Author: Tobias Heed

(expired) Interdisciplinary Postdoc position in the Reach & Touch Lab (Bielefeld Biopsychology)

We are looking for a Postdoc to join the large-scale project ICSPACE (intelligent coaching space) in the excellence cluster Citec. The project brings together VR technology and computer graphics, language research, and psychology, aiming to develop VR-based training. The role of the Postdoc will be to develop, coordinate, and run studies that asssess and evaluate the visual, auditory, and tactile interaction between the VR enviromment and its human users. The Postdoc will be integrated both in the Citec project and the Biopsychology group. The position is third-party funded and does not require teaching. It is initially for about 1 year, but has an option to be extended. The position should start as soon as possible.

We will interview as soon as possible after the deadline (August 11, 2016).

The Reach & Touch Lab / Biopsychology group investigates sensorimotor and multisensory transformation and integration, with a focus on tactile processing and its relationship with movement (check out the remaining website and two more open Postdoc positions and a PhD position). Available research methods will be motion tracking, EEG, TMS, EMG, 3T fMRI, and a two-armed Kinarm. Besides the focus on touch and sensorimotor processing, the group will investigate developmental aspects of these topics in infants and children. At the University of Bielefeld, there are multiple opportunities for collaboration for additional psychological/neuroscientific methods. There’s a multitude of possibilities for research, and your ideas matter.

Please consult the official job advertisement in German or English.

Apply by August 11!

Not sure whether you should apply? Get in touch with your questions via Email (tobias.heed@uni-hamburg.de) or Twitter (@TobiasHeed) to arrange a phone call if you can’t reach me by phone directly.

New paper on the anchors of external reference frames in touch (Plos One)

New paper:
Heed T., Backhaus J., Röder B., Badde S. (2016).
Disentangling the External Reference Frames Relevant to Tactile Localization.
PLoS ONE 11(7):e0158829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158829
[ open access pdf ] [ data & scripts ]

In this paper, we’ve published work begun by Jenny Backhaus during her time in our lab several years ago. It took us a while to get the paper ready, because we used Generalized Linear Mixed Modeling, a statistical approach that proved difficult for the data of the experimental paradigm we had used here, temporal order judgments.
We’ve started to publish Open Access, and to provide the data and scripts to our papers. So if you would like to try out different statistics than the ones we used here, run wild.

The research question

One of the central themes of the Reach & Touch Lab is that the brain automatically places tactile events in space. Given that touch is perceived through sensors in the skin, projecting touch into space requires computations that integrate skin location of the touch with the current posture of one’s body.
But space is a relative concept: the brain could code touch relative to many anchors. For instance, it could code every touch relative to the eyes. This would be useful, because the location of touch could then easily be integrated with locations of the visual system. But there are many alternative “anchors” relative to which the brain could code touch. Suggestions have been the head, the torso, and even landmarks outside the body.

What we show

We manipulated body posture in a way that allows us to disentangle different possible anchors that may be relevant in touch. We present three main findings. First, the eyes appear to be an anchor for tactile space. Second, head and torso did not play a role in tactile coding in our experiments. Finally, however, an eye anchor alone cannot explain our participants’ behavior; this result suggests that other spatial codes (just not head and torso-centered ones) play a role in tactile processing, in line with previous results we’ve published (see our recent review). We suspect that an important code is an object-centered one, in which spatial coordinates would depend on the involved body parts, as well as their posture relative to one another.

Why the results are important

The reference frames used in touch – that is, the anchors relative to which space is coded – have been investigated with a number of different paradigms. Our present paper connects a popular paradigm, the so-called temporal order judgment, with a large body of literature that has used other paradigms, by showing that the eyes are consistently important for tactile spatial coding. The temporal order judgment is a very flexible paradigm, making it an attractive choice for tactile research. It is therefore important to know that it renders results that generalize to other paradigms.
Furthermore, our finding that an object-centered reference frame may be particularly important in tactile coding challenges us to develop experiments that will directly test this hypothesis.

(expired) 2 Postdoc positions in the Reach & Touch Lab (in the new Bielefeld-based Biopsychology group)

I am looking for 2 Postdocs to join my new lab in Bielefeld, the Biopsychology & Cognitive Neuroscience group of the Psychology Department.

