Science Editor Quits After Hoax

Yet another bogus paper was accepted for publication in an academic journal:

The editor-in-chief of an academic journal has resigned after his publication accepted a hoax article.

The Open Information Science Journal failed to spot that the incomprehensible computer-generated paper was a fake. This was despite heavy hints from its authors, who claimed they were from the Centre for Research in Applied Phrenology — which forms the acronym Crap.

The journal, which claims to subject every paper to the scrutiny of other academics, so-called “peer review”, accepted the paper.

Philip Davis, a graduate student at Cornell University in New York, who was behind the hoax, said he wanted to test the editorial standards of the journal’s publisher, Bentham Science Publishers.  Davis had received unsolicited emails from Bentham asking him to submit papers to some of its 200+ journals that cover a wide range of subject matter from neuroscience to engineering. If their papers are accepted, academics pay a fee in return for Bentham publishing the papers online. They can then be viewed by other academics for free.

Davis, with the help of Kent Anderson, a member of the publishing team at the New England Journal of Medicine, created the hoax computer science paper. The pair submitted their paper, Deconstructing Access Points, under false names. Four months later, they were told it had been accepted and the fee to have it published was $800 (almost £500).

This sort of thing seems to happen every few months, almost invariably in scientific journals with a pay-to-publish policy. Oddly, it never seems to happen in the “soft” social sciences, which engage actual peers to apply actual scrutiny received articles.  This, despite the fact that the reviewers are unpaid and it costs nothing but months of agonizing effort and waiting and revising and resubmitting to publish in said journals.

Aside from the hidden meaning in the acronym — which I would likely not have caught — the fact that the P stands for Phrenology might have been a clue, as should have been 1) the bogus institution and 2) the fake submitters.

Admittedly, if it were truly a blind peer review, the reviewers would not know who the submitter was.  The final editor, however, should have not only thought the institute’s name was odd but 1) verified that said institute actually existed and 2) made sure the submitters were actually real people.

Not to mention the fact that the reviewers should have had expertise in the paper’s field and immediately spotted it as a fake.


UPDATE: Jeff Goldstein reminds of the case of Alan Sokal, who published a gibberish physics-cultural phenomenology piece some years back in the still-published humanities journal Social Text.   Of course, the humanities is pretty much all made up anyway, so I’m not sure what the problem is.

Photo by Flickr user Hryck under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. J.W. Hamner says:

    In the biomedical sciences, all journals that I’m aware of have “page charges” to cover the costs of publication (though I don’t publish in the really famous journals like NEJM, Science, or Nature so they may be different). $800 dollars is not an exorbitant fee… I think someone in our lab paid around $1500 to publish in IEEE (though they exceeded page limits). These are peer reviewed journals, where reviewers are similarly unpaid, though are expected to return reviews in weeks not months.

    Of course, I don’t know why the journal in question would need $800 if they don’t do a print copy. That’s pretty sketchy, but otherwise I’m not sure your indictment of “pay-to-publish” holds up.

  2. odograph says:

    The Sokal hoax sprang to mind for me too.

    FWIW, the thing to remember is that truth matters, and when people hoax in science, they get caught, and are flushed out.

    They don’t get to publish on and on and on as people operating in a less rigorous framework do.

    So anyway this is like any other system of crime and punishment. We know that humans have failings, and so we set up systems to police them. We don’t say “bank-robber arrested, validity of the cops and courts questioned.” No, the bank-robber demonstrates the need for the cops and courts, just as cheaters reinforce the need for the scientific framework.

  3. Tlaloc says:

    Oddly, it never seems to happen in the “soft” social sciences,

    Sure it does, but the quality of social “science” papers is so low you just can’t tell the difference.

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    The evolution hoax springs to mind……

  5. If I’d known it was this easy to get published I’d have submitted my paper: “The Health Advantages of Whisky, Cigars and a Sedentary LIfestyle.”

  6. Phil Smith says:

    Man, I’ve been gulled. I just realized G.A. is a Moby.

  7. odograph says:

    Heh, that’s the difference between scientific journals and YouTube … the YouTube president doesn’t need to resign if anyone posts bad science, there.

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    Man, I’ve been gulled. I just realized G.A. is a Moby.

    ahh, are you saying I’m a great white dick?

  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    the You Tube president doesn’t need to resign if anyone posts bad science, there.

    lol no but hundreds of thousands of liberal teachers should, and publishers, politicians, scientists, and paleontologists,biologist, chemists, astrologers,abortionists,etc etc etc…….

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    Hemmm, lets go see whats on odograph’s site…..

  11. sam says:


    Of course, the humanities is pretty much all made up anyway