Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Frantic Lab Pace Continues

Lab members have now run 91 experiments with physiology data collection in the past three weeks. They are doing a great job. Yesterday was a 13 hour day for me getting video ready for one of the experiments. Whew! Getting home after 10 p.m. felt like the old newspaper days.

The pace begins anew today. I sure wish that I were bringing all of these students with me to Texas Tech!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Means Indy

Growing up, Memorial Day weekend always meant the Indy 500 would be on TV. I was able to return to that traditional today. Living in Indiana the past 4 years meant the 500 was blacked out on television.

As a media scholar, I am always interested when a television event becomes a major focus. The Indy is just that. Today's race was a great one. We almost saw Michael Andretti finally win a 500. But he was passed by his 19-year-old son, Marco, with three laps to go.

Today's was the second closest Indy 500 in history, and Sam Hornish Jr. nipped rookie Marco Andretti at the line to win his first Indy 500.

NASCAR has passed open-wheeled racing in popularity, but it will never equal the Indianapolis 500. The sloppy fender rubbing seen in NASCAR might get you killed in an open-wheeled car. There is no question that the best marketers work for NASCAR, but the best drivers drive in the IRL.

My congratulations to Danica Patrick, who finished 8th today. Although I never heard mention of it in the ABC broadcast today, Patrick fell victim to a big gamble by Team Rahal. Bobby Rahal made a big gamble on the Panoz chassis for the team this year, and all of their cars have been a step behind this month in Indy (winner Hornish, second place finisher Marco Andretti, third place finisher Michael Andretti, and the fourth through seventh place cars each had a Dallara chassis). Media reports suggest that Team Rahal will switch to Dallara soon, so Danica's Top 10 finish despite her chassis is especially impressive!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lab Is Bustling

Two 12 hour days helping a graduate student edit video have worn me out. But I am very proud of all of the students in the lab. They are working hard, and the entire lab is functioning quite well.

One study is about to wrap up. Another will begin on Tuesday, and yet another should begin next weekend. The lab members are pitching in to help one another out, and it is exciting to see. I will miss this bunch a lot next year. I'll have to work hard to foster a similar culture at Texas Tech, as this group would be difficult to duplicate anywhere.

In other news, my congratulations go out to M.J. Clark, who successfully defended her master's thesis on Wednesday. It was an honor to be on her committee and to work with my colleague, Dr. Ed Palazzolo.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Three Theses Equal Too Tired

My apologies to regular readers. I am working with three students right now, and my brain is just shot. They are doing interesting work, but my limited cognitive capacity has little left for blogging.

More soon ... I hope.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Postcards from the Coincidence Museum

I just finished reading Postcards from the Brain Museum: The Improbable Search for Meaning in the Matter of Famous Minds (Amazon). It is a great book, and it was a graduation gift from a great friend, Narine Yegiyan (thanks Narine!).

In short, the book chronicles the attempt to solve genius by examining actual (dead) brains of famous people. It is a good read if you are interested in both the mind and the history and philosophy of science. It dovetails nicely with Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (Amazon).

As I was reading the penultimate chapter, I came across a rather trivial historical fact. Thomas Harvey was the pathologist on duty when Albert Einstein died. And somehow he made off with the famous man's brain. It is pretty clear that this was strongly against Einstein's wishes. However, he convinced the next of kin that the brain would be used for scientific discovery.

It seems that a couple of trivial -- and wrong minded -- journal articles did result from investigation of Einstein's brain. But mostly it moved around the country with Harvey.

And there was one particular incident that reveals the very bizarre nature of this whole business of preserving, pickling, and slicing dead men's brains (sadly, I cannot recall a single named woman in the book).

What caught my eye was that the book said that at one point in the mid-1980s, Harvey practiced medicine in Weston, Missouri (until he lost his medical license in 1988). Well, it just so happens that my wife grew up in Weston, and it's the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone. And my wife was a teen-ager then.

I mentioned the weird link (Einstein's brain lived in Weston the same time she did), and she thought she recalled the name. Well, today she confirmed it with her grandmother -- and even discovered that her great grandmother had employed the services of said Dr. Harvey. Not surprisingly, they did not have a favorable impression of Dr. Harvey.

It's a small, weird world. Sometimes you just don't know you're living in the same small town as Albert Einstein's brain. Maybe it's just me, but how darned weird is it to think of Einstein's brain in your neighbor's basement?

