. The more recent Annual Review of Neuroscience is aspiring to produce a deeper and more assimilated kind of survey, but if successful it will still be only a review, with one or several authors offering an individual coherent perspective on a panorama of research by diverse authors. The conception of a Commentary journal is rather the converse of this, with a panorama of reviewers commenting openly on the work of one author.
Another kind of review journal is the excellent Neuroscience Research Program Bulletin and UCLA Brain Information Service series, reporting summaries of conferences devoted to topics in neuroscience. Again, these are a very important service to the neuroscience community, but they cannot subserve the kind of direct interaction provided by Open Peer Commentary. The same is true of Psychological Bulletin, which publishes very coherent and valuable reviews in the behavioral sciences and psychometrics, but little interaction.
Journals that review books do provide an interaction that partakes of the spirit of commentary, but of course this interaction is both one-to-one and asymmetrical. It provides at most one coherent perspective on the author's work. There is usually no reply, and the readership, in general unfamiliar with the work under review, is obliged to adopt the reviewer's perspective if it is at all persuasive. Moreover, it has been our own experience that book reviews are usually quite superficial, and; to a degree, understandably so. One is expected, as a book reviewer, to survey and comment upon the book in its entirety; the book review has a well-defined function in this regard. And yet one may not have been interested in the whole of the book, nor have read it attentively enough to retell the entire tale, much less have something insightful to say on every salient point. So most book reviews represent various degrees of compromise with respect to these unrealizable goals. They are either but brief precis appended to a journal otherwise concerned, such as Neuropsychologia or Quarterly Review of Biology, or somewhat longer attempts to say something significant, as in Science, and, occasionally with remarkable success in at least one of these respects, Scientific American. Contemporary Psychology, exclusively devoted to book reviews, even occasionally rises to two-on-one (reviewers-to-author); but under the pressure of its admirable mission of keeping apace with the enormous volume of book publishing in psychology, it has in our experience rarely produced a memorable review (at least since the time of Boring), but at best a sufficient hint at the contents of the book so one is somewhat aided in deciding whether or not to read it for oneself: the function of a conventional book review, after all.
In contrast, the goal and the effects of a CA Treatment of a book are much more sensible and realizable [see review of Jerison's Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence, CA 1975: 16(3), 403-26]. For the benefit of readers who have not read the book, the author first provides a comprehensive precis; the commentators are then expected to address only those points that they have found particularly salient to them, and not necessarily the book as a whole. Invariably the panorama of commentators covers a panorama of points, and whereas it is not the intention of a CA Treatment to evoke the contents of a volume for a prosper-live reader, the outcome of the commentaries and response is usually a much more profound excursion into and involvement in the work than even the most ambitious single-banded review van hope to provide. And to a degree, the remarkable way in which a CA Treatment of a book can draw one into the contents of an unfamiliar territory is a microcosm of the overall capacity of the Open Peer Commentary service to inform and involve a readership in a fashion unparalleled by any other medium. (This analysis of BBS's relation to existing journals will be continued in the next issue, followed by, brief history of the project.)
Editorial (Part II)
[This is the second part of an editorial analyzing the relation of BBS to existing journals. Part I discussed our model, Current Anthropology (CA) as well as: (1) specialty journals, (2) theoretical journals, and (3) review journals in the behavioral and brain sciences.]
4. General journals. Among journals reporting more general syntheses intended for the nonspecialist are, of course, Scientific American, American Scientist, and so on. Such journals are clearly invaluable to the nonspecialist, but considered from the special viewpoint being developed in this editorial, apart from the already described limitations they share with theoretical and review journals in terms of lack of feedback and interspecialty dialogue, their articles are not usually written at a sufficiently sophisticated level to provide a basis for real critical scrutiny on the part of specialists from other disciplines.
The problem is that there seems to be no middle ground between the educated layman, who may have a serious interest in the contents of such general articles but neither the resources nor the intention to pursue them in greater depth, and the professional colleague, whom one would never dare address in such generalities: Left out is the sophisticated specialist from a related but not identical field, who may have a profound and professional interest in a rigorous general review. Someone, in short, who may conceivably have something important to say about the work reported, were he confronted with a sufficiently thorough-going and serious exposition.
