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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 16, 2009

Your Paper (That Sack of Raving Nonsense) Has Been Accepted!

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Posted by Derek

A comment here the other day mentioned Scigen, which I hadn’t seen before. Some folks at MIT have whipped up a bit of code and a database of computer science topics, phrases, and graphs, and developed a quick paper generator. The paper will make no sense at all, of course, but it is quick. And what they’ve found is that making no sense isn’t as much of a handicap as you might think when it comes to some conferences and some journals.

Scigen papers have been accepted for presentation at some of the less prestigious meetings, and have been sent to various cheesy journals, which have cheerfully “reviewed” them once details of payment were cleared up. This is not a good sign for your field when total gibberish can be passed off like this, although one assumes that it says more about the sorts of conferences and journals that are accepting these things.

And yes, a comparison to the Sokal hoax comes to mind immediately. That one was even more damning, though, because the gibberish paper that Sokal came up with wasn’t sent to some sleazy fee-generating publication mill, but to what was considered one of the better journals in the field (Social Text). Who (famously) published it anyway. The editors later backtracked by saying that they thought the paper, you know, lacked originality, that it wasn’t well written, that they (ahem!) just accepted it as a favor to a physicist visiting their rigorous area of study, and so on – but the fact remained (and remains) that an editor should be able to distinguish a valid paper from a sticky pile of superglued nonsense.

The reason the Scigen papers aren’t picked up on, clearly, is that no one’s looking at them, at least no one with any knowledge of computer science. The editors and organizers who let them through are interested in collecting the registration and editorial fees first, and after that, well, that’s not really their department. A perfectly analogous example is the utterly crazed “Atlanta Nights” manuscript, whipped up by a loose team of authors to expose the “editing process” of a pay-to-publish operation (PubilshAmerica) for what it really was. The book is a bit hard to follow. Characters change names and/or genders, die and come back to life, and find themselves doing ridiculous things in impossible tangles of verb tenses. But hey, the manuscript was supposedly read through, and accepted without one solecism out of place. If the credit card number is valid, so’s the syntax. (Don't want to take my word for it? Here it is, under the byline "Travis Tea", published by a print-on-demand house after PublishAmerica hastily backtracked.)

No one’s tried (as far as I know) to submit a Scigen paper to a reputable comp-sci venue. I assume (and very much hope) that it would be sent back with a puzzled note attached. The same goes for the chemical literature, or at least it had better. A chemistry-focused version of Scigen would be an interesting experiment, but I think I know what the likely results would be. There are bottom-tier journals and conferences in every field. They’ll bite. As long as that check clears.

Comments (15) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


COMMENTS

1. You're Pfizered on April 16, 2009 10:54 AM writes...

You mean that letter that called me a leader in my field, and eminent scholar, requesting that I submit a paper/presentation only wants my money?

Damn.

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2. Ashutosh on April 16, 2009 11:06 AM writes...

This almost reminds me of the Sokal paradox

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3. DerekF on April 16, 2009 2:09 PM writes...

The publication equivalent of those invitations one gets to be listed in one of the not-quite-innumerable "Who's Who" books: the expectation there clearly being that not only will you want to be listed, you'll want to buy a copy of the book to leave open on your desk for visitors to notice your fame.

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4. Sili on April 16, 2009 3:46 PM writes...

What chem journals would fall for this?

I know they must be there.

Zeitschrift für Kristallographie is pay to publish, isn't it? Acta E is edited, but I'd like to know if they could be fooled.

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5. Anne on April 16, 2009 4:18 PM writes...

Is pay-to-publish unusual in chemistry? It seems to be the norm in astronomy, however disquieting that is. The Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal, absolute meat-and-potatoes journals, have page charges, although Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society doesn't. I wonder if this has anything to do with the nearly-universal custom of posting eprints on arxiv.org?

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6. Eli Rabett on April 16, 2009 5:13 PM writes...

Published once in ApJ. wiped out the entire materials budget it did. Never again

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7. anon on April 16, 2009 8:36 PM writes...

Ecellent.

Worship of computers is a religion, and we now have an automated way to write a computing New Testament.

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8. Pedro S on April 17, 2009 9:03 AM writes...

Bentham Publishers actively invites submissions to their journals through email (I've gotten half a dozen of those myself, some of them from journals only tangentially related to my research). That feels a little like spam, but how respected are their journals? How good are their reviewing practices? I know some of them (like Curr. Med. Chem) have decent Impact Factors, but I still wonder whether they just hunt for authors through mass emails sent to authors of recent papers ....

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9. Still Scared of Dinosuars on April 20, 2009 7:22 AM writes...