I will be interviewing as soon as possible after the deadline (July 29, 2016).

The group investigates sensorimotor and multisensory transformation and integration, with a focus on tactile processing and its relationship with movement (check out the remaining website, http://reachtouchlab.com). Available research methods will be motion tracking, EEG, TMS, EMG, 3T fMRI, and a two-armed Kinarm. Besides the focus on touch and sensorimotor processing, the group will investigate developmental aspects of these topics in infants and children. At the University of Bielefeld, there are multiple possibilities for collaboration for additional psychological/neuroscientific methods. The positions are university-funded (3 years, additional 3 years possible) and include teaching. They should start in October 2016. There’s a multitude of possibilities for research, and your ideas matter.

Apply by July 29!

Not sure whether you should apply? Get in touch with your questions via Email (tobias.heed@uni-hamburg.de) or Twitter (@TobiasHeed) to arrange a phone call if you can’t reach me by phone directly.

 

Postdoc positions

Note: this is not the official advertisement. Please find it here (in German). English applications are fine, non-German applications are welcome.

 

Job description

The jobholder will plan, execute, analyze, and publish research studies in the lab, using (some of) the above listed methods. This includes the organization and scientific administration of projects and potentially the co-supervision of PhD students. (75%)

The position includes teaching of 2 student courses per semester (4 “Lehrveranstaltungsstunden (LVS)”). (20%)

It is expected that the jobholder takes part in the academic self-administration. (5%)

The development of an own research focus, including acquisition of third party funding, is encouraged. It is possible to habilitate on the position.

Job specification

Necessary qualifications, knowledge, and competences

  • PhD in Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, or a comparable degree in a related field
  • Practical experience with experiments in at least 2 of the above-mentioned scientific research methods, demonstrated through corresponding publications
  • Very good programming skills for experimental acquisition and analysis (e.g. Presentation, Python, Matlab, R), and the willingness to acquire further such skills if required
  • Very good statistical knowledge
  • Very good English skills and experience with publishing in English
  • Independent and thorough working style
  • The group will be practicing Open Science; it will be expected that the jobholder documents and publishes data and scripts.

Desirable qualifications, knowledge, and competences

  • Knowledge of Bayesian statistics
  • PhD topic in the area of sensorimotor processing or sensorimotor development
  • Experience with motion tracking or Kinarm
  • Teaching experience
  • Experience with supervising students (theses, student assistants, PhDs)

Please submit your application preferably as one single pdf file that contains all relevant content (motivation letter, CV, copies of relevant certificates, job reference letters if applicable). Please list two references from an academic background whom I may contact during the application process.

 

(expired) PhD position in the Reach & Touch Lab (in the new Bielefeld-based Biopsychology group)

Deadline extended until July 30!

I am looking for a PhD student to join my new lab in Bielefeld, the Biopsychology & Cognitive Neuroscience group in the Psychology Department.

I will be interviewing as soon as possible after the deadline (July 30, 2016).

The group investigates sensorimotor and multisensory transformation and integration, with a focus on tactile processing and its relationship with movement (check out the remaining website). Available research methods will be motion tracking, EEG, TMS, EMG, 3T fMRI, and a two-armed Kinarm. Besides the focus on touch and sensorimotor processing, the group will investigate developmental aspects of these topics in infants and children. The PhD position is funded from my already running Emmy Noether project, and will focus on basic research about touch, movement, and decision making, using EEG, motion tracking, modeling, and behavioral methods (there is some flexibility, so your own ideas matter).

The positions can start in October 2016, but no later than January 2017. It is limited to 3 years. It is 3rd party funded (65% position) and does not require teaching.

Apply by July 30!

Not sure whether you should apply? Get in touch with your questions via Email (tobias.heed@uni-hamburg.de) or Twitter (@TobiasHeed) to arrange a phone call if you can’t reach me by phone directly.

 

PhD Position

Note: this is not the complete, official advertisement. Please find it here in German, or consult the English translation.