5. New kinds of journals. There are also some new journals that fail to quite fit any of the categories described. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, under the editorship of E. 0. Wilson and Hans Kummer, promises to be a semi-general journal with a more intensive approach. It will attempt to subsume the areas of behavioral biology, social psychology, and sociology. Although this journal is to be applauded for rising above the confines of a single specialty area, it is not otherwise clear how it is likely to overcome any of the other inherent limitations that have been discussed here: It will not provide the Open Peer Commentary feature, nor would it have sufficient interdisciplinary scope to implement such a feature to advantage.
A second new kind of journal is exemplified by Behaviorism: A Forum for Critical Discussion. This journal does explicitly solicit dialogue and commentary in the form of articles discussing issues in behaviorism. However, the subject mailer has a somewhat political tenor - it is largely restricted to topics pertaining to Skinnerianism, operant learning, and so on - and the criticism is for the most part unilateral and unsolicited, rather than being directed at a tangible object available for comparison.
Several journals have begun to experiment with occasionally implementing a CA-like feature. For the most part, this has been quite successful, for example: (1) the arrangement by Jerry Hirsch, an editor of Animal Behaviour, for multiple book review treatment of E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology and Gregory Razran's Mind In Evolution, with the author's precis, commentaries and response; (2) the multiple commentary on Donald Campbell's paper on cultural evolution in American Psychologist, 1975, 1976; and (3) the occasional publication of referees' comments in Journal of Experimental Psychology (General). However, such initiatives are clearly limited by the fact that (i) the mainstay responsibilities of specialty journals clearly do not consist of providing the service of Open Peer Commentary and (ii) specialty journals, as mentioned, do not have the interdisciplinary scope to realize the full potential of the service, in terms of commentators, contributors, or readership.
One notable instance of success must be given special mention because, on the one hand, it appears to belie our earlier contention that Open Peer Commentary cannot be implemented in a specialty context, and also because it involves a rather unusual subject matter that reveals some unexpected virtues of CA Treatment and was developed, curiously enough, independently of any knowledge of Current Anthropology.
Apparently for several years now a number of statistical journals (Journal of The Royal Statistical Society, Biometrika, and so on) have occasionally implemented a multiple-commentary "treatment" of certain papers. The approach is identical to CA Treatment, with the paper accompanied by a number of peer commentaries and by the author's rebuttal. What is curious is that in this relatively well-defined specialty (although admittedly statistics has ramifications beyond mathematics, within biology, psychology, economics, etc.), with such a rigorous and nondiscursive subject-matter, the Commentary approach should have proven so effective and sought-after.
Our conclusion is that in fact this latter case is not purely an instance of the CA-like operation of the Treatment process. Rather, it foreshadows an even more powerful potential of the service of Open Peer Commentary, namely in actively contributing to the analysis and solution of formal intellectual problems by breaking the cognitive "sets" of individuals through high-level spontaneous dialogue and criticism, simultaneously constrained by being "answerable" to the formal medium of print (and hence posterity).
Although neither anthropology nor the behavioral and brain sciences may have yet approached sufficient formal rigor to exploit this latter feature of Open Peer Commentary, it too will be available whenever the disciplines rise to the occasion.
(The third part of this editorial will further discuss some unique properties of the service of Open Peer Commentary. This will be followed by a brief history of the BBS project and the annual list of BBS Associates.
Call for papers (and topics, authors, nominations, and suggestions)
The Behavioral and Brain Sciences is now calling for papers (as well as for recommendations of topics and already published articles or books) for Open Peer Commentary. Respondents are requested to provide an explicit rationale for seeking or recommending Commentary and to include a list of possible commentators (see Instructions to Authors and Commentators).
We are also accepting informal nominations for (A) Corresponding Associate Commentators (who perform Open Peer Commentary on accepted articles) and for (B) members of the Board of Editorial Commentators (who referee submitted manuscripts in addition to performing Open Peer Commentary). A list of those who have thus far joined the Associateship hierarchy is available from the editorial office (and will appear in Volume 1, Number 4 of this Journal). Qualified professionals in the behavioral and brain sciences who have either (1) been formally nominated by a current BBS Associate, (2) refereed for BBS, or (3) had a commentary or article accepted for publication can serve in capacity A or B.
To help in optimizing the service of Open Peer Commentary to the behavioral and brain science community, the editorial office would welcome suggestions from readers and Associates as to the optimal (1) length of a commentary, (2) number of commentaries per treatment, and (3) format for treatments.
Communications regarding these mailers should be addressed to the Editorial Office, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, P.O. Box 777, Princeton, N.J. 08540.