To me the funniest part was my wife's quip, "Too bad the smartest thing to ever be in Weston was a dead man's brain." Har.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Broadcasting Your "Mistakes"

I did many, many stupid things as a teen-ager. I did things that were embarrassing. I did things that almost assuredly were against some ordinance or another. More than a decade before Kenny Chesney would sing about it, I would have a keg in my closet.

But what I never, ever did was to take PHOTOGRAPHS of those stupid things and post them in a public forum. Duh!

Yesterday's sports news was marked with news that Catholic University was investigating its women's lacrosse team for hazing. See, not only did they haze (really, who doesn't?), but they took photographs of the hazing and posted them on This news was broken by, where you can still see the photos.

Interestingly, the Web site's author suggested that you could find many more such photos by searching "initiation" and some sport at So I tried it with some arbitrary sport. Several photos came up. I clicked on one.

And -- to my actual amazement -- it was from Ohio State. Yes, that's correct. In roughly 15 seconds of surfing, I found (admittedly tame) photos from athletes at OSU. And although these images are tame, I am pretty sure they contain photo evidence of things these college students would prefer not be seen by their coaches (Sorry -- I started to post links, but I am not into being a narc).

Sure, the Webshots idea sounds cool. And the images are fun to surf. I get it. I study emotion. I know these images are compelling.

Young people are a bit crazy. I was. A lot. And I wouldn't tell them to change. But don't be fooled by the technology. Stop documenting your malfeasance. It's just a bad idea.

You might be running for the Senate one day. You might be the first female chief justice of the United States. George W. Bush overcame allegations of cocaine use. I'm betting that voters would not have been so kind if there had been photographic image.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Physiology Data Rolling

Whew! ... At last!

We are collecting physiological data in the Communication & Cognition lab. It took only 45 weeks.

Despite being brand new equipment, we had a scare with a bad electrode cable. It produced data like I had never seen. So weird that I shot a screen capture to one of my former Indiana mentors, Dr. Rob Potter, for consultation.

Thus, Tim Laubacher's master's thesis is launched. Special thanks also to OSU's Robb Hagen for technical support. And crack lab manager Jaimie Hardesty even came in on her birthday!

It was a frantic day. But in the end, a satisfying one!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Fast Food Advertising Becomes Coactive

What does a public service announcement have in common with a McDonald's ad? Usually not much. McDonald's is usually trying to entice you into a hamburger, where a PSA is usually trying to scare you away from some behavior.

And if (like me) you believe that motivation is best explained with separate appetitive and aversive systems, then appealing and scaring are different things.

Enter the bird flu. Now people are scared of chicken. Ad Age this week is has a cover story announcing, "McD's, Subway attack avian-flu panic head-on." Thus the McChicken has become coactive: appetitive and aversive. You love the crispy crunch, but you're not so hip on the pandemic.

After slamming Yum! brands the other day, I was sitting at the table eating KFC with my kids. On the side of the box, I noticed a "Food Safety Assurance." Since I am not quite yet paranoid of the bird flu, it took me a few minutes to figure out exactly why I was being assured.

It seems that retail poultry is a $50 billion industry (thanks Ad Age). And they're worried about their money. And they're worried about the hype.

"It's really an educational message trying to cut through the sensational messages like the TV movie coming out," National Chicken Council adman David Cyphers told Ad Age. "Even the government trying to do things with preparations ... does tend to scare people."

Thus we are reduced to the "other white meat" with poultry tainted and beef gone mad. As an emotion theorist, it will be interesting to watch these campaigns develop -- especially once the first case of bird flu is reported in North America.

Our major fast food giants may be reduced to a public relations type campaign reminiscent of Tylenol in the mid 1980s.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Decisions Are Amazing Things

At least the small ones are.

As a cognitive scientist, I am fascinated by the human mind. We accomplish the coolest things. For lunch today, I was about to eat a hot dog. There it sat on my plate with mustard and pickle relish. The hot dog was perfectly parallel to my body. Although this is admittedly trivial, I had to decide which end to pick up. Each end looked equally messy (I find it a good strategy to eat the messy end first). Nonetheless, one of the ends just felt right, and I picked it up and ate it.

How did I do that? At the neuronal level, some sort of computation was going on. That is, some set of equations could have described that decision. We know that humans are abysmal at random behavior -- even when they want to be random -- so it was anything but random. But it was simple, and it was fast.

