Image Credit David Mazieres & Eddie Kohler.
When writing a paper, we are told to always aim to both emulate the style of, and reference preferentially from, thoroughly checked, prestigious, and high impact factor journals. It sets you up – if you believe your findings are of a high standard, it sets a precedent they actually are. For a biologist, and many other fields besides, these journals are chiefly Nature and Science. That said, when needing a very particular or obscure reference, my friends and I have been know to spare a giggle at the incredibly niche titles of some journals. The Journal of Vibration and Control, anyone?
This journal in particular came to light a few years ago for an illicit ‘peer review ring’. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, peer reviewing has been likened to a jury – other academics both within and outside a field critique a paper and its findings, and by consequence decide on its suitability to be considered valid and put forward in primary literature. This ring, then, was essentially a group of academics either outright lying and making up fake aliases, or agreeing to a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ kind of set up; all of this bypasses the quality control of a journal, gets your findings published faster, and completely compromises the idea that peer reviewed literature is a sign of quality.
This concept was further dragged through the dirt, when this weekend a paper almost exclusively featuring the words “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List” was accepted to the apparently peer reviewed International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology.
Hoping to encourage the rather belligerent online journal to leave his inbox alone, Dr. Peter Vamplew of Federation University Australia submitted the article, which was first written by David Mazieres and Eddie Kohler for a similar purpose in 2005. It wasn’t even Vamplew’s own work! But didn’t you know, an independent reviewer apparently found the paper enlightening and “excellent”.
Maybe it was the high quality supporting figures.
Stuff like this is important for visual learners, you know. Image Credit David Mazieres & Eddie Kohler.
The sting in the tail of this story is that excellent or not, the clearly thoroughly vetted International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology was willing to publish this story for the eminently affordable price of $150. Journals such as this speak to the desperation of academics to keep publishing; this is particularly true of new, baby scientists like my colleagues and I hope to be in a couple of years, who will be desperately trying to build up bibliographies to be proud of.
Further, it’s just the simple spread of misinformation. Inadequate science can infiltrate further study and possibly compromise the findings of multiple studies within a field. Plus, information that’s just plain, dangerously wrong can often gain publicity and either
a) never go away, despite the best efforts of the scientific community and popular media – I’m thinking the MMR vaccine and autism controversy, here
b) further smear the good name of science, in a public consciousness were scientists are often though of in the abstract; still pictured exclusively as strange, white lab wearers who never go outside.
It’s the responsibility of any scientist to report the truth, and something saying you haven’t found anything is an entirely valid conclusion. But fake journals willing to publish anything, unread, for a bit of money in hand give academia as a whole a bad name.