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November 12, 2008 7:56 AM   Subscribe

"...the best place to hide bulls**t is in a refereed journal that’s not open-access!" The math-physics blog n-category cafe digs into the curious case of M.S. El Naschie. El Naschie is editor-in-chief of the journal Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals, published by the well-respected scientific publisher Elsevier and sold to academic libraries for US$4,520 a year. The problem? El Naschie has published 322 of his own papers in the journal -- papers that John Baez (of "This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics" and "The Crackpot Index") describes as "vague, dreamlike imagery," "undisciplined numerology larded with impressive buzzwords," and "total baloney." Is El Naschie a reverse Sokal? Or a Markov process for producing random publishable papers? One thing's for sure -- he knows how to cure cancer.
posted by escabeche (49 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
That CS paper generator is GOLD.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:09 AM on November 12, 2008


I always suspected that those wacky scientists were fucking with our heads.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:15 AM on November 12, 2008


I'f you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.
posted by Balisong at 8:16 AM on November 12, 2008 [9 favorites]


Sweet, my university totally forked over $4,520 for a subscription to this crap. Yet a journal I seem to need every day does not have issues online dating before 2000? Sigh.
posted by sararah at 8:21 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've worked next to several Nobel-level scientists. Some very smart ones working on crazy, aggressive, paradigm-shifting science. One thing I learned is that the line between brilliance and nuttiness is pretty blurry and you really need to rely on rigorous method and peer review to make sure your work is strong. El Naschie sounds like someone who went a bit too far on the nuttiness scale and has become a human powered Markov generator. Which is sad and terrible for him.

But for Elsevier to give this man a journal, and let him publish 322 of his own papers, and then compell libraries to buy this garbage? That's scandal. Now that the Internet has made paper journals obsolete Elsevier's sole remaining claim to relevance is they support the peer review system that produces quality science. Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals is the bomb that explodes that myth.

(And seriously, doesn't some editor at least look at a metric like overlap between review board and published authors?)
posted by Nelson at 8:25 AM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Naschie's Wikipedia page has been deleted, and the reasons for doing so are private.
posted by theroadahead at 8:25 AM on November 12, 2008


In the n-category cafe thread there's copies of the deleted Wikipedia articles.
posted by Nelson at 8:28 AM on November 12, 2008


Thanks for pointing that out, Nelson.
posted by theroadahead at 8:30 AM on November 12, 2008


Um, so much of that first article just shows the author's own ignorance... i.e.:

"I know there are 17 wallpaper groups, and that many of patterns with these symmetry groups appear in the Alhambra. In fact last summer I went to the Alhambra and checked this myself! But I don’t know if there are “exactly 17 two and three Stein spaces’” with total sum of dimensions equal to 686 — I know what a Stein space is, but I don’t know what “two and three Stein spaces” are, or if that even makes sense."

"The Nash embedding theorem does give a bound of roughly this sort, but I don’t know if this particular formula is correct. Regardless of that, he then applies the formula to the case of a surface (n=2) and gets the number 17. I have no reason to believe that 17 is the optimal bound in this special case, or of any special significance"

Maybe this FPP is baloney?
posted by tybeet at 8:32 AM on November 12, 2008


US$4,520 is chicken feed. APA bundles online access to its journals so you get the shit with good stuff and charges per head at the school whether they take psychology or not. The costs are astronomical and the business practices are extortionate. I wish the PLoS all the good fortune possible..
posted by srboisvert at 8:34 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The problem? El Naschie has published 322 of his own papers in the journal...

There's nothing inherently wrong with that.
posted by tybeet at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2008


I'm enjoying the vast, similarly-IP'd legion of El Naschie defenders that show up in the comments there.

I am not a technical scientist. Science is too narrow for me. It is just one minute aspect of a far greater manifold, to use your language. Science is beautiful like Baudelaire’s poetry, Goya’s paintings and Mozart’s Requiem. But Baudelaire wrote Le Fleur de Mal and Goya painted the Savage who was eating his children and Mozart’s Requiem reflects infinite sadness. This less positive side of the human soul has been reflected more than I can take on this site and hence I am signing off and you will not hear from me again. You have mentioned Trevor Howard the English actor, so maybe you know Marlon Brando, the American actor and I advise you to see his film “The Ugly American” and I like to advise you also that the Ugly American has died forever and that there is a new dawn starting in America to light the whole world. It is a dawn of fairness, love and brotherhood of man which Obama is bringing with him not only for America but for the whole world. This is something you guys cannot even start to grasp.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:39 AM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Naschie's Wikipedia page has been deleted, and the reasons for doing so are private.

You can go back in the history and see the full discussion. The article was found to violate the (relatively strict) Wikipedia policies around biographies of living people.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:41 AM on November 12, 2008


This is awesome, but we in the humanities world have been doing this for years.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:41 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait wait wait--how could this happen?!? I thought having A Recognized Expert In Charge Of Things was way better than undisciplined chaos.
posted by DU at 8:45 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The problem? El Naschie has published 322 of his own papers in the journal...

There's nothing inherently wrong with that.


You are totally right! While we are at it, lets teach Intelligent Design because evangelicals run the school board.

322 papers represents a massive amount of research, time, and peer review. That he is able to bypass these because he is the editor of a journal on a subject that maybe a few thousand people understand should not give him the green light to instant credibility.

Embellishing a humanities paper is one thing, passing bullshit off as researched literature is taking things to an entirely new level.

Also, this is a strange coincidence being just a few posts above the "mobbing" post.
posted by clearly at 9:15 AM on November 12, 2008


You gotta read the comments in that n-Category Cafe link. They hunt down all sorts of incriminating details, GiveWell style. This journal is doing the scientific equivalent of SEO spamming.
posted by sdodd at 9:17 AM on November 12, 2008


Chaos, Solitons, and Fractals is the bomb that explodes that myth.

That's like saying the National Enquirer explodes the Myth of Journalistic Accuracy.

Free press found on moon with a boiled baby and its mistress!
posted by lalochezia at 9:22 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's like saying the National Enquirer explodes the Myth of Journalistic Accuracy.

What, the National Enquirer is published by the New York Times corp, along with the Washington Post and the International Herald-Tribune?

Elsevier is one of the premier academic journal publishing houses. For them to publish this garbage journal is a significant scandal in their business.
posted by Nelson at 9:26 AM on November 12, 2008


Tybeet,
Um, so much of that first article just shows the author's own ignorance... i.e.:

"I know there are 17 wallpaper groups, and that many of patterns with these symmetry groups appear in the Alhambra. In fact last summer I went to the Alhambra and checked this myself! But I don’t know if there are “exactly 17 two and three Stein spaces’” with total sum of dimensions equal to 686 — I know what a Stein space is, but I don’t know what “two and three Stein spaces” are, or if that even makes sense."

"The Nash embedding theorem does give a bound of roughly this sort, but I don’t know if this particular formula is correct. Regardless of that, he then applies the formula to the case of a surface (n=2) and gets the number 17. I have no reason to believe that 17 is the optimal bound in this special case, or of any special significance"
I don't think it's exposing Baez' ignorance so much as criticizing the use of non-standard terms. If you look at Springer's Math Encyclopedia's page on Stein Spaces, you'll see that there's no reference to what a [2|3]-Stein Space is. It's possible that it means a Stein Space with the condition that the [2nd|3rd] Cousin Problem is solvable. But who the hell knows?

I'm not acquainted with the Cousin problems, so I don't even know if there is a 3rd Cousin problem, but either way.

For the Nash theorem, Wikipedia gives a size of m2+5m+3, and El Naschie gives 3m2/2+11m/2. Note that Naschie's version doesn't have a constant term, which feels odd. But as before, I don't know enough about it to say for sure. Nonetheless, it's quite normal to say "I don't know" if a statement is correct but still have it feel weird.

Mathematicians are a cautious lot. If they're not certain that they're correct, they will say "I don't know". That doesn't mean they're ignorant about it.

Whaddya mean, Wikipedia isn't a valid reference?
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:42 AM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Um, so much of that first article just shows the author's own ignorance... i.e.:

So often "I don't know" is the least ignorant thing to say.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:43 AM on November 12, 2008 [12 favorites]


I wonder... are his papers peer-reviewed? If so, are his papers being recommended for acceptance, or is he perhaps ignoring the reviews? If it's the former, then you really can't blame the publisher or the author; it means the field itself is screwy.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:51 AM on November 12, 2008


Great post! I was actually thinking of posting a similiar set of links with regard to the equally quacktastic E. E. Escultura
posted by FuturisticDragon at 9:55 AM on November 12, 2008


Isn't what matters how many other authors cite your work, not necessarily how many individual works you publish?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:56 AM on November 12, 2008


Yes & no Blazecock Pileon, scientists care most about the authors they cite directly, but they often use the journal's reputation or impact factor when they don't know the subject. So he's building his case for promotion & grants by weakening the journal for others.