I argue that we do the same thing with unfamiliar brands. If I send you into a supermarket for black olives, you will emerge with a can -- even if you have never purchased them before. You will stare at the 2-5 choices, and one will become the obvious choice. For small decisions such as these, decisions are quick and easy.

A physicist will tell you that nature abhors a vacuum. A cognitive scientist will tell you that consciousness abhors a vacuum. If you ask a person some sort of factual question (e.g., who was the 23rd president), they may tell you that they do not know. It is a clear cut issue.

However, for almost any other kind of question, people are extremely reticent to say, "I don't know." Pick some arbitrary person and ask them some arbitrary question. Ask someone why you "should" not end an English sentence with a preposition. Most people will try to offer an answer. I argue that their brain naively "decides" on some answer and then articulates it. And usually it is pretty easy ... no matter how wrong they are.

If you read case studies of patients with severe brain injuries (e.g., The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), you will see that they will make up profound stories to cover the "holes" in their consciousness, and they will never miss a beat.

In 1957, Scoville and Milner reported about the patient HM, who had a large section of his medial temporal lobes cut out to ameliorate severe epilepsy. This surgery confirmed the role of the hippocampus (a brain structure -- there's an entire journal dedicated to it) in memory formation. After the surgery, HM showed some mild disruption of previous memories. That is, there were some things before the surgery (3-4 years) that he could not recall, and some memories up to 11 years old were affected.

However, the profound damage to HM is now known as anterograde amnesia, or the inability to make new memories. HM -- born in 1926 but allegedly still alive -- does OK with short-term memory. But he cannot convert that to long-term memory. Leave the room, and you were never there. To illustrate, I will quote from the original journal article from Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry:

"Psychological Examination. -- This was performed on April 26, 1955. The memory defect was immediately apparent. The patient gave the date as March, 1953, and his age as 27. Just before coming into the examining room he had been talking to Dr. Karl Pribaum, yet he had no recollection of this at all and denied that anyone had spoken to him. In conversation, he reverted constantly to boyhood events and seemed scarcely to realize that he had had an operation" (p. 16).

What is most fascinating -- and I would argue relevant -- is that HM did not walk around in some kind of haze. He was not hysterical, as one might expect in a movie portrayal. Instead, his injured brain continued to make some coherent whole out of a set of incomplete facts. His mind still constructed a reality.

Sadly, it seems, HM's brain has been constructing a new reality every few minutes he has been awake since 1955. Every morning he wakes up in some sort of care facility, and he does not know why he is there. He must learn anew. Yet still some sort of coherent reality constructs itself.

We do the same thing with consumer decisions, I would argue. I remember several times in Europe wanting to buy a drink from a store and not recognizing any of the brands (although Coke is often stocked). Yet somehow a decision was made in a few seconds with none of the normally predictive pieces of information available. I did not die of thirst or indecision.

Without these often salient cues, perhaps I was reduced to color of the bottle, shape, or some aesthetic principle of the label. The point is that somehow my cognitive hardware shifted levels of analysis and automatically kicked out a decision without hesitation.

These processes fill my mind of late. How do we make these decisions? What do we do with the information that is laid down subconsciously?

Allow me one final example. The other day my master's program colleague Manish Gupta asked me whether I had seen the new Ford campaign (he works on the account). I told him that I had not. Later that evening, I was watching television, and I saw one of the ads. Sure enough, I had seen the ads. I recognized them. But obviously I could not freely recall them (I have a lot to say about the difference between recall and recognition in a forthcoming article in the journal Media Psychology titled, "Dynamic, embodied limited-capacity attention and memory: Modeling cognitive processing of mediated stimuli").

Where were those Ford commercials stored? And more importantly, what influence -- if any -- would they have had if I had purchased a vehicle that day before I called Manish?

The answer is surely complex and nonlinear. But I will be chasing it for a while. Stay tuned. I'll let you know if I get any closer to an answer.

P.S. It was Benjamin Harrison.

P.P.S. The "no preposition" thing dates to 18th Century England. They were trying to make English more "civilized" by making it more like Latin (which has the property of being unable to end a sentence with a preposition). There is no real reason. (Source: The Language Instinct).

P.P.P.S. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am especially bad at big decisions.

Post Number Two Hundred

Before I offer a genuine post, I felt that I needed to make note of this small landmark on the Communication, Cognition, and Arbitrary Thoughts Weblog.

The technology is evolving. I am still forming opinions (see an early opinion here).

