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These findings are especially taters in the context of the what cancer taters further future investigation into this field.
June 12, 2009 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Research journal accepts a computer-generated nonsense paper, and leads the editor-in-chief to resign his post. The authors write about their hijinks on their blog The Scholarly Kitchen.

Philip Davis, a Cornell Ph.D. graduate student in scientific communications "coauthored" the paper with Kent Anderson, executive director of international business and product development at the New England Journal of Medicine, and the help of the online auto-paper generator SCIgen. This isn't the first time Davis et al have attempted to submit this work to the publisher, Bentham Publishers, before. Bentham is also known for indiscriminately inviting academic researchers to join their editorial board.

Other fun in fake academic publishing: Merck's look-a-like journal, and Previously on Metafilter.
posted by NikitaNikita (83 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just played around with SCIgen and got this awesome little gem: "We demonstrate that online algorithms and vacuum tubes can collaborate to answer this question."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:26 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Link to the "accepted manuscript".

Excerpts:

The synthesis of the Ethernet is a confusing grand
challenge. Given the current status of knowledgebased
archetypes, statisticians particularly desire the
refinement of superpages, which embodies the practical
principles of software engineering. In order to
address this riddle, we investigate how web browsers
can be applied to the construction of the Ethernet.




Our implementation of our methodology is pseudorandom,
wearable, and collaborative. We have not
yet implemented the centralized logging facility, as
this is the least private component of our method.


Continuing
with this rationale, our algorithm has set a precedent
for suffix trees, and we expect that systems engineers
will analyze TriflingThamyn for years to come.

posted by NikitaNikita at 2:29 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Compact symmetries and compilers have garnered tremendous interest from both futurists and biologists in the last several years. The flaw of this type of solution, however, is that DHTs can be made empathic, large-scale, and extensible. Along these same lines, the drawback of this type of approach, however, is that active networks and SMPs can agree to fix this riddle.

Makes perfect sense to me. I don't see what the fuss is all about.
posted by desjardins at 2:29 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The function of level of interest in this varies directly with the level of stature and reputation of The Open Information Science Journal, which I wasn't immediately able to ascertain.

Is The Open Information Science Journal actually a reputable group/publication?
posted by Brak at 2:29 PM on June 12, 2009


This is remarkably similar to the Sokal Affair, only instead of pretension/ideology this one seems to be about questioning the money trail.
posted by tybeet at 2:31 PM on June 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm Markov, and I approved this message research paper.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:31 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


:)
posted by caddis at 2:32 PM on June 12, 2009


tybeet: yeah... and questioning the money trail of open access oublishing ... which is 1) an interesting question on its own and 2) an interesting question considering a NEJM employee took part in this ;)
posted by NikitaNikita at 2:36 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Please tell me these aren't my peers. Some of us are busting our butts to do research and get stuff published, and we're up against computers and people who can't be bothered to actually read our work. Meanwhile, the credibility of the whole institution is brought down several notches.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:37 PM on June 12, 2009


Heh. My librarian girlfriend got buffaloed into working for a journal about environmental science as a reviews editor, and was saying that until she had a talk with the main editor, the main editor thought that "peer review" was synonymous with copy editing. But because my girlfriend's new boss is an incompetent lunatic, my girlfriend needs to keep working for this journal until she can get past her career status review.

These people at the environmental science journal have ostensibly been working in information science for over 20 years and yet have absolutely no clue as to how research is published or how science works, to an extent that I find hilarious. I'm not surprised that there are other journals that are mercenary where my girlfriend's journal is simply incompetent.
posted by klangklangston at 2:37 PM on June 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Not a scientific journal article, but I'm working on a paper right now that is supposed to convince some Very Important People that they need to change the engineering practices of their organization. I started working on this after at least one draft had been written by the group, and I'd like to think I know a little bit about this topic.

I read the paper. Reread the paper. Checked the title to make sure I was reading the right thing. Read it again. Still had no idea what it was saying.

It's a failing that people feel the need to add tons of jargon and acronyms to make their writing seem important. This paper was so full of it that it took me several passes to understand what it was after. And the people we need to convince aren't engineers, they're bureaucrats!

