Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Long Time Ago in a Journal Far Away

Predatory journals have been around for a while, but thanks to the new availability of open access options online, they're becoming a lot harder to spot. They were once known as vanity journals - you basically pay to have your article published. With new open access options, many journals - predatory and non-predatory - routinely charge fees to offset the cost of publishing. But with predatory journals, you'll start to notice other added costs, such as fees for the review process and even sometimes a slight hint that if you pay more at this stage, your paper is more likely to get a favorable review.

Needless to say predatory journals are a huge problem. While publication bias - the tendency to only publish studies with significant results - hurts the field, a journal that doesn't even bother going through peer review can also hurt the field, by allowing garbage research to proliferate.

So one researcher decided to brilliantly strike back. I mean, we all know the odds of successfully navigating the research field are... you know what, never tell me the odds. There's no need to fear - fear is the path to the Dark Side. Do or do not, there is no try. And the force is strong with this one.

That's right - this researcher wrote a Star Wars-themed research paper about midichloria, filled with plagiarized material from Wikipedia and copied and pasted movie quotes, and it's bloody brilliant:

The paper references Force sensitivity and name drops Star Wars characters, including the "Kyloren cycle" and "midichloria DNA (mtDNRey)" and "ReyTP." At one point in the article, it switches rather abruptly to the monologue about the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise:

And here's how the article fared:
Four journals fell for the sting. The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ) I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny.

Credit where credit’s due, a number of journals rejected the paper: Journal of Translational Science (OAText); Advances in Medicine (Hindawi); Biochemistry & Physiology: Open Access (OMICS).

Two journals requested me to revise and resubmit the manuscript. At JSM Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (JSciMedCentral) both of the two peer reviewers spotted and seemingly enjoyed the Star Wars spoof, with one commenting that “The authors have neglected to add the following references: Lucas et al., 1977, Palpatine et al., 1980, and Calrissian et al., 1983”. Despite this, the journal asked me to revise and resubmit.

At the Journal of Molecular Biology and Techniques (Elyns Group), the two peer reviewers didn’t seem to get the joke, but recommended some changes such as reverting “midichlorians” back to “mitochondria.”

Finally, I should note that as a bonus, “Dr Lucas McGeorge” was sent an unsolicited invitation to serve on the editorial board of this journal.

All of the nine publishers I stung are known to send spam to academics, urging them to submit papers to their journals. I’ve personally been spammed by almost all of them. All I did, as Lucas McGeorge, was test the quality of the products being advertised.

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