I have to question the assertion that Social Text's acceptance was worse. Seems like another expression of scientists's need to assert that their domains are somehow more valid than the humanities. Maybe more rigourous but I don't think many scientists get the difference.

Anything calling itself "science" should be immune from publishing gibberish at well below the 0.05 level. Scientists need to work to clean their fields up from such journals or the validity of their fields is diminished. Outsiders have a right to expect that the overwhelming majority of papers published are legitimate if for no other reason than they are paying for the research that leads to so many of them.

Maybe it would all be more clear if the impact factors for some journals was negative.

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10. Brendio on April 22, 2009 2:10 AM writes...

What implications do you think this conflict of interest for pay-to-publish journals may have on the trend towards open-access models of publishing, the more-sustainable models of which shift the burden of funding for the editors/typesetters/administration etc. from the subscription-paying reader to the authors (or their funding bodies)? There certainly is a danger that the editorial process will be compromised as the journal seeks to please their new customer, the author, rather than their old customer, the reader. It will then be left to the reader to sift the wheat from the chaff.

Disclosure: I previously worked in-house for a subscription-based journal, and still do on a freelance basis, although I am not involved in the peer-review process.

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11. Alex on April 28, 2009 6:07 AM writes...

I've always found the smugness of scientists over the Sokal affair irritating. At the time the journal didn't have a peer-review process, believing (mistakenly or not) that it would lead to more original research, which meant that the editors assumed that the papers were submitted in good faith. Sokal's submission was an abuse of the system they had set up to try to try and discredit postmodernism by association with the journal, and was probably a bit unethical.

In defence of postmodernism, I would recommend the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy's article on the subject. Don't wikipedia it... the article has evolved from unintelligible, to dry

That aside, I've always found bottom tier journals and conferences a bit fascinating; they seem to be an attempt by the attendees to gain a veneer of academic standing, sort of like fake diplomas. On the other hand, with Publish or Perish as the standard system in academia it isn't entirely surprising.

PS I study Physics w/Philosophy, not literary criticism.

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12. Alex on April 28, 2009 6:10 AM writes...

I've always found the smugness of scientists over the Sokal affair irritating. At the time the journal didn't have a peer-review process, believing (mistakenly or not) that it would lead to more original research, which meant that the editors assumed that the papers were submitted in good faith. Sokal's submission was an abuse of the system they had set up to try to try and discredit postmodernism by association with the journal, and was probably a bit unethical.

In defence of postmodernism, I would recommend the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy's article on the subject. Don't wikipedia it... the article has evolved from unintelligible, to dry

That aside, I've always found bottom tier journals and conferences a bit fascinating; they seem to be an attempt by the attendees to gain a veneer of academic standing, sort of like fake diplomas. On the other hand, with Publish or Perish as the standard system in academia it isn't entirely surprising.

PS I study Physics w/Philosophy, not literary criticism.

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13. Hap on April 28, 2009 8:28 AM writes...

If you're not going to have peer review, then shouldn't you have qualified editors who are able to distinguish gibberish from actual research? If noone can do so (or do so consistently), then having a non-peer reviewed journal to post thoughts and expecting it not to be pwned is the publication equivalent to going to work and leaving the front door open with your laptop in the living room in plain sight and expecting no one to take it.

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14. Pete on June 14, 2009 11:44 AM writes...

Just as a comment on the Sokal hoax - obviously the fact that it got published, however the means, is damning for Social Text.

It is certainly true that, if they'd had anyone with a genuine scientific background read it, as they should have done, then that person would have called it as bull. On the other hand, Sokal's submission was off the back of being (very clearly) a leading stat mech researcher not a crackpot; (as I understand it) there was more than one communication between Sokal and the ST editors, and at some point Sokal basically told them not to worry about the scientific truth of the paper! Of course, that should be a big flashing alarm to any sensible journal editor - but it's exactly what you'd expect of someone submitting, for example, a popular science column to a newspaper; the submitter will worry about getting the scientific details right and the editor will worry about the literary qualities.

I find these randomly-generated paper acceptances considerably worse than the Sokal hoax: it's embarrassing that we have 'journals' which don't even read submissions as long as there is money involved. For me, publishing something in such a 'journal' is just as dishonest as claiming a degree from a diploma-mill, and should merit the same punishment: firing. If you can't get your paper into a normal journal and you still want it to be out there, either put it on the ArXiV, or your own website, or be honest about the fact that you are paying to publish and go to one of the several (much cheaper) services that do this.

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15. Anonymous on August 24, 2009 7:41 AM writes...

Speaking of poor science, have you seen a JACS ASAP article from 21 July 2009 titled "Reductive and Transition-Metal-Free: Oxidation of Secondary Alcohols by Sodium Hydride"...? Who reviewed this?

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