If I've learned anything from writing papers like this, it's one thing: assume your audience is full of idiots. Actually, that works well in a lot of situations.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:37 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


$800 is less that Elliott Spitzer paid HIS whore.
posted by longsleeves at 2:39 PM on June 12, 2009


Metafilter: $800 less that Elliott Spitzer paid HIS whore.
posted by lalochezia at 2:42 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was a student representative at my university, I found out that very few professors understood each other's research, and they were all in the same discipline.
posted by niccolo at 2:47 PM on June 12, 2009


Do many scholarly journals actually charge a fee to the author? Really? In the fiction-writing, story-submitting world, we call that a scam. Because the writer should get paid.
posted by asfuller at 2:52 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Do many scholarly journals actually charge a fee to the author? Really? In the fiction-writing, story-submitting world, we call that a scam. Because the writer should get paid.

Yeah, and if you happen to want color illustrations or pictures included in your paper it's even worse.
posted by Science! at 2:56 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The publisher said that it went through peer review...

The 'peers' were fellow computer programs. They thought it was good work.
posted by grounded at 3:01 PM on June 12, 2009 [11 favorites]


In the era of "publish or perish", it's hardly surprising that there are what amount to vanity press journals for this kind of thing. Or that authors would be willing to pay to get their articles included.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:06 PM on June 12, 2009


Ugh. Please tell me these aren't my peers. Some of us are busting our butts to do research and get stuff published, and we're up against computers and people who can't be bothered to actually read our work.

Anyone who has spent more than a couple of years submitting papers for peer review knows that even when they are given to real people for review, they often don't get read. I received a review the other day where the reviewer admitted the only thing s/he did was look at the first figure and based her/his whole review on that. And misunderstood what s/he looked at.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:08 PM on June 12, 2009


Profs are a critical lot and if you cloak your work in enough dense language and jargon you make it harder for that criticism to stick. "You boob, you don't even understand my paper, who are you to criticize it?" Clear and concise writing does not prevail in academia. Really, using incomprehensible text does not make you look smart, it makes you look pompous. I usually start from the assumption that the worst offenders' scholarship and rigor are sub-par. When you take the time to penetrate that thicket you often find that first assumption correct. The others are just pompous scholars I guess.
posted by caddis at 3:12 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Science journals that aren't open access, and thus make their money on subscriptions, don't tend to charge fees in my experience (unless you want color figures, in which case it's on the order of $1000 per figure). However, in the world of open access, even the non-profit PLOS journals charge around $2000 to publish a paper for the world to see, and they are both legit and reasonably good. Publishers that have optional open access charge about the same.
posted by Schismatic at 3:12 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


We hope to make clear that our doubling the effective ROM speed of independently “smart” epistemologies is the key to our evaluation strategy.

I couldn't have said it any clearer myself.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:16 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Chicken. Chicken chicken chicken. Chicken chicken.

Chicken chick-chick-chicken.
posted by nzero at 3:20 PM on June 12, 2009


Very reminiscent indeed of the Sokal affair. The endnotes alone give away the hoax: papers by Paul Erdös and Alan Turing apparently written from the grave. I'm sure there are many other inside jokes in the citations. This one especially gave me a chuckle:

"CHOMSKY, N. Simulating vacuum tubes and Voice-over-IP. Journal of Virtual Theory 49 (Apr. 2003), 58–60."

Admittedly, Chomsky does seem to write about everything but voice-over IP doesn't seem to be one of his favorite topics.
posted by inoculatedcities at 3:30 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm really glad they did that. As a scientist trying to publish things in real peer-reviewed journals it's somewhat maddening to think of what could happen to papers published in that journal. Honestly, can you imagine working hard on a paper and then getting it published by these fools? No one would take your re-submission since it had already been "published" and at the same time no one would take the paper seriously because it had been in a corrupt journal. Your research would essentially have been wasted (in the sense that it would have little to no impact on the advancement of SCIENCE)
posted by scrutiny at 3:30 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chicken. Chicken chicken chicken. Chicken chicken.

Chicken chick-chick-chicken.


I think you meant: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:34 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Are these softcore or hardcore taters?
posted by oaf at 3:40 PM on June 12, 2009


They said CRAP. Heh.
posted by heyho at 3:42 PM on June 12, 2009


Do many scholarly journals actually charge a fee to the author? Really? In the fiction-writing, story-submitting world, we call that a scam. Because the writer should get paid.

Well, I've never had to pay to get published, but I certainly don't make any money getting published either (except for getting to keep my job).
posted by leahwrenn at 3:43 PM on June 12, 2009


I'm Markov, and I approved this message research paper.

All submitted papers are peer reviewed. No submitted peers have been reviewed.

- THE MGT
posted by FatherDagon at 3:44 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Anyone who has spent more than a couple of years submitting papers for peer review knows that even when they are given to real people for review, they often don't get read. I received a review the other day where the reviewer admitted the only thing s/he did was look at the first figure and based her/his whole review on that. And misunderstood what s/he looked at.

In 20+ years as a scientist, I've never seen anything like this.
posted by lukemeister at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2009


There's a surprising amount of shysterism in academic publishing. Ever since my first publication, I've been receiving spam email inviting me to publish in some dubious venues, in some cases even telling me my paper "has already been accepted!" This is not a problem with open access per se, just a problem with unethical people and common evaluation practices.

The fake journal or conference makes money, and the unethical researcher puts an additional publication in their CV. Tenure committees or other evaluations might claim otherwise, but number of publications is a huge factor in evaluating researchers. For a given researcher, there are very few others who know enough about his or her work to judge it, and none of them is at his or her institution. At smaller schools, such as any liberal arts college, one's tenure committee likely contains faculty in entirely different departments, even. There's no way for them to judge one's research quality without relying on external reviewers (which they do) and easily computable metrics (which they definitely do).

There is a push to move towards using calculations involving citation counts now, which is a huge step up from raw publication counts. If someone publishes tons of papers that are crap, they will have a long CV, but the citation counts will betray the fact that no one seems to care. Google Scholar is an important enabler of these analyses, and it became available only recently. Citation databases have existed for a while, but outside of particular fields with comprehensive databases, the available data is fragmented and poor quality. Google Scholar has the best citation data for computer science publications I've found anywhere, by far. And FWIW, it can quickly show that the Open Information Science Journal is very new and not particularly noteworthy at this point. Only 6 papers published, with a total of 3 citations, 2 of which are in an editorial in the same journal and the other of which is a self-citation (in another paper by the same authors).
posted by whatnotever at 4:05 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Anyone who has spent more than a couple of years submitting papers for peer review knows that even when they are given to real people for review, they often don't get read. I received a review the other day where the reviewer admitted the only thing s/he did was look at the first figure and based her/his whole review on that. And misunderstood what s/he looked at.

In 20+ years as a scientist, I've never seen anything like this.


I wish I hadn't. Granted, you usually can only tell because of the stupid comments made about the paper, but I would say 10% of the time, I get a least one of the 2-3 reviewers saying something that indicates they read no more than the abstract at most.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:08 PM on June 12, 2009


Do many scholarly journals actually charge a fee to the author? Really? In the fiction-writing, story-submitting world, we call that a scam. Because the writer should get paid.

Depends on the journal and the field. It's more or less uncorrelated to the quality of the journal, however. I've published mostly in the journals of the American Chemical Society, which are free (mostly supported by subscription fees and the Society's general fund, I think). One of the most prestigious interdisciplinary journals around, PNAS, does have page charges: $70/page, plus a $1200 surcharge if you want your article to be open access. This is not an atypical model in the emerging world of open access.

Really, scientists don't publish to get paid. The costs of distributing our results are typically included in the grants we apply for, and they're negligible next to the cost of the work itself.

Anyone who has spent more than a couple of years submitting papers for peer review knows that even when they are given to real people for review, they often don't get read.

This isn't my experience. My reviewers seem to take their job seriously (sometimes to a frustrating, overcritical, fault). They might be *cough* misinformed about some of the finer details, but they're certainly not glossing over the substance...
posted by mr_roboto at 4:09 PM on June 12, 2009


Tenure committees or other evaluations might claim otherwise,

I have seen comments on tenure decisions to the effect that "only X publications is not enough for the rank of ____ professor." I swear they would have turned the young Einstein down for only having 4 publications.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:11 PM on June 12, 2009


TriflingThamyn would be a good name for band or a sock puppet.
posted by jquinby at 4:15 PM on June 12, 2009


There is a push to move towards using calculations involving citation counts now, which is a huge step up from raw publication counts.

That sounds a hell of a lot like the early search engine algorithm which based ratings on the raw number of incoming links -- which, of course, led to link farming by SEO blackhats.

Everything we've learned in the last fifteen years about ways that this kind of rating can be perverted will apply to this kind of analysis on academic papers.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:34 PM on June 12, 2009


Everything we've learned in the last fifteen years about ways that this kind of rating can be perverted will apply to this kind of analysis on academic papers.

Eh, it's already happening. You see things like people jostling to write review articles, which involve no novel work but tend to get cited widely.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:46 PM on June 12, 2009


In my field, planetary science, the first choices for a US scientist submitting an article are:

(1) Nature or Science if you have something hot. Free, multiple referees, but subject to vagaries of editors' interests.

(2) Icarus. An Elsevier journal. Free (except for color), well-refereed (usually two referees). I assume that the enormous profits Elsevier makes by charging libraries enormous fees allow it to do without author fees.

(3) Astronomical Journal or Astrophysical Journal: $105/page. Published by American Astronomical Society, so there's no big pot of money to subsidize the journals. 1 referee.

My favorite recent request was from Springer, which invited me to write a huge review article for a book. My payment would have been a discount on the book.
posted by lukemeister at 4:48 PM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


> Do many scholarly journals actually charge a fee to the author? Really? In the fiction-writing, story-submitting world, we call that a scam. Because the writer should get paid.

That's what I was coming here to say. Paying to get your work published is pathetic, and people should refuse to participate in that system.

Also:

Parmanto did add, however, that the perpetrators of the hoax -- Cornell grad student Philip Davis and Kent Anderson, executive director of international business and product development at the New England Journal of Medicine -- were also guilty of some degree of unethical behavior. "This is a process based on trust," he said. "

Hahahaha! "Trust us! Pay no attention to the grad student over there!"
posted by languagehat at 5:06 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Paying to get your work published is pathetic, and people should refuse to participate in that system.

You can submit to a preprint server - in my field astro-ph - but if you only submit there, your work has little credibility. I feel worse submitting for free to a journal that's part of GigaCorp Profit++ International than paying to submit to Non-Profit Org. Until the general public is ready to pay for academic articles because it's as gripping as The Da Vinci Code, or until we say the hell with refereeing, let's just put it all on the Web - I can't refuse to participate in the system.
posted by lukemeister at 5:21 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Paying to get your work published is pathetic, and people should refuse to participate in that system.

Yeah, as a principled stand. But the incentives are the other way: pay to get a few articles published and on your CV, and get tenure. Be principled, and don't get tenure.

If it was your career, which would you do? I know I'd have to think seriously about it, and decide if I could really afford those principles, especially when my competitors for tenure didn't have them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:23 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Paying to get your work published is pathetic, and people should refuse to participate in that system.

Hold on, hold on, hold on.

I really don't think I could disagree any more. Look, the current trend in science publishing is towards open access. There are a bunch of compelling reasons for open access, among them the simple argument that if a government agency is paying for the research (as it is in the vast majority of cases), the results of the research should be freely available to the taxpayers. We could also talk about prohibitive costs to academic libraries, etc. But let's just take it as a fact that the movement is towards open access.

In this kind of model, who pays for publication? The readers certainly don't. Advertising can defray some costs, but brings with it its own conflict-of-interest problems. And even an online-only journal takes money to run. Peer-review might be volunteer, but there's a professional staff of managing editors, copyeditors, page layout people, etc. If we bought the argument that government-funded research should be available to the people, doesn't it make sense that the same funding agencies that are paying for the research take care of these (relatively small) costs for distribution of the results?

In practice, that's how it works. No scientist is paying out-of-pocket for page charges. Instead, we include a line-item on our grant proposal budgets for "distribution of results". Maybe a couple thousand/year/project. A small fraction of the total cost of the research.

I don't see what's "pathetic" about this. It's a simple consequence of the fact that scientific research is a government-subsidized activity performed for the public good.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:45 PM on June 12, 2009 [11 favorites]


Oh, and by the way, the next time I publish something in PNAS, I'm not going to feel "pathetic". Even at $70/page, that's like our New Yorker.



Eh. Maybe Harpers.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:47 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


If only there were an organization one could join for, say, five dollars, where one could write words expressing his or her ideas, and others could comment on their validity. Such a business model would never work, though.
posted by lukemeister at 5:56 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


>Chicken chick-chick-chicken.
I think you meant: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.


Nope. Definitely chicken.
posted by Pinback at 6:12 PM on June 12, 2009


Metafilter: Our implementation of our methodology is pseudo-random, wearable, and collaborative.
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 6:36 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


My favorite part of SCIgen is the graphs it makes. This paper had one graph with an axis labeled "Bandwidth (Celsius)". I'm sure they could have matched reasonable units to each measurement in their graphs, but instead they are just totally ridiculous. So there is really no excuse for not realizing these papers are a joke.
posted by recursion at 6:37 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


As others have said, the journals that charge page fees, which are paid by grants, are generally published by non-profits like our professional societies. They page costs cover the cost of print publication and/or online publication, including paying all of the staff of the journal, as well as insuring it is available online in perpetuity.

The alternative is the for-profit journals run by Elsevier and, well, there used to be several other companies, but now it's just Elsevier. They have a huge number of specialized for profit journals in which one can indeed publish for free. But because they operate on a for profit basis, they have no incentive to make the science publicly available, nor is there any guarantee of perpetual availability, or even availability next year.

Now we also have the open access journals. PLOS is obviously good and remains so. But there are these fly-by-night companies that we just don't know anything about. They appear to have all the weaknesses of an Elsevier, with the only strength being that they are open access. But if the science is crap, then they're actually worse than Elsevier.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:38 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The alternative is the for-profit journals run by Elsevier and, well, there used to be several other companies, but now it's just Elsevier.

There's NPG which is really Macmillan which is really Holtzbrinck....

And Blackwell/Wiley.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:45 PM on June 12, 2009


Repeat after me: academic journal publishing is not the fiction market. Hell, academic journal publishing isn't even the academic book/monograph market.

Journals with page charges are not (usually) the equivalent of vanity presses or scams. They're just one way to deal with the costs of publishing journals in a nonprofit environment. Other ways, for real, are submission fees and substantial subsidization by the university of the editor or editorial team

Talk about getting paid is way off base. The academic world is largely divorced from a money economy. We don't get paid money for journal articles. We don't get paid money to act as a reviewer for a journal. We don't get paid money to review a book for a journal. We don't (usually) get paid money to edit a journal. In the academic world, here is the only thing you will receive any substantial payment for: undergraduate textbooks. You also get paid in theory for actual scholarly books, but the amount you would (almost always) receive is so low in comparison to the effort of writing the book that it really isn't significant.

What we get paid in is, first, being allowed to keep our jobs. Second, in influence and prestige. Third, in offers from more prestigious departments (and with them, higher pay in the end).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:19 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


See also: The Bogdanoff Affair and The Case of M. S. El Naschie (previously). I don't think it has anything to do with it being OA. It's just crappy publishing.
posted by Toekneesan at 8:49 PM on June 12, 2009


This is remarkably similar to the Sokal Affair, only instead of pretension/ideology this one seems to be about questioning the money trail...

Very reminiscent indeed of the Sokal affair.


That's in the post, but the two are really quite different. The Sokal paper may be scientifically nutty but it isn't complete nonsense in terms of the way it's written. It's just making rather grandiose and unfounded claims about the metaphysical and social implications of quantum theory. And the only reason it was published was because it was by an established physicist, so they gave him more credit for knowing the science than he thought they should have (in other words, he thought they should have looked into his scientific claims but they were a humanities journal, so were only peer-reviewing the connotations).

The endnotes alone give away the hoax: papers by Paul Erdös and Alan Turing apparently written from the grave. I'm sure there are many other inside jokes in the citations. This one especially gave me a chuckle:

"CHOMSKY, N. Simulating vacuum tubes and Voice-over-IP. Journal of Virtual Theory 49 (Apr. 2003), 58–60."

Admittedly, Chomsky does seem to write about everything but voice-over IP doesn't seem to be one of his favorite topics.


I don't know if that's real or not, but this guy writes on "Voice-over IP" and check out footnote # 26, another paper he co-wrote with Chompsky - not the one cited here, but it doesn't seem beyond possibility that that's real. At very least it's not a great joke.
posted by mdn at 9:12 PM on June 12, 2009


This paper had one graph with an axis labeled "Bandwidth (Celsius)". I'm sure they could have matched reasonable units to each measurement in their graphs, but instead they are just totally ridiculous.


Too true, everyone knows bandwidth is measured in Fahrenheit.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 9:33 PM on June 12, 2009


Very reminiscent indeed of the Sokal affair. The endnotes alone give away the hoax: papers by Paul Erdös and Alan Turing apparently written from the grave. I'm sure there are many other inside jokes in the citations. This one especially gave me a chuckle:

"CHOMSKY, N. Simulating vacuum tubes and Voice-over-IP. Journal of Virtual Theory 49 (Apr. 2003), 58–60."

Admittedly, Chomsky does seem to write about everything but voice-over IP doesn't seem to be one of his favorite topics.






Man, inoculatedcities, you totally missed the joke! It's hilarious that anyone would believe Chomsky could limit a paper to three pages!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:48 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The targets of this prank, Bentham Science Publishers, are also the folks that brought you the latest 'scientific' paper proving, beyond doubt, that there was 100+ tons of 'nano-thermite' inside the WTC on 9/11 around a month ago. The paper caused the conspiracy nutjob blogging community to nearly drown in its own cum, and caused downstream hysteria in many other forums. The dissections are here and here.
posted by felch at 12:00 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


This scam is nowhere as bad as the one where I, the taxpayer, fund the research and institution it is done at yet have to pay a third party publisher a crazy amount per article if I want to read it or have my library pay an astronomical fee to proxy it via their website.

Small time publishing fraud is nothing compared to the actual system.
posted by srboisvert at 3:21 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The really messed up thing about the Merck story is, imagine you're a researcher at Merck. You've put real time and real effort into some research project. You've written it up all nice, maybe only as an internal report, maybe as something that might truly be publishable.

And then these clowns hijack it for their journal cum glossy advertisement and you're now a "contributor" to that fake journal.

They'd have to be physically restrain me. Though, I guess if they didn't it would save them the trouble of firing whoever came up with that plan.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:00 AM on June 13, 2009


There probably was thermite in the WTC ruins, being as thermite is basically metal rust + metal powder.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:03 AM on June 13, 2009


Too true, everyone knows bandwidth is measured in Fahrenheit.

Charlatan! Don't you know anything about science? Bandwidth is measured in degrees Kelvin, for SCIENCE!
posted by kcds at 5:11 AM on June 13, 2009


I'm an associate editor for a scientific journal (for which I am paid nothing). And (at least for our journal), dedicated people who are paid nothing serve as reviewers and generally do a fine job. Our journal charges a page fee (it has to), but authors don't pay this: their departments pay it. It's not a vanity press- quite the opposite. The publishing of a scientific journal is a selfless act.

Sorry, I'm not being very funny here. I hate to see our work undercut by phony journals.
posted by acrasis at 5:29 AM on June 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


In this kind of model, who pays for publication? The readers certainly don't. Advertising can defray some costs, but brings with it its own conflict-of-interest problems. And even an online-only journal takes money to run. Peer-review might be volunteer, but there's a professional staff of managing editors, copyeditors, page layout people, etc. If we bought the argument that government-funded research should be available to the people, doesn't it make sense that the same funding agencies that are paying for the research take care of these (relatively small) costs for distribution of the results?

In practice, that's how it works. No scientist is paying out-of-pocket for page charges. Instead, we include a line-item on our grant proposal budgets for "distribution of results". Maybe a couple thousand/year/project. A small fraction of the total cost of the research.


OK, that's fair enough. It certainly sounded like pay-for-play to me: "Want your paper published? Fork over $XXX." That would be pathetic. What you're describing sounds reasonable.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 AM on June 13, 2009


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
It's a thousand years old problem. If a researcher is interested in fame, measured by number of peer reviewed publications or number of citations, in order to obtain, as ROU points out, more prestigeous positions and influence, then somebody will provide him with the good as long as he can pay.
Yet researches often don't earn enough to pay for the service, so enter the "i cite you you cite me" backscratching practices, which obviously discourages criticizing any colleague's work, even with constructive criticism, due to fear of hurting their pride and losing their support.

Similarly, if institutions are interested in having often quoted and often cited researchers in their staff, in order to obtain grants or funding more easily, then it could be profiteable to invest into having articles published, regardless of the quality of the work. Clearly somebody will offer a facilitation service for a price, and no istitution has an interest into blasting others, at least directly and openly, again for fear of retaliation.


Neatly separated, yet involved into this make believe machinery, are the researchers who actually walked the walk, spent time in libraries, labs and what have you, whose speaking with "competiting" researchers make commercial people sweat anxiety , characterized by erring on the side of doubt (sometimes to pathological lack of self esteem levels), who value discovery and method more than achieving B celebrity status in a few years, who are perceived or depicted as snob elitist when they criticize wasting scarce resources on evidently sloppy research (and can prove why), who are perceived as (and sometimes are) endless idealist procastinators lacking risk taking skills, out of tuch with "reality", when they delay some results that were needed for yesterday meeting with the financiers.

IMHO they are the probably the most likely to discover or explain something valuable over time, but their job isn't made any easier by the considerable pressure to justify the existence of their work to employer, financiers, public opinion (still no cure for cancer?) and sometimes to their own desires that may scream "what the fuck, what do I gain from swimming against the tide?".
posted by elpapacito at 6:16 AM on June 13, 2009


If advertising isn't making the numbers in academic publishing, how about "teaming up" with pornography? The International Journal of Applied Neurolinguistics And White Chicks Who Are Addicted To Giant Black Cocks.

All reseachers featured in this publication are at least 18 years of age. Annual subscription rate $316 per year or $4.95/minute.

And there's even still a niche market for the amateurs too.
posted by XMLicious at 6:25 AM on June 13, 2009


If a researcher is interested in fame, measured by number of peer reviewed publications or number of citations, in order to obtain, as ROU points out, more prestigeous positions and influence, then somebody will provide him with the good as long as he can pay.

What? Absolutely not. If you're trying to move up the great chain of being, publishing lots in third-rate or worse journals will NOT do it for you. You have to consistently publish in whatever the top journals in the field or subfield are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:43 AM on June 13, 2009


If we bought the argument that government-funded research should be available to the people, doesn't it make sense that the same funding agencies that are paying for the research take care of these (relatively small) costs for distribution of the results?

The government is going to pay for serials no matter what. The question is whether they pay once in the form of page charges to make things freely available, or thousands of times for access as commercial publishers would prefer (guess which one makes them more money?).
posted by grouse at 8:15 AM on June 13, 2009


It certainly sounded like pay-for-play to me: "Want your paper published? Fork over $XXX." That would be pathetic.

Right; that's why this was a scandal. The pay part is supposed to come after the journal exercises its gatekeeping function. This publisher was apparently being dishonest about using qualified gatekeepers.

If a researcher is interested in fame, measured by number of peer reviewed publications or number of citations, in order to obtain, as ROU points out, more prestigeous positions and influence, then somebody will provide him with the good as long as he can pay.
Yet researches often don't earn enough to pay for the service, so enter the "i cite you you cite me" backscratching practices, which obviously discourages criticizing any colleague's work, even with constructive criticism, due to fear of hurting their pride and losing their support.


Wow. Is that how it works in Europe? In my experience, American science is nothing like this. In general, good work gets recognition.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:03 AM on June 13, 2009


XMLicious: If advertising isn't making the numbers in academic publishing, how about "teaming up" with pornography? The International Journal of Applied Neurolinguistics And White Chicks Who Are Addicted To Giant Black Cocks.
The possible confluence of this and "Dance Your Phd" is terrifying.
posted by Decimask at 4:55 PM on June 13, 2009


Pope Guilty: There probably was thermite in the WTC ruins, being as thermite is basically metal rust + metal powder.

Yeah, you'd need to read the links to appreciate the full ludicrousness. My favourite quote -

Finding "thermite" traces in the WTC rubble is kind of like finding water in the ocean.
posted by felch at 9:07 PM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


asfuller : No reputable scholarly journal1 asks that academics2 pay for publication. Academics are paid poorly for books but not paid at all journal articles. Journal articles confer prestige and promotion but books do not, generally speaking.

1 A few very large disciplines like computer science have this unfortunate effect where there aren't many journals, so most researchers publish in conference proceedings, and must pay the conference fees. I think these conferences fees are horribly exploitive too, but they potentially pay for useful stuff, like renting facilities, supporting famous speakers, and maybe help PhD students. But conference proceedings are always the lower-tier of academic publishing, much less prestigious than good journals.

2 I think the rise of vanity publishing, like open access journals, is tightly linked with the rise of lower-tier collages & universities who don't employ very strong academics or researchers, but instead choose them based upon other factors like politics, religion, teaching ability, regional affiliation, family status, desire to settle down, desire to help students, personality, etc. These weak academics & institutions must still give the illusion of participating in the academic world, although faculty basically only teach, advise, and administer, indeed they won't even consider a job applicant whose publication record is too strong.

mr_roboto : American scientist definitely engage in exactly that sort of behavior, trying to cite the work of likely referees being the standard trick. Europe has far more serious problems with nepotism in hiring than the U.S. but I think the publication practices are quite similar.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:44 AM on June 14, 2009


No reputable scholarly journal1 asks that academics2 pay for publication.

Totally wrong, I'm afraid. There are many examples, but the first one I can think of is the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which charges $70 per page.

American scientist definitely engage in exactly that sort of behavior, trying to cite the work of likely referees being the standard trick.

"Definitely?" Citation needed.
posted by grouse at 9:00 AM on June 14, 2009


No reputable scholarly journal1 asks that academics2 pay for publication.

Both major American astronomy journals have page charges, as does PNAS (this was mentioned like 20 times in this thread, so what's your excuse for not knowing?). I'm not going to bother putting together a list of other reputable scholarly journals with page charges, but suffice it to say that there are many.

You don't know what you're talking about.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:55 AM on June 14, 2009


I mean, hell, PRL charges for color figures, and that's basically the most selective physics journal around.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:01 PM on June 14, 2009


Fine, but PNAS is weird & ancient. I assume they have been open access like forever, no? I'm sure that cost big money once upon a time. <shrug> I'm not aware of any reputable math or physics journals that charge authors. Otoh, I already pay the membership dues for various organizations, like the AMS, which does impact their publishing activities, but that's exactly the "only buy the journal once" approach. But all this seems best handled by awarding NSF grants directly to journals operated by high level universities and national scientific organizations, and the same deal for conferences too. Any "author pays system" just creates way way too much moral hazard when operated widely, well look at computer science with it's conference proceedings.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:05 PM on June 14, 2009


Fine, but PNAS is weird & ancient. I assume they have been open access like forever, no?

The answer is no, they still aren't open access. If you're not going to bother to inform yourself on basic details such as this (all spelled out in the link I provided), you shouldn't make such categorical statements. It calls into question the veracity of your other unsupported assertions.

One could make an argument that reputable journals should not charge authors for publication, but you are simply wrong when you claim that they do not. Even in physics, Physical Review Letters, which mr_roboto points out is one of the most prestigious journals around and is certainly "reputable," charges $605–$750 for each letter in addition to color charges.
posted by grouse at 12:38 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not aware of any reputable math or physics journals that charge authors.

The Astrophysical Journal, Physical Review Letters, and Physical Review Special Topics — Physics Education Research all have obligatory page charges. The American Institute of Physics journals have an open access "author select" system that costs between $1500 and $1800 per article. Now you're aware.

Any "author pays system" just creates way way too much moral hazard when operated widely

Do you mean conflict of interest? I don't see what moral hazard has to do with it.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:24 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fine, but PNAS is weird & ancient.

Not a nice thing to say about the members of the National Academy of Sciences - though I'm sure some of them are.
posted by lukemeister at 2:29 PM on June 14, 2009


Yeah sorry, I'm obviously not paying attention to the world outside of mathematics. :) I've only previously witnessed people advocating author pays when the journals under discussion were clearly vanity publishing. A touted advantage was paying the referees, which seemed crazy.

I don't have an opinion about PNAS & PRL charging authors, largely since they are so prestigious. But I must ask : Do you guys know reputable journals owned by corporate publishing houses, like Elsevier, that use author pays?

I mean, you could handle the billing any way you like if the journals are owned by university departments & science societies, which obviously value the peer review more highly than extra income. But publishers will eventually optimize around the revenue stream, even if they don't realize their devaluing their product.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:14 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


languagehat Paying to get your work published is pathetic, and people should refuse to participate in that system.

Add my voice to the dissenters. An academic is paid to add to the body of human knowledge, not to make a killing off royalties. The exception is when the people you pay are fraudulently offering a service (peer review) in return, as is the case here.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:51 PM on June 14, 2009


Do you guys know reputable journals owned by corporate publishing houses, like Elsevier, that use author pays?

jeffburdges,

No, I don't. However, I am surprised that mathematics has no equivalent of PNAS, PRL, or Astrophysