back to article Don't believe the hype: When that DATA seems just too good

I admit, I tend to the slightly conservative when it comes to publishing in peer-reviewed journals – a title such as ‘Li Fraumeni syndrome, cancer and senescence: a new hypothesis’ is as racy as it gets. Not so with some authors: Aussie computer scientist Dr Peter Vamplew scored headlines worldwide when the International …

  1. frank ly Silver badge

    Comedy from Tragedy

    There was a case a while back, reported in the Register but I forget which journal, where a researcher was fed up with being spammed for contributions. He wrote a mock paper that had fancy technical sentences and graphs, etc. It was funny and silly (El Reg gave the link) and they published it.

    When a large number of people started laughing at them, they talked about suing the researcher for damaging their 'reputation'. He pointed out that there was no contract between them and they had asked him to provide a paper. He could also have said that he was always under the impression that they were a comedy journal.

    1. TitterYeNot

      Re: Comedy from Tragedy

      Speaking of comedy, this story reminds me of Cake, Paedogeddon and also Dihydrogen Monoxide...

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Comedy from Tragedy

      As the Reg article on the Hackin9 parody piece notes, that fake article may have been modified SCIgen output. So not only was it fake, much of it may have been machine-generated.

      SCIgen-created articles have appeared in a number of journals.

      Then there's the Sokal Hoax, the Bogdanov brothers, and so on. There's a representative list on the Wikipedia page for the Sokal Hoax.

      (An aside: personally, I think the Sokal Hoax is overrated. After studying the entire thing in some depth, in my opinion Robins and Ross come off looking a bit better than Sokal, and a lot better than the self-aggrandizing Star, editor of Lingua Franca ["The Journal without Consequences!"]. And the stuff Sokal and Bricmont have done since on this topic is just narrow-minded anti-intellectual crap, as far as I'm concerned. But in general this sort of thing, in any field, is a reminder that we need to be critical and vigilant, and even so we'll never be critical or vigilant enough to guarantee rigor. Always be suspicious.)

  2. Little Mouse

    Here you go...

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/10/05/hakin9_silliness/

  3. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Boffin

    In my experience...

    Science journals tend to conform to Sturgeon's law already, so this proliferation of dodgy publishing organs isn't going to help.

    It has a resonance with universities and colleges offering degrees in (IMHO) trivial subjects of little value, simply to coin in the tuition fees.

    Money - it's a crime etc.

  4. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Low standards in 'proper' journals is much more of a problem...

    ... The Lancet (owned by Elsevier) published the, much later retracted, paper on MMR and Autism.

    1. DocJames
      Flame

      Re: Low standards in 'proper' journals is much more of a problem...

      Yes, but the major problems with Wakefield's paper were that the conclusions announced at the Lancet press conference were not those contained within the paper and the conclusions reiterated by the media subsequently were not related to the paper. Why was there a press conference? To ensure that the maximum publicity was obtained for their papers that week.

      The original Wakefield Lancet article is worth reading (if you can find a copy) to see how different the (later proven to be faked) claims were different from the reporting by the media. (Along with how you can publish utter crap in magazines published by landmine manufacturers, but that's another argument: at least Elsevier respond promptly(ish) to some of my letters pointing out errors, unlike some other medical publishers).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Low standards in 'proper' journals is much more of a problem...

      It's worth highlighting that Private Eye kept an eye on this from the get-go. As indeed they have with the Post Office systems story.

      I defy anyone not to be gobsmacked at how much *real* news they don't get if they rely on a daily newspaper plus BBC plus Sky.

      1. asdf Silver badge

        Re: Low standards in 'proper' journals is much more of a problem...

        Or Murdoch's garbage on the other side of the pond Fox News (and to be fair and balanced MSNBC as well).

        http://www.businessinsider.com/study-watching-fox-news-makes-you-less-informed-than-watching-no-news-at-all-2012-5

        1. Mephistro Silver badge
          Angel

          Re: Low standards in 'proper' journals is much more of a problem...

          "watching-fox-news-makes-you-less-informed-than-watching-no-news-at-all"

          Let those words be engraved in stone!

          1. JimmyPage Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            watching-fox-news-makes-you-less-informed-than-watching-no-news-at-all"

            Kinda reminds me of Stewart Lees observation that 500 years ago, the man who read everything, would know everything. Whereas today, a man reading everything would know nothing. ("Toilet Book").

  5. Laura Kerr
    WTF?

    Arse about face

    "Legitimate peer-reviewed journals, including the increasing number of online open access journals, charge authors an article processing fee."

    Really? That sounds like a perfect definition of vanity publishing. Reputable publishers and journals don't demand payment from their contributors - they pay them. Granted, some journals don't pay at all, but they normally make that clear up front. That's fine - you know what you're getting into.