Mark Cuban recently offered some interesting thoughts on Weblogs. Nonetheless, it has been an interesting venture through 200 posts.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Americans Love Their Sports Teams

I have a passion for sports. I have completed one academic sports study, and I have a few other ideas floating around. One of the many things that excites me about moving to Texas Tech University is the Sport and Media master's program.

Many people dismiss sports as unimportant, but I could not disagree more. When I was sports editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News, I argued that our readers tore open the paper more fervently each day than any other section. Sure, people care about politics. But sports fans devour the newspaper each day. There are no box scores for congress!

Living in Ohio has provided a fascinating look at sports passion. This state is crazy about the Buckeyes. While listening to sports radio the other day, I heard that Columbus had the highest ratings in the nation for the first day of the NFL draft. Twenty percent of televisions in use that day were tuned to ESPN. Craziness. Furthermore, two other Ohio markets cracked the top 10 nationally.

Thus, in total, the state of Ohio accounted for 30% of the top 10 markets in first day draft viewing. This is not entirely unexpected since five Ohio State players were selected in the first round. More importantly, however, it underscores the importance of sports in our society.

In my department here at OSU, there are several political communication scholars of note. However, I cannot think of a single faculty member who would self describe as "sports communication." People just seem to think that politics should be important. Meanwhile sports just are important.

For comparison, I hunted down some ratings. This is no easy task due to Nielsen's chokehold on their ratings. However, I found an interesting story from the "Entertainment" section of the Buffalo News from Sept. 10, 2004, using LexisNexis (sorry, I cannot post a link since LexisNexis requires a login).

Under Alan Pergament's byline, the News reports that on "Wednesday, when Democratic Sen. Zell Miller and Vice President Dick Cheney bashed Sen. Kerry in prime time," the GOP convention on Fox News "averaged a 3.0 rating locally, with the cable network beating [ABC] (2.1) and [CBS] (2.0) but losing to [NBC] (4.1). CNN had a 1.4."

Thus, in total, the third night of the GOP convention pulled a 11.6 rating on 5 networks in Buffalo, New York. This is unimpressive considering that the NFL draft -- not even a game, much less the ratings king Super Bowl -- pulled an 8.5 rating in Columbus on a single cable network.

As scholars, we continue to underestimate the importance of sports in our society. This is a mistake. Perhaps in a perfect world, more people would know Bill Frist than Terrell Owens. Be we don't live in a perfect world. We live in the real world. And sports are king here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Power Is a Funny Thing

We all know the cliche, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." What we do not know is how to avoid the trap.

I am currently reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my children. Right now we are on book 4, Prince Caspian. Near the end of the book, King Peter (the high king of Narnia) challenged King Miraz (the imposter king of Narnia) to a duel rather than a battle.

This is a foolish proposition, as Peter is likely the better fighter, but Miraz has the far superior army. However, two of Miraz's lieutenants, Glozelle and Sopespian, conspire against their king. The reckon that if they can get Miraz killed by Peter, then they will be in charge of the superior army, and they can defeat Peter's army and rule Narnia. Thus they make Miraz feel as if he would be a coward for refusing the challenge. He accepts.

Machiavelli would be proud.

The question is how to avoid this kind of treachery and still maintain power. Will every Caesar have his own Brutus? Is a benevolent leader doomed to failure? Must one rule with equal parts of love, fear, and hate?

The brand landscape shows the same pattern. For every Coca-Cola, there is a Pepsi waiting to take it down. Avis tried harder, but Enterprise is now number one. Look at Lucky Strike cigarettes. In a bit of exaggerated puffery, the brand used to claim that they outsold every other brand of cigarettes in America two-to-one. That's market share, people. Today they are a fringe brand at best.

How does Hoover vacuum get pounded by upstart Dyson? How does Sears get purchased by K-Mart? How do my Kansas City Chiefs blow an 18 point lead against the Philadelphia Eagles and miss the playoffs? Oh, wait, that's another matter.

A brand can be loved. But it cannot be complacent. Levi's jeans took the market for granted. Now they fight to regain market share. My students remind me every day how fast time moves. When I was teaching at Kansas State during graduate school, I was just a few years older than my students. Now more than a decade separates us.

I'll start to use a popular culture reference in class, and I will quickly realize that it would be lost on them. They weren't born yet.

So it is with companies and product category leaders. Brands that were cool are now irrelevant. I asked my students how many of them owned a pair of Doc Martens, a staple of my college career. Perhaps 2 of more than 100 raised their hands.