Job description

Participation in the DFG-funded Emmy Noether project “Sensorimotor processing and reference frame transformations in the human brain” (see http://reachtouchlab.com)

Design, acquisition, analysis, and support in the publication of psychological/neuroscientific experiments (90%)
Participation in project coordination (10%)

The position aids scientific qualification: a PhD can be obtained.

Job specification

Formal qualification

a completed university degree such as MSc Psychology, MSc Cognitive Neuroscience or similar

Further qualifications, skills, and competences

The project uses behavioral parameters, motion tracking, and EEG. It is furthermore planned that results will be modeled, e.g. with diffusion/accumulator models.

The jobholder should
– have gained experience with one or several of these methods, e.g. in the MSc thesis project, as a student assistant, or in an internship
– have experience with experimental and/or analysis programming (e.g. Presentation, Python, Matlab, R)
– be prepared to massively extend these programming skills
– have good statistical knowledge
– be communicative and team-oriented
– work thoroughly and independently
– have good English skills
Please submit your application preferably as one single pdf file that contains all relevant content (motivation letter, CV, copies of relevant certificates, job reference letters if applicable). Please list two references from an academic background whom I may contact during the application process.

Looking for help: assembling a list of neuroscience methods intro papers

I’ve not yet found a satisfying neuroscience methods book to use as an introduction for students. I’ve therefore started a list of introductory papers. My goal is to have a complete list with good-to-read papers that introduce each method, show examples of their use in research, and discuss their weaknesses. Optimally, there will be a “very easy overview” paper, and then some additional, more in-depth papers for each method.

As of now, the list is far from perfect: for one, it is hopelessly incomplete, but I suspect this is more because of my ignorance of good papers than because of a lack of good papers. Besides, many of the papers here are too difficult for entry-level reading.

So, if you know any good methods papers that are suited for beginning students, please drop me a line via Email or on Twitter!

Hopefully, the list will be useful also for others. Missing links to papers will be inserted over time, and I’ll indicate the difficulty of each paper.

 

general

Donoghue, J. P. (2008). Bridging the Brain to the World: A Perspective on Neural Interface Systems. Neuron, 60(3), 511–521. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2008.10.037

Taub, E., Uswatte, G., & Elbert, T. (2002). New treatments in neurorehabiliation founded on basic research. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3(3), 228–236. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrn754

King, M., Dablander, F., Jakob, L., Agan, M., Huber, F., Haslbeck, J., & Brecht, K. (2016). Registered Reports for Student Research. Journal of European Psychology Students, 7(1). http://doi.org/10.5334/jeps.401

Open Science Collaboration. (2015). Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science. Science, 349(6251), aac4716–aac4716. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aac4716

Button, K. S., Ioannidis, J. P. A., Mokrysz, C., Nosek, B. A., Flint, J., Robinson, E. S. J., & Munafò, M. R. (2013). Power failure: why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14(5), 365–376. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3475

 

EEG/MEG

Otten, L. J., & Rugg, M. D. (2004). Interpreting event-related brain potentials. In T. C. Handy (Ed.), Event-Related Potentials: A Methods Handbook (pp. 3–16). Cambridge: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/185452/

Lopes da Silva, F. (2004). Functional localization of brain sources using EEG and/or MEG data: volume conductor and source models. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 22(10), 1533–1538. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.mri.2004.10.010

Lehmann, D., & Skrandies, W. (1984). Spatial analysis of evoked potentials in man—a review. Progress in Neurobiology, 23(3), 227–250. http://doi.org/10.1016/0301-0082(84)90003-0

Rush, S., & Driscoll, D. A. (1968). Current distribution in the brain from surface electrodes. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 47(6), 717–723.

Baillet, S., Mosher, J. C., & Leahy, R. M. (2001). Electromagnetic brain mapping. Signal Processing Magazine, IEEE, 18(6), 14–30.