I'd say it's past time we start including arXiv.org links in all bibtex entries, and counting inbounds from other article on arXiv.org, fuck this doi bullshit.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:11 AM on November 12, 2008


H-score. Also, I'm under the impression that citing yourself counts, and if you publish 300 self-referencing papers ...
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:15 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


and then compel libraries to buy this garbage?

Who's compelling them? I've never understood why libraries shell out most of their budget on minor journals that charge extortionate prices, rendering them unable to buy a lot of valuable books they would otherwise have.
posted by languagehat at 10:29 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The attempts by "Jeremy" et al. to defend El Naschie are comedy gold. I propose a new internet award: least effective sockpuppet.
posted by aramaic at 10:30 AM on November 12, 2008


Who's compelling them?

Bundling. Pay a lot for the whole batch, or pay even more for just the ones you actually want. Remarkably efficient at keeping craptastic journals afloat.

I also suspect administration laziness plays a role -- "eh, I don't feel like engaging in six months of meetings to determine what journals we subscribe to, since every idiot in every department will be whining about something-or-other and how the Journal of Renaissance Sexual Perversions and Culinary Peculiarities is crucial to the practice of mechanical engineering. Let's just get this entire bundle and be done with it, plus we can just blame Elsevier if oh-so-precious JRSPCP isn't in the bundle."
posted by aramaic at 10:36 AM on November 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


Whoa thanks aramaic, I've been looking for a place to publish my exhaustive study of Figgy Pudding.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:51 AM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


That depends on how, um, especially figgy your study is. More figging, always more figging!
posted by aramaic at 11:27 AM on November 12, 2008



That's like saying the National Enquirer explodes the Myth of Journalistic Accuracy.

What, the National Enquirer is published by the New York Times corp, along with the Washington Post and the International Herald-Tribune?

Elsevier is one of the premier academic journal publishing houses. For them to publish this garbage journal is a significant scandal in their business.


I concur. There is garbage out there. But the idea that because journals publish some garbage papers does not necessarily lead to the destruction of the 'myth' of the peer reviewed process being supported by publishing houses. Thee may be other evidence to back this assertion, but CSF is not it.
posted by lalochezia at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


We thank Garkov for producing the illustrations in this paper.
posted by lukemeister at 12:54 PM on November 12, 2008


the Journal of Renaissance Sexual Perversions and Culinary Peculiarities

I would totally subscribe to that journal.
posted by verstegan at 2:43 PM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The comments at Baez' site are awesome. "You see John the opposite of truth is yet a deeper truth. This is the depth implicit in Mohamed El Naschie’s use of non conventional mathematics and that is why he is right".
posted by dhoe at 2:46 PM on November 12, 2008


Yes & no Blazecock Pileon, scientists care most about the authors they cite directly, but they often use the journal's reputation or impact factor when they don't know the subject. So he's building his case for promotion & grants by weakening the journal for others.

I admit that I don't know the import of Chaos, Solitons and Fractals to mathematicians, compared with, say, JAMS, but in my own experience, having a paper in, say, Nature that others cite from is a bigger deal than, say, a paper in a no-name journal.

Unless people are citing from Chaos... to the extent that this individual's contributions are polluting others' careers, the bigger issue is that Elsevier gets away with charging for this publication. This guy's actions would certainly help open source publishers and proponents demonstrate the need for open publishing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:59 PM on November 12, 2008


Mathematicians are a cautious lot. If they're not certain that they're correct, they will say "I don't know". That doesn't mean they're ignorant about it.

So often "I don't know" is the least ignorant thing to say.

My point was not with ignorance itself, but with the context of the article, which is no less than a "witchhunt", since it is implied that the guy is potentially abusing the system of academic publishing. However, it seems that nearly every argument the author brings up he concludes by saying "well, I don't know if this is right".

Just because Person A doesn't know what Person B is talking about (despite both being mathematicians or physicists) does not necessarily mean that Person B is a crackpot or gaming the academic world or certainly not that what Person B is saying is "total baloney".

I've worked next to several Nobel-level scientists. Some very smart ones working on crazy, aggressive, paradigm-shifting science.

For someone stuck in the current paradigm, anything that is beyond its scope can sound nutty or peculiar, but that does not mean it is invalid or valueless.

322 papers represents a massive amount of research, time, and peer review. That he is able to bypass these because he is the editor of a journal on a subject that maybe a few thousand people understand should not give him the green light to instant credibility.

You're leaping to the conclusion that because an article is published in a journal that it is instantly credible. Nobody is saying that. The way scientific communities operate is very much in a self-organized fashion where if someone's ideas are invalid or worthless then none of this person's peers will adopt these ideas or consider them in future studies, and thus the bad ideas fall to the wayside or are disproven in future research.

If Isaac Newton had presented his theory of gravity in scientific journals, you do realize that the very same things might have been said about his ideas, but that does not make them wrong, that just makes them beyond the scope of his peers' comprehension, and this can be chalked up to the fact that Mr. Newton was simply thinking beyond the threshold of his paradigm (and we can all be thankful that he was).
posted by tybeet at 3:17 PM on November 12, 2008


If Isaac Newton had presented his theory of gravity in scientific journals, you do realize that the very same things might have been said about his ideas

No, because Newton's theory of gravity was verifiable. It had falsifiable hypotheses that could easily be tested with simple experiments. Rather famous ones, maybe you've heard of them. That's what science is about.
posted by Nelson at 3:29 PM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I wonder if a bit of data wrangling with citation databases wouldn't unearth more cases like this. Just running a sanity check against everybody who's published more than say 50 articles in the same journal, for example.
posted by dhoe at 3:45 PM on November 12, 2008


The comments at Baez' site are awesome. "You see John the opposite of truth is yet a deeper truth. This is the depth implicit in Mohamed El Naschie’s use of non conventional mathematics and that is why he is right".

This does sound like some sort of reverse Sokal trolling.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:05 PM on November 12, 2008


No, because Newton's theory of gravity was verifiable. It had falsifiable hypotheses that could easily be tested with simple experiments. Rather famous ones, maybe you've heard of them. That's what science is about.

Then stretch your mind a bit and step into the world of mathematical verification with the use of what's called "logical proofing".
posted by tybeet at 4:59 PM on November 12, 2008


tybeet, your analogy is borked.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:06 PM on November 12, 2008


Yeah, tybeet. It would stand if there was any semblance of rigor in these papers. Numerology is not Math.
posted by vernondalhart at 7:53 PM on November 12, 2008


For someone stuck in the current paradigm, anything that is beyond its scope can sound nutty or peculiar, but that does not mean it is invalid or valueless.

Remember your Kuhn. Something can sound nutty and peculiar to the current paradigm without being valid or of value.
posted by Monsters at 9:01 PM on November 12, 2008


So you too have been there Aramaic? glad I am not the only one!
posted by Megami at 9:12 PM on November 12, 2008


Holy crap! Did anyone notice this: "I knew the journal name Chaos, Solitons and Fractals sounded familiar! Turns out, it’s where one of the (nonsensical) “peer-reviewed papers” which creationists like to trumpet as signalling the death of “Darwinism” was published. The paper in question cited Wikipedia for its references and got worse from there.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:39 AM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Remember your Kuhn. Something can sound nutty and peculiar to the current paradigm without being valid or of value.
See, that's the thing about math and science. Nutty and peculiar is quite common. And it can be a virtue. But most of the time, nutty is just nutty. But the lovely thing about good math and science is there's empirical ways to verify whether a nutty idea has merit or not. You do experiments, you check proofs. Bullshit is much less ambiguous than in the humanities.

I think some of the Mefiers commenting on this thread probably didn't spend a lot of time delving into the nonsense of this scam journal. This isn't a case of jealous academics throwing stones at some brilliant scientist who may just be a bit confusing and misunderstood. There's an entire journal of nonsense published by the premier reputable academic journal house. And Elsevier seems to have not noticed. It's a significant mark against their exploitative business model.

PS: an update from the n-Category Cafe: "Someone I know well who works in Elsevier’s Amsterdam office told me that El Naschie is definitely retiring on November 17, 2008. Obviously your pressure has taken its toll on Elsevier with its well known appetite for money and they have been forced to sheepishly give in with their tail tucked between their legs."
posted by Nelson at 9:39 AM on November 13, 2008


That was some seriously rad, entertaining weirdness. More, please.
posted by flotson at 5:43 PM on November 13, 2008


Updated.
posted by gleuschk at 10:20 AM on November 27, 2008


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