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.