 

EMG

Mcneil, C. J., Butler, J. E., Taylor, J. L., & Gandevia, S. C. (2013). Testing the excitability of human motoneurons. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 152. http://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00152

Zwarts, M. J., & Stegeman, D. F. (2003). Multichannel surface EMG: Basic aspects and clinical utility. Muscle & Nerve, 28(1), 1–17. http://doi.org/10.1002/mus.10358

 

fMRI

Heeger, D. J., Huk, A. C., Geisler, W. S., & Albrecht, D. G. (2000). Spikes versus BOLD: what does neuroimaging tell us about neuronal activity? Nature Neuroscience, 3(7), 631–633. http://doi.org/10.1038/76572

Logothetis, N. K., & Pfeuffer, J. (2004). On the nature of the BOLD fMRI contrast mechanism. Magnetic Resonance Imaging, 22(10), 1517–1531. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.mri.2004.10.018

Logothetis, N. K., & Wandell, B. A. (2004). Interpreting the BOLD Signal. Annual Review of Physiology, 66(1), 735–769. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.physiol.66.082602.092845

Orban, G. A., Van Essen, D., & Vanduffel, W. (2004). Comparative mapping of higher visual areas in monkeys and humans. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8(7), 315–324. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.05.009

Wandell, B. A., & Winawer, J. (2011). Imaging retinotopic maps in the human brain. Vision Research, 51, 718–737. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2010.08.004

O’Reilly, J. X., Woolrich, M. W., Behrens, T. E. J., Smith, S. M., & Johansen-Berg, H. (2012). Tools of the trade: psychophysiological interactions and functional connectivity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7(5), 604–609. http://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss055

 

TMS

Di Lazzaro, V., & Rothwell, J. C. (2014). Corticospinal activity evoked and modulated by non-invasive stimulation of the intact human motor cortex. The Journal of Physiology, 592(19), 4115–4128. http://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2014.274316

Bestmann, S., & Krakauer, J. W. (2015). The uses and interpretations of the motor-evoked potential for understanding behaviour. Experimental Brain Research, 233(3), 679–689. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-014-4183-7

Bestmann, S., & Duque, J. (2015). Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Decomposing the Processes Underlying Action Preparation. The Neuroscientist, 1073858415592594. http://doi.org/10.1177/1073858415592594

 

tA/DCS

Di Lazzaro, V., & Rothwell, J. C. (2014). Corticospinal activity evoked and modulated by non-invasive stimulation of the intact human motor cortex. The Journal of Physiology, 592(19), 4115–4128. http://doi.org/10.1113/jphysiol.2014.274316

Merrill, D. R., Bikson, M., & Jefferys, J. G. R. (2005). Electrical stimulation of excitable tissue: design of efficacious and safe protocols. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 141(2), 171–198. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneumeth.2004.10.020

Fertonani, A., & Miniussi, C. (2016). Transcranial Electrical Stimulation: What We Know and Do Not Know About Mechanisms. The Neuroscientist. http://doi.org/10.1177/1073858416631966

 

measuring movement & using movement to infer cognition

Faisal, A. A., Selen, L. P. J., & Wolpert, D. M. (2008). Noise in the nervous system. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9(4), 292–303. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2258

Franklin, D. W., & Wolpert, D. M. (2008). Specificity of Reflex Adaptation for Task-Relevant Variability. The Journal of Neuroscience, 28(52), 14165–14175. http://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4406-08.2008

Wolpert, D. M., & Landy, M. S. (2012). Motor control is decision-making. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959438812000827

Song, J. H., & Nakayama, K. (2009). Hidden cognitive states revealed in choice reaching tasks. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(8), 360–366.

 

invasive recordings in animals

Alivisatos, A. P., Andrews, A. M., Boyden, E. S., Chun, M., Church, G. M., Deisseroth, K., … Zhuang, X. (2013). Nanotools for Neuroscience and Brain Activity Mapping. ACS Nano, 7(3), 1850–1866. http://doi.org/10.1021/nn4012847

Donoghue, J. P. (2008). Bridging the Brain to the World: A Perspective on Neural Interface Systems. Neuron, 60(3), 511–521. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2008.10.037

 

invasive recordings in humans (grids, epilepsy, BMIl)

Bensmaia, S. J., & Miller, L. E. (2014). Restoring sensorimotor function through intracortical interfaces: progress and looming challenges. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(5), 313–325. http://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3724

Hatsopoulos, N. G., & Donoghue, J. P. (2009). The Science of Neural Interface Systems. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 32(1), 249–266. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.neuro.051508.135241