Brands get old, fat, and lazy. They stop listening. They believe they are the best because they should be. Then they lose.

It is much as my father wrote in a recent comment here, as we become bloated by success, we care more about what we want to hear than what others want to know.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Beautiful Mind ... for Advertising?

If you have seen the movie A Beautiful Mind but have not read the book, I recommend that you read it (if you have perused neither, skip the movie and read the book). The movie took many liberties with reality, but the book is a masterpiece. It is amazing to gain insight into the mind of John Nash, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

Nash gained fame for his doctoral dissertation and what would be called the "Nash Equilibrium" as it occurs in strategic non-cooperative games. Nash's story is poetic. But more interesting to me is that principles of game theory outlined by Nash are still being used.

The book outlines that Nash's principles were used in the construction of an auction for broadcast spectrum licenses. It seems that bidders are not cooperating, but they do strategize for the best price.

While reading yesterday about TV upfronts (a bizarre process where the networks preview their upcoming shows to advertisers, who then buy time) I wondered why some smart economist had not set up some Nash-style auction.

Indeed someone has. Advertising Age is reporting that, "A group of marketers led by Wal-Mart's Julie Roehm today put out the call for advertisers to contribute $50 million for a test of an online auction system to buy and sell TV advertising." eBay for ads, in a nutshell.

Right now the proposal targets only cable and other fringe components of television. The big networks -- which are accustomed to driving the process through upfronts -- are absent from the process. But I not-so-boldly predict that the project will succeed, and the auction will become the standard.

As it did with broadcast spectrum licenses, this system will produce the best results for the "many" in a competitive system. The "few" will be able to hold out only so long.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

You Cannot Just Decide a Brand

Two stories in Ad Age this week have drawn my ire. Both stories illustrate how corporate America just does not understand human cognition.

In the first story, Ad Age blasts AT&T for plans to trash the Cingular brand name. As part of the recent AT&T/SBC/Exxon/Mobile/Bank One/Chase merger, (grand)Ma Bell got back its wireless division.

The facts suggest that this is a bonehead move. Cingular is the largest wireless company in America. Ad Age says that $4 billion has been spent establishing the brand. It is hip and young. AT&T is old and stodgy. But in a move of perhaps unprecedented arrogance, AT&T will throw Cingular under the bus and rename it AT&T Wireless. Nevermind the consequences. Ad Age estimates that it may take another $2 billion to cement the brand change in customers' minds. $2 billion with a B.

Here's the kicker. In the merger orgy that now defines corporate America, Cingular's former parent company already bought AT&T Wireless and folded into Cingular. Now it is being folded back. This means that within a couple of years, customers will have unwillingly gone from AT&T to Cingular back to AT&T. Idiots, I tell you.

The second story is equally puzzling to me, although I admit that I might be wrong. Ad Age reports that Yum! Brands received nearly $2.7 million in exposure from its sponsorship of the Kentucky Derby. Good for it.

However, I am willing to bet that Joe Sports Fan has no idea what Yum! Brands is. Even if many people know what it is, there surely were millions of viewers who were clueless. In case you are one of them, Yum! Brands owns A&W, KFC, Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

In the world of the sane, a KFC sponsorship would make sense because it's the Kentucky Derby. But they got greedy. They wanted to promote all the brands. The problem is that Yum! Brands is not a brand ... it's a corporation. And no matter how much the corporate leaders like their company, it does not have name recognition. It's just not a brand, and all the wanting in the world cannot make it one.

At this very moment, I am trying to decide where to take my kids to dinner, and Yum! is just not part of the equation. I did not think, "Which Yum! Brand shall we eat tonight?"

Thus, that $2.7 million in exposure is -- I would bet -- wasted. You see, consumers decide what brands are. We can help them along the way. We can set up a brand to succeed. But we cannot just make some heavy handed brand because we want to. Brute force advertising is doomed to fail.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

How I Came to Drink Coors Light

My passion for brands has been a long time in the making. I grew up in a national direct response advertising agency. We did not build brands. We got people to pick up the telephone.

I grew up in a house filled with Tide, Bounce, Coca-Cola, Bisquick, and Green Giant Niblets Corn & Butter Sauce. Most of all, however, I grew up in a Ford household. I never thought about why we purchased those things. I just came to love them.

You see, one day in the early 1950s, my dad was driving his Ford toward Dalhart, Texas. The powertrain was just out of warranty. The motor blew. Ford had no obligation to fix it. But they did. And they earned a long-time customer.