    More importantly, distributors and retailers keep tabs on vanity publishers and won't carry or stock their stuff.

    The lesson's simple - ask for payment. If the journal doesn't normally pay - 'voluntary contributions only' - they should publish if you and they are willing, but NEVER ask you to cough up, no matter what euphemism they call it by.

    1. DocJames
      Stop

      Re: Arse about face

      The problem in medical research is that this is considered a public good: the information should be distributed as widely as possible in order that the maximum number of patients (via their doctors) can benefit.

      Lengthy further explanation below. TL;DR: Laura's wrong because she doesn't understand the incentives.

      The traditional model was "reader pays". Simple: you buy your copy of the Lancet (or NEJM, or whatever) each week/month. However there are a vast number of journals, and no matter how well paid doctors are (not well enough, if you believe people respond to market forces and you look at the GP shortage), we cannot afford to buy all the journals we wish to read: often following up on references from one article is the most useful aspect of reading a paper. So, doctors often are associated with institutions that pay institutional subscriptions: these are charged at a high rate, and often at ridiculous rates - if the journal is good enough it is necessary, and if it is necessary then the limit on the price is very high. This means that 3rd world countries cannot afford to buy important journals: we have restricted the ability for information to be disseminated, which was the original point.

      So a new model was invented: author pays: if you're from a rich country, you are expected to pay the costs of publishing your article. (Authors from the 3rd world are usually still subsidised.) This is an open access article: anyone can read it, anywhere in the world, for the cost of their internet access ie as close to free as the journal can manage. Some journals run both models side by side - you can pay to have open access or you don't pay, but your work is hidden behind a firewall.

      This cost is usually defrayed for major studies as part of the funding arrangement (ie drug company or other funding body). There are many more papers (due to the "publish or perish" environment in academia) than journals to publish in, as hinted at in the article. Finally "ask for payment"? You're clearly not in medicine; this isn't why people write papers. Fame yes, fortune no.

      I would point out in a good article this would have been explained, probably better than I have.

      1. Laura Kerr

        Re: Arse about face

        "Laura's wrong because she doesn't understand the incentives."

        Nope - Laura understands the incentives very well indeed, and is pointing out that this "new model" is an open invitation to rip-off merchants preying on people's burning desires to see themselves in print. Which is pretty much what the article says, and you've pointed out below:

        "Finally 'ask for payment'? You're clearly not in medicine; this isn't why people write papers. Fame yes, fortune no."

        No, I'm not in medicine and yes, ask for payment. Or if your chosen journal doesn't pay, agree to their publishing it free if you need to get the information out there. Having authors pay is just vanity publishing. Even if that's not the intent, it's still far too easy and tempting to abuse it.

        As for paying the journal's running costs, there are other fleece-free options - use a flat or a graded subscription model, carry advertising, use a pay-as-you-read system, look for corporate sponsorship (although that could of course call the journal's impartiality into question) or ask for voluntary donations. Or even ask for volunteers to keep the thing going by giving up some time to do proofing, fact-checking and so on.

        I'm not saying you should demand payment for everything you write. But you should never expect to pay for publication unless you yourself have a stake in the business. It's far too easy to take advantage of people's altruism - and if the problem spreads wide enough, the whole model will be compromised. Where's the value in having stuff published if there's no guarantee it isn't full of crap?

        1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Arse about face

          Laura's right. I ask for payment and get it. Sometimes I don't but I might go ahead anyway.

          Pay to publish an article? Nah! Isn't that what "market forces" are supposed to do - close down journals until supply and demand match? See also my comment on university "scam courses"

          1. DN4
            WTF?

            Re: Arse about face

            > I ask for payment and get it.

            Please list some examples of respectable scientific journals that paid you for publishing a paper.

            Otherwise, I say utter bollocks.

        2. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Arse about face

          >Nope - Laura understands the incentives very well indeed

          With this brave new world set up by the Baby Boomers its usually pretty clear with one simple phrase, I gots to get mine screw the public good.

        3. DocJames

          Re: Arse about face

          You're right about understanding the incentives for rip off merchants that set up predatory publishing. I was referring to incentives for scientists (or medical researchers, as is the current fashionable phrase for biomedical scientists).

          I don't think you get the scientific mindset. It is in favour of sharing knowledge that has been found, with the benefit (to you) of impressing your peers and (to others) of knowledge without having to do the work themselves.

          The payment, as I clearly failed to explain above, usually comes from the grant(s) that funded the research. You shouldn't be paying this money personally. If you are, then yes this stands a chance of being vanity publishing, but read the (long, boring) explanation I gave above for why this obvious answer is not always right.