 

cooling/lesioning

Lomber, S. G. (1999). The advantages and limitations of permanent or reversible deactivation techniques in the assessment of neural function. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 86(2), 109–117. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0165-0270(98)00160-5

 

Calcium imaging

Alivisatos, A. P., Andrews, A. M., Boyden, E. S., Chun, M., Church, G. M., Deisseroth, K., … Zhuang, X. (2013). Nanotools for Neuroscience and Brain Activity Mapping. ACS Nano, 7(3), 1850–1866. http://doi.org/10.1021/nn4012847

 

optogenetics

 

animal models (mouse, worms, fish, monkey)

 

stats/methods

Myung, I. J. (2003). Tutorial on maximum likelihood estimation. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 47(1), 90–100. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0022-2496(02)00028-7

Maris, E., & Oostenveld, R. (2007). Nonparametric statistical testing of EEG- and MEG-data. Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 164(1), 177–190. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneumeth.2007.03.024

Pernet, C. R., Chauveau, N., Gaspar, C., & Rousselet, G. A. (2011). LIMO EEG: A Toolbox for Hierarchical LInear MOdeling of ElectroEncephaloGraphic Data. Computational Intelligence and Neuroscience, 2011, 1–11. http://doi.org/10.1155/2011/831409

Nakagawa, S., & Hauber, M. E. (2011). Great challenges with few subjects: Statistical strategies for neuroscientists. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(3), 462–473. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.06.003

Cumming, G., Fidler, F., & Vaux, D. L. (2007). Error bars in experimental biology. The Journal of Cell Biology, 177(1), 7.

Nieuwenhuis, S., Forstmann, B. U., & Wagenmakers, E.-J. (2011). Erroneous analyses of interactions in neuroscience: a problem of significance. Nat Neurosci, 14(9), 1105–1107. http://doi.org/10.1038/nn.2886

Kliegl, R., Wei, P., Dambacher, M., Yan, M., & Zhou, X. (2011). Experimental effects and individual differences in linear mixed models: estimating the relationship between spatial, object, and attraction effects in visual attention. Frontiers in Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, 1, 238. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00238

Osborne, J. W. (2013). Is data cleaning and the testing of assumptions relevant in the 21st century? Frontiers in Psychology, 4. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00370

Speelman, C. P., & McGann, M. (2013). How Mean is the Mean? Frontiers in Psychology, 4. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00451

Cumming, G. (2014). The New Statistics Why and How. Psychological Science, 25(1), 7–29. http://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613504966

Gelman, A., & Stern, H. (2006). The Difference Between “Significant” and “Not Significant” is not Itself Statistically Significant. The American Statistician, 60(4), 328–331. http://doi.org/10.1198/000313006X152649

 

practical analysis/programming

Lacouture, Y., & Cousineau, D. (2008). How to use MATLAB to fit the ex‐Gaussian and other probability functions to a distribution of response times. Tutorials in Quantitative Methods for Psychology.

Urai, Anne, Prettier plots in Matlab, http://anneurai.net/2016/06/13/prettier-plots-in-matlab
 

The Reach & Touch Lab commits to Open Science

We’ve just published a commitment to Open Science as a disclaimer about how we intend to publish our work, starting today.

It has been becoming increasingly clear that scientific practices in Psychology and Neuroscience will have to undergo important changes towards “Open Science”. Maybe inspired most by the Science publication on the difficulty to replicate many Psychology findings by the Open Science Collaboration in 2015, discussions and suggestions abound in social media and on the internet.

Some of the most salient points in current discussions are:

  • the need for a general commitment of the research community to communicate and share original data, analysis methods, and programming scripts
  • the need for scientists to truthfully report hypotheses, null findings, and failures
  • publish in ways that make papers freely accessible

We’ve discussed Open Science practices in the lab over the last months. We’ve compared our current research and publication practices with those that might be most adequate in view of good scientific conduct, and evaluated what steps we will have to take to make the necessary changes.

The result of these discussions is our Open Science Commitment, which we have made available on our webpage today, to which I personally commit as the principal investigator of the lab, and to which the members of my group have agreed to commit to as well.

Some comments and explanations

One thing that became quite clear in our discussions is that a commitment to Open Science might seem clear and easy in theory and debate, but does not as easily translate into a realistically manageable day-to-day lab practice. As a consequence, we have formulated a commitment which we think we can actually keep. Below, I’ll give a few explaining comments.

We hope that other labs will implement their own Open Science principles, and we are open to discussion about our own!

About data sharing

Some initiatives demand that everyone share their raw data. Whereas this is relatively straightforward for many behavioral data such as reaction times and response choices, it seems much less straightforward for experiments involving motion tracking, EEG, or fMRI. Such data typically contain many segments of unusable data, complex coding of experimental conditions, and are initially stored in formats that might not be readable by every analysis software. Anyone who has ever tried to analyze such a data set that they did not acquire themselves (we have!) knows that reconstructing the coding of conditions, unusable segments of data, etc. can take weeks, even if the data are documented.

We have therefore specified to share the data necessary to replicate the analyses we report. As an example, for an EEG experiment, this might be the data of the trials we retained after semi-automatic artifact rejection.

In addition, we realized that preparing scripts for sharing can be a daunting task, especially for analysis-intensive experiments such as those involving EEG and fMRI. We’re not professional coders and handling code is a late-acquired skill for almost all of us. There’s a simple fear that others will criticize our code as inefficient, amateur-like, or even wrong.

Accordingly, the lab statement talks not only about sharing, but also commits to teaching everyone in the lab how to code cleanly, comment code, etc. We also provide written workflows that specify how a study should be conducted, so that making it open will hopefully require as little effort as possible. Ultimately, Open Science will hopefully be a part of our culture and simply “the way we do things here”.

About collaborations

We discussed whether future collaborations should be contingent on a commitment to Open Science also by the collaborator, or else be abandoned. We reckon that this might not be a smart move at the moment, as we don’t know what kind of principles and rules other researchers might have to comply with at their institutions. Accordingly, we have committed to actively discuss our principles at the beginning of new collaborations.

About publishing

This was a tough point. In the current research world, publishing in expensive for-profit journals is usually important to advance a science career (most evidently so for untenured researchers, but also for tenured ones). To put it bluntly, everyone talks positively about the new Open Access (OA) journals, but the best research is mostly still sent to the old, closed access (or expensive OA fee) journals.

Therefore, committing to publishing exclusively Open Access seemed unrealistic in the current career climate. There are some OA journals we do not want to use as output for our research; and we object to paying the excessive OA fees many closed access journals take for making papers OA. So we will use preprint servers to publish our research OA, even if some of our publications will be submitted to closed access journals.

About peer review

There is currently a lot of chatter about the Peer Reviewer Openness Initiative. Signers of this initiative vow to review papers only if the corresponding data and scripts are publicly available, starting 2017. Though I find the aim of the initiative great, I have not signed, as I cannot justify asking of others what I have not fully implemented in my own lab. Accordingly, I will sign the initiative when we’ve fully transitioned to being an Open Science lab.

About getting better…

As is evident from the above comments, we could be more extreme in some of the stances we take. Instead, we chose to start with what we believe we can currently fulfill. But as the last point of our commitment, we have added that we will continue to strive to become better. Step by step.

Comments to this post are open — we’re curious to hear your opinions.

José Ossandón joins the Reach & Touch Lab

We welcome José Ossandón, who joins the Reach and Touch Lab as a PostDoc today!

José just finished his PhD in the lab of Peter König at the University of Osnabrück and is an expert in eye movement research, with methodological expertise in modeling and EEG analysis (see his page for CV and publications).

José’s work will focus on the relationship of saccade behavior and tactile spatial perception. Among other things, he will combine EEG and TMS to investigate brain connectivity while participants freely view visual scenes.

The position is funded by the Collaborative Research Center 936 ‘Multi-site communication in the brain’.

Experiences with signing peer reviews

There’s always discussion about peer review. I’m sure your group does the same as mine — for every anonymous peer review we get, we guess who the author might have been. It’s more than just curiosity. Knowing who authored a critique might help in finding a convincing reply by addressing what the reviewer really finds relevant. It might allow asking back to clarify if a comment remains unclear to us.
But maybe most of all, sometimes I’d really like to know what made a reviewer write a disrespectful, bashing review.