Almost four decades later, my first new vehicle was a Ford (an awesome 1989 Ranger XLT Supercab with 4WD). My second new vehicle was a Ford. Then college, graduate school, and children happened. Rest assured, my next new vehicle will be a Ford. As big an F150 as I can afford.

This is how you build a brand.

On the day I turned 21, I started working at Charlie Sullivan's Desert Sun liquor store in Las Cruces, N.M. You've got to pay your way through college somehow. There was a bar next door, and we would stop by sometimes after work.

We'd sit there and listen to the live music (country: which was a shock to me). Being neighbors, they'd sell us domestic bottles for $1. With my size, I calculated that I could drink four beers in an hour and be south of .08 blood alcohol content.

Growing up in Missouri, I was a loyal Budweiser guy. However, Jesse, my night manager, once had an unpleasant experience with the local Bud distributor. So he drank Coors Light. He never so much as suggested what I should drink, but I felt that it would be an insult to order a Bud Light. So Silver Bullet it was.

That was more than a decade ago, yet I just grabbed a cold Coors Light out of the fridge. The people who agreed to fix my dad's engine are now probably dead. The people who were unkind to Jesse are probably retired. Nonetheless, you'll see me driving my F150 to pick up a case of Coors Light in a few years.

Brands are about relationships, you see. And these relationships are woven throughout the fabric of our society. Many people lambaste advertising as something just short of full fledged prostitution. Maybe once I would have agreed. But these brands make our lives richer and brighter. If they didn't, we'd all be drinking Sam's Choice cola and grocery store green beans.

In his book, Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts talks about loyalty beyond reason. If there's a brand to which you are loyal beyond reason, I invite you to leave a comment here and tell us about it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Congratulations to Colleague

Today my congratulations go to Johnny Sparks, who participated in Indiana University's commencement today. Johnny is finishing data collection and soon will be another proud IU alumnus.

Wish I could have been there!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Academic Publishing Model Is Broken

Update (May 7, 2006): Read the BYU PDF here:

I make a living doing research. I also teach courses -- and I try to do it well. But make no mistake: I would not have been hired at Texas Tech University without a strong research record.

At present, I have four research pieces in press. One of those is a chapter in an edited book, the ugly stepchild of academic research. The other three are in top academic journals in my field. In order to be published, they went through blind peer review.

That means that the editor took the authors' names off of the paper and sent it to (usually) three knowledgeable professors in the field. Those reviewers then picked the piece apart and sent their reviews to the editor, who passed them along to me with the reviewers' names removed.

Obviously, the criticism was not especially bad, or I would not have gotten the sought after "revise and resubmit." If the piece is not rejected, the author(s) has/have the chance to fix all of the things that the reviewers say are wrong with the piece and send it back. In each of these three cases I/we did that, and it was enough (after being sent back to the reviewers).

The problem is that the process is broken at every level. First of all, the reviews are rarely truly blind. At least one of the reviewers likely has an idea of who the authors are. In addition, medium-sized incestuous circles develop within an academic community where a group of cronies cite, review, and rubber stamp each others' work.

I admit that review is necessary, but this system hardly accomplishes its goals. Bad work easily gets by if it is popular bad work, and groundbreaking work is needlessly held up because by definition if it is groundbreaking, few people are doing it, so editors have a difficult time identifying qualified reviewers. And -- in my experience -- when a reviewer does not understand a piece, the reviewer is especially critical.

But there is another, more immediate flaw in the system. The system allows power to concentrate with few checks. This was highlighted to me today by a posting sent from my future dean at Texas Tech, Jerry Hudson. The piece outlines the massive increase in journal prices in recent years.

Titled, "Scholarly communication in crisis," this Brigham Young University publication is chilling. In the field of psychology, for example, journal costs have risen 43.53% from 1999 to 2003. That is crazy. Thus, libraries are forced "to cancel journal subscriptions, purchase fewer books, and rely more heavily on interlibrary loan."

Did I mention that neither I nor my university will make a single cent for those three journal publications? Nada. Zip. Zilch. I beg them to accept my work (so to speak), and then I give it to them for free. Starting in September, the taxpayers of the state of Texas will be paying me to do research. And not only will no one get paid back for those copyright rights, the university library will then be extorted in order to actually have copies of the journal available for students.