          1. asdf Silver badge

            Re: Arse about face

            > usually comes from the grant(s) that funded the research

            A lot of people seem to think grants are money from heaven given away like welfare to scientists (not saying you do but hear the usual pundits spouting that shit). Generally from what I know grants have some very stringent reporting and transparency requirements. At least here in the states I have never seen a pure boffin living in a mansion.

          2. Laura Kerr

            Re: Arse about face

            "The payment ... usually comes from the grant(s) that funded the research. You shouldn't be paying this money personally."

            Ah, fairy nuff, that's the bit I was missing. I read it as authors stumping up out of their own pockets.

            I do understand the scientific mindset, though - that was why I was suggesting people should accept free publication rather than demand money every time.

    2. Charles Manning

      Nope, not arse about face

      The value in publishing papers is not in the content. If it was, then the journal would pay the writer for the paper.

      Nope, the value is in **being published**. That's what gives the swots kudos, street cred and value. This is part of the measurement used to reward both staff and secure funding. That's why university profs need to keep publishing - quality be damned.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Nope, not arse about face

        The value in publishing papers is not in the content. If it was, then the journal would pay the writer for the paper.

        Nope, the value is in **being published**. That's what gives the swots kudos, street cred and value. This is part of the measurement used to reward both staff and secure funding. That's why university profs need to keep publishing - quality be damned.

        That is wildly oversimplified, to the point of being useless.

        Yes, publication is important (often, at some stages, critical) for career advancement for most (but not all) faculty at research institutions, and this provides incentive to publish for the sake of publication, and thus incentive (where the business model has the necessary structure) for publishers to offer publication-for-the-sake-of-publication.

        This is universally acknowledged in academia, and many people who know a hell of a lot more about it than you do have discussed the situation in great depth.

        It's not a discrete dichotomy or a zero-sum game. Incentives to publish don't immediately evacuate all publications of value. Researchers still publish a lot of useful and innovative content, and read journals, monographs, and collections for that content. And that applies to journals with publication fees, journals without publication fees, closed- and open-access journals, print and electronic journals, and so forth.

  6. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
    Pint

    Here is the "plan 9 from outer space" of all papers.

    Here is a neat shocker, brought to you by the scirp spammers and two weapon grade loonies:

    Three Principles of Akkie Management.

    The abstract already is, erm, deep. But read the paper for serious enjoyment.

    Beer, as in "brain bleach".

    1. Notas Badoff
      WTF?

      Re: Here is the "plan 9 from outer space" of all papers.

      Oh... oh... OW. The 'references' are hurting me.

      "Tamil the Law of the Universe",

      "Intensive Internet 'E-book' study ...",

      “Manorama Tell Me Why Periodicals,”

      “The Super Scientist of Climate Control,”

      "Tamil to English Dictionary,”

      and more.

      And a third of them self-published. Rama-lama-ding-dong, they only lack a 'church' to change the world.

      Oh, I forgot "The Universe is like a Spaceship" by the same 'crew'. Don't know about science, but they come up with great song titles!

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        Angel

        Re: Here is the "plan 9 from outer space" of all papers.

        So many gems: "The objective of this article is to focus that human ancestors are not _apes lineage_."

        Going through the masterpiece it seems they want to replace "apes lineage" by "worm linage", but no: "The prehistoric human has _more genetic value_ than apes and they were highly _wise_."

        ... for some value of "genetic value"...

        These guys manage to make Smarandache look like a scientist, not a small feat.

    2. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: Here is the "plan 9 from outer space" of all papers.

      That abstract reads like comment spam. I expected a link to a dodgy luxury goods retailer at the bottom.

    3. Alistair Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Here is the "plan 9 from outer space" of all papers.

      After a quick skim, I believe we should nominate AMFM to go audit the papers attached to that. His review would make more sense.

      There is *no* appropriate icon for this comment.

  7. stim

    Don't BELIEVE the title when the spelling is incorrect...

    1. damworker

      Yeah, I was about to comment about falling standards and a lack of peer review on that.

  8. damworker

    A good idea though

    Making your own journal is a good idea though. I wish I'd thought of it.

    Wait a second, I did think of it, it was my idea.

    Plagiarism, moi?

  9. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Legitimate peer-reviewed journals, including the increasing number of online open access journals, charge authors an article processing fee. These charges, which can easily be upwards of £1,500 a go, are used to pay for the production costs of the journal.

    It may be worth noting that this is not true in all disciplines. Publication fees are quite rare in the humanities. Authors aren't compensated, of course, and neither, generally, are reviewers or sub-editors. Senior editors might get compensated with a course release and a part-time assistant (an undergraduate intern or a graduate-student research assistant - these are vehicles for student financial aid, in other words). Humanities journals are typically funded through subscriptions and a modicum of advertising, and sometimes institutional support.

    That business model has its own problems, of course. Unpaid reviewers and sub-editors rarely feel the need to be terribly prompt about responding to submissions, for example.

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