Different ideas of how peer review should be done

You can see on Twitter that some scientists are thinking about signing their reviews, but are worried about the consequences if their review is critical of the study. In fact, some have suggested that peer reviews should be signed by those who have gained tenure (implying that, if you haven’t, it might have serious, negative consequences).

Others are proposing much more radical changes to the peer review system. Some have suggested that reviewers should be allowed to publish their reviews on their blog. This would, for instance, show the contributions we make as reviewers, which are currently secret and invisible. Some openness about the review process is emerging in the publishing world. Frontiers publishes the names of the reviewers with each article, and PeerJ publishes the full content of the reviews if the paper’s authors and reviewers consent.

Still others suggest to get rid of the current review practices entirely, and instead to publish o preprint servers, with peer review being performed post-publication, by an online comment/reply procedure.

Writing anonymous reviews

When I started in science, I got to know the standard model of anonymous peer review from both sides.
On the giving end, it is comfortable to know that the authors won’t know who you are. This way, it’s easier to criticise and doubt the manuscript under review. But then again, don’t we discuss and criticize each other’s work at every conference we go to? Why does it feel so much harder to sign a review than it does to state your opinion at a poster? Sure, something written is more durable than something you say at a meeting, but as a reviewer, I am doubting, criticising, and questioning a paper with the openness to be convinced by the authors in scientific debate. Thus, it should be normal that some of the things I write in a review are wrong.

And then, once I was more known in my field, there was this thing about trying to remain anonymous. You know, this situation where the authors aren’t aware of your paper that perfectly fits their argument, or that should be cited for some other reason? How do you include that in an “anonymous” review without revealing who you are? And, the situation in which a colleague, at a conference, came up to me and told me he knew I was the reviewer because that one experimental condition I had suggested could only be coming from me. Anonymity: nice concept, often hard to guarantee in scientific debate.

Getting anonymous reviews

On the receiving end, peer review proved hard, too. Haven’t we all gotten those reviews that we had to put away for a few days before we felt we could face the seeming destruction they meant to our work… But worse, we’ve all gotten those troll reviews. Reviews written in a manner lacking respect, that bash our work and we just don’t understand why. I often wonder whether those reviewers had used the same tone if they had signed their review.

Signing reviews: positive effects

Then I started getting some signed reviews. Overall, their number is still small, maybe 10% of all the reviews I’ve received. But I was surprised about my own response to these reviews. Even if they were very critical, the one thing that stands out to me is that I never had the feeling that they were disrespectful. For whatever weird psychological reason, knowing that there was a name to the review made it much easier to get to work on them. Now, you might think, sure, these people signed their reviews because they didn’t have any substantial criticism. Not at all. Their reviews were just as critical. One asked us to redo our entire data analysis.

I met my reviewers at conferences in three cases, and each time talked to them about the review. It was, in each case, an informative discussion, and never awkward. Even with the reviewer who asked us to redo the analysis…

With all these experiences of writing and receiving reviews, I decided a while ago that I would sign my own reviews from now on. And I was surprised by the responses I got. One reviewer wrote me after the paper was through, thanking me for the “contributions” and asking for pdfs of my publications. At a recent conference, the first author of a paper which had been rejected came to me and told me that he had found my review very helpful (whereas I had feared he’d think me a prick), and we had a nice conversation.

One thing that is clear to me: although I still write tough reviews when it’s called for, I make every effort to write them respectfully. I did that before singing, too, but I try even harder now. I imagine, putting your name under your piece would do that for most reviewers. Wouldn’t that be a step forward.

So…

In conclusion, while it can still fee awkward to submit my name with a critical review, my experiences have been positive. Of course, whether I’ll get tenure hasn’t been decided. So it remains to be seen whether I insulted some senior author so much that it will have such drastic consequences as that person trying to hinder my further career. It seems improbable to me, though the situation appears to differ in some fields.

Putting my name to my opinions and criticism appears to me to be the way it should be: let’s have discussions in which we fight over our standpoints. But let’s keep our respect.

From here, the step to published reviews, be it with the papers, on my blog, or in some online forum, is then just a step away.

Comments are open! Share your thoughts!