I have to admit that mass communications is relatively immune from this problem (to date), but our day is surely coming. And we junior faculty are largely powerless to do anything about it.

You see, we have to earn tenure (see a great positing here by Indiana University assistant professor, Dr. Robert F. Potter). And to do that we have to demonstrate an active, promising, independent research program. And we do that (largely) by publishing in "top" journals.

Once a journal becomes a "top" journal in the field, that inertia is almost impossible to stop. Assistant professors at almost every top program in the field will be fighting and clawing to "give" their work to those journals. Those journals can then pick only the best pieces. They can define the field. And as long as someone on our tenure and promotion committee views them as "top," we are slaves.

So we can watch the prices escalate. We can watch the rejection rates escalate. And then we have to choose to do meaningful work or easily publishable work. In a very view cases do these overlap to the degree that they should.

Returning to the BYU piece, they make specific recommendations for faculty. Almost all of them are in the direct disinterest of tenure.

1) Foster alliances

Sure, we can fight together. But I don't really have the time to "unionize" my field. I need to be doing research to give away.

2) Protect personal copyrights

This is possible. My colleague Edward Palazzolo negotiated a more favorable copyright agreement with a premiere journal in our field. But it takes time, and what will we do if they say "no"? On the tenure track, an acceptance is golden. Will you give it up over a copyright battle?

3) Exercise influence

We have none. BYU urges us to submit our work to online journals. Har! The tenure and promotion committee at OSU would belly laugh if I tried to get tenure here with a bunch of online publications. Sure, if we all did it, we would change the world. But this is like a game of Prisoner's dilemma. If some people defect, then those of us who publish online are left serving burgers.

4) Use electronic resources

Again, because of the extreme prejudice against online journals, a relatively smaller amount of good work is published there. In most of the cases I know -- but certainly not all -- pieces end up in online journals only after they were rejected by mainstream journals. So, it is hard to take these pieces too seriously. We get less credit for publishing in these journals, reviewing for these journals, or for serving on the editorial board of these journals.

From the top to the bottom, the system is broken. I have no profound solution. I believe in peer review. If all scientist publish everything, it will be almost impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff. And communication is lucky. Our journals are still reasonable. Here, for your amusement, are some Institutional Subscription prices (print and online) from the journals I have on my desk today:

Journal Price
Communication Research $724
Communication Theory $850 (for all three)
Human Communication Research
Journal of Communication
Journal of Advertising $135
Journal of Broadcasting/Electronic Media $170
Journal of Consumer Psychology $555
Journalism & Mass Comm. Quarterly $120
Media Psychology $400
Psychology & Marketing $255
Psychophysiology $426

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Students Make Prof Job Great

At a research institution, professors divide their time among research, teaching, and service. Sometimes it is called the "three legged stool." One of those legs -- the research leg -- is usually the longest.

I love my research. It drives me. If I won the lottery tomorrow, it would only enable me to do more research. Teaching can be a drag. But the students ... they can be awesome.

This was a good week for me research-wise. One new publication (an edited book chapter) arrived, final revisions for an accepted manuscript went out the door, and an entirely new submission went out the door. These things feel great.

But I had even more fun meeting with a student today. It is fun to talk to them about what they are learning, why they like strategic communication, and what they want to do with their lives. It's fun to try to make a difference in their lives. And it's gratifying to see how much they appreciate your time.

One of the things I love about Texas Tech is that their system encourages professors to be great researchers and great teachers. As much as my publications come to resemble children in my lives, they are not nearly as enjoyable as an energetic young student.

Good Insight on Tenure Process

Read an excellent perspective on tenure from my colleague and friend, Dr. Rob Potter.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Football, Violence Chapter Published

Today marked a pleasant surprise. I received a copy of the book, "Handbook of Sports and Media," in which I have a chapter with former Indiana colleagues Dr. Walter Gantz and Zheng Wang.

The chapter outlines our investigation of the relationship between televised football and domestic violence (read more here). The project began more than 4 years ago, and it is excellent to see the volume in print (despite a copy editing problem with the authors and my affiliation).

If you are interested in sports and media from an academic perspective, I highly recommend the book, which is published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Now that my copy arrived, I can read the many other interesting chapters.

Officially, our citation is (according to the table of contents):

Gantz, W., Bradley, S. D., & Wang, Z. (2006). Televised NFL games, the family, and domestic violence. In A. A. Raney & J. Bryant (Eds.), Handbook of sports and media (pp. 365-381). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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