Journal Hoax Shows Limits Of Scientific Publication

Stream: Hoax Shows Limits of Scientific Journals

So the Neuroskeptic, a blogger for Discover magazine, submitted a nonsense paper to several journals, some of which accepted and even published it.

The paper was laced with plagiarized quotes from Wikipedia, absurd medical jargon, and fanciful elements from Star Wars and was submitted under the name “Lucas McGeorge”. This “McGeorge” wrote of “‘midi-chlorians’ — the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers”. The paper was filled with “references to the galaxy far, far away”, a galaxy which enjoys the disease “Lightsaber’s hereditary optic neuropathy”.

These journals have class-A, super-science-sounding names, like Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, International Journal of Molecular Biology, and American Journal of Medical and Biological Research.

These “predatory” journals are well known to academics. I receive two or three times a week invitations to either submit to some new journal, and even to nominate myself to its editorial board. The Neuroskeptic said he was asked to be an editor for one of the journals he spoofed.

Anybody who can code a web page can set one up. They will publish (on line) nearly any paper for a not-unsubstantial fee, thus earning the writer an essential publishing credit, essential for every academic. If you’re lucky, and most are, your hiring-, tenure- or promotion-review committee won’t notice the shady source of your references.

I also receive dubious invitations to conferences, usually in India or China. Most are obvious money grabs, some are outright frauds. Dicey conferences exist for the same reason as predatory journals: academics get credit for speaking, too.

If you’re not a professional academic, you may wonder how these journals exist. They do because they fill a real need, the niche created by the unceasing and unfortunate demand that academics publish—or else perish. Their primary benefit is speed. You can submit and have a decision, and thus another reference to add to your CV, within days or even hours.

There is no better assurance of a rewarding academic career than in raking in grants, which triumphs over almost any intellectual ill, but paper count counts. Every Dean, Department Chair, and prominent researcher will publicly deny it and will trumpet the line “Quality counts over quantity.” But in private and in practice all operate on the presumption that you have to have papers, and that within certain limits, more is better.


Research this, baby.

A sample from my junk email as of today (I make no claims for the goodness of badness of any, only that this is the daily fare):

  • International Symposium on Environment and Sustainable Agriculture Development (ESAD 2017) Conference Website. Dear Colleagues, The International Symposium on Environment and Sustainable Agriculture Development (ESAD 2017) will be held from November 28-30, 2017 in Sanya, China.
  • The Applied Mathematics (AM, ISSN Online: 2152-7393), a peer-reviewed open-access journal, is seeking papers for the upcoming special issue on ” Probability Theory“. Taking this opportunity, we are pleased to invite you to submit and recommend related papers to us through our Paper Contribution System.
  • Dear Colleague, We’d like to invite you to submit your papers/posters/ proposals for the following IEEE technically sponsored conferences, Future of Information and Communication Conference (FICC) 2018, 5-6 April 2018, Singapore, Tracks: Communication, Data Science, Ambient Intelligence, Networking, Computing, Security and Privacy, Regular Submission Closes: 15 August 2017
  • Invitation of Editorial Member Dear Scholar/Author,
    With our platform’s development recent years, is now expanding and obtain more extensive attention. To foster the diverse editorial board and reviewer team, we sincerely invite you to join us as an editorial member or a reviewer in our journals, which contain subjects of earth, energy and environment.

    Benefits for Editorial Member/Reviewer Certificate of Reviewer/Editorial Member is offered for you if you need it. You can get the certificate for editorial member or reviewer through online downloads.

    Special Offer If an editorial member or a reviewer make great contribution to the journal and want to submit papers, we can provide him/her 20% off to publish their papers.


  1. JohnK

    Matt is exactly right. I have exactly one paper published in a scientific journal. Even I get some of these email ‘invitations’.

  2. Sheri

    I don’t know if having such a journal gives you prestige, but it appears to be good for the owner’s bottom line. Looks to me like if you want to just make money, being the predatory journal owner is the way to go.

  3. Joy

    How can anyone bear to read them? I glaze over with boredom half way down the bulls points.
    Actually think that reading these things is bad for your health and enervating in a most profound way. They’re not funny any more. Well maybe some are.

    When the money dries up the problem will go away since that is what drives the thing as opposed to truth or other noble things.
    These things are like the sorcerers apprentice or Paddington’s porridge problem.

  4. Joy

    I didn’t write bulls points but bullet points.

  5. Anon

    Joy, I’m sure it was your instant spell-corrector. It takes so much more work and effort nowadays to proof one’s own work with the smart programs trying to put in their two cents’ worth.

  6. Joy

    Yes I’m sure you’re right.
    The Apple preparatory screen reader won’t read all lines in the comment box or on the web site either, it goes silent for no reason on certain lines and actually reads properly typed words wrongly so you think you’ve spelled them wrong. That’s only a fraction. I wouldn’t recommend voiceover for anyone. Jaws was much better even though it sounded like Steven hawking. It ‘understood’ what it was reading and made difficult subjects much easier. Voicover thinks it’s reading hello magazine headlines.
    The rest is a mystery. Going back to Microsoft and Jaws when I get the chance.

    I know better than to type directly into the comment box.

  7. Gee. I wish they had these things going when I was playing the academic game. But there is a quantitative measure to assess the worth of papers, the number of citations. Here’s my suggestion for the next layer of scam: set up an web journal to write papers that cite yours (for a fee).

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