Interview With An Author – Dorothy Bishop

In today’s ‘Interview with an Author’, we spoke to Prof. Dorothy Bishop, corresponding author of the recent PeerJ article “Fine motor deficits in reading disability and language impairment: same or different?” published two weeks ago, and so we were very interested in hearing about her experience with us.


Dorothy Bishop is Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology and a Wellcome Principal Research Fellow at the Department of Experimental Psychology in Oxford.

You can follow Dorothy on her blog and on Twitter.

 PJ: Tell us a bit about the research you published with us, and what is the take-home message of your article?

There’s been a fair bit of debate about whether children with reading difficulties (dyslexia) also have motor problems, and if so, why. It’s complicated by the fact that many children with reading difficulties also have language problems: they may be slow to start to talk, and then lag behind other children in their ability to talk in sentences or understand what others say. In our study we tried to dissociate the effects of poor reading from poor language, by looking at children who had problems in just one area, as well as those who were bad at both reading and language. We found that motor problems were associated more with language than with reading problems. Also, the motor difficulties were seen on complex tasks that involved precise movements or imitation of complicated finger patterns rather than those that just taxed speed.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here? What is next in your research?

The big question is whether the link occurs because there’s a general effect on brain development that affects both motor control and language, or whether there is a deeper link. For instance, learning language does involve imitating another person, so is there a general imitation problem for some children that shows up in both learning to talk and imitating movements? Imitation has been studied quite a bit in autism, where it is often a problem, but our research suggests similar difficulties might be seen in non-autistic children with language difficulties. But the similarities might be superficial – it could be that poor imitation has different causes in different children. Graduate student Hannah Hobson and postdoc Andrea Dohmen are investigating different aspects of these questions, comparing children with autism and those with language impairment.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

I think I must have heard about PeerJ on Twitter. I was already interested in the model of Open Access set by PLOS One and was intrigued when I heard Peter Binfield was starting a new journal.

PJ: You submitted a preprint to PeerJ PrePrints and then followed up with an article to the PeerJ journal. Can you explain why?

Annie Brookman (first author) and I had talked about this work at a conference, and people were asking us for copies of the paper when it was still in progress, and it was a useful way of making it available. I am also interested in the idea that research is always a ‘work in progress’, which changes on the basis of feedback, and by making a preprint available this is more obvious.

PJ: As a PeerJ Author, how would you describe your overall experience with us, in terms of submission, review, and production?

Generally good, though I seem always to have nightmare experiences with production of figures. I am old enough to remember the days when you prepared your figures with a Rotring pen and stencils, advancing in the late 1970s to Letraset. I am reasonably geeky with technology, but I get frustrated by the way each journal has its own specification of the format that figures should appear in, with no common standard. All too often, you can produce a figure that looks wonderful in pdf but then fails to make the grade when converted into whatever format the journal wants. I’d love it if PeerJ offered a service to help with graphics for those of us who are challenged in this area – and I’d be willing to pay a modest charge for this.

PJ: PeerJ encourages Authors to make their review comments visible. Why did you choose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your article?

No reason not to! And I think that if reviewers put in a lot of work that leads to improvements in the paper, as in this case, then they should get some recognition for this.

PJ:  What are your thoughts about the value of Open Access publishing?

I’m funded by Wellcome Trust and am therefore required to make my work Open Access, but that does not require me to publish in Open Access journals, as Wellcome will pay the costs of Open Access in other journals. Nevertheless, I do resent the high costs charged by many traditional journals for making work Open Access, and I’m keen to support new initiatives such as PeerJ, which is brilliant in showing how it can be done much less expensively.

PJ: What do you see as wrong with the current system of publication?

Well, I said it all in a blogpost a couple of years ago.

PJ: What would an ideal publishing venue look like?

I think there’s not much need now for the dead tree technology, at least in science. I get virtually everything on the Internet, so a purely electronic forum is fine.  As I said in my blogpost, I wonder if we need journals at all. The big issue is quality control and managing the avalanche of information in some way. I’d like a system rather like Amazon uses for book reviews, where you could just post material, and then have star ratings not just for papers, but also for reviewers. You could then identify the best papers as those given high ratings by people with a good reputation in the field. There would also need to be possibility for more post-publication commentary, but that is already starting to be tried with initiatives like PubPeer and PubMed Commons.

PJ: What do you feel makes PeerJ relevant to scientists?

Speed of processing is a key feature: when you’ve put a lot of time and trouble into producing a piece of research, you don’t want to be held up by a journal that is unresponsive and slow. I’ve been an editor and I know that sometimes it is just difficult to get reviewers, but in many cases delays and poor communications are just inexcusable. I talked about it here. PeerJ seems to recognize the problem and is trying hard to develop positive relationships with authors, which is great.

PJ: Anything else you would like to talk about?

I think there’s a real replicability crisis in science. I’m a big fan of Chris Chambers’ initiative at Cortex to bring in pre-registration as an option for authors.

PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?

Transparent, speedy and responsive.

PJ: Thank you for your time, and thank you very much for your excellent feedback!

Dont forget that from now until end-March 2014, we are running a special offer for free PeerJ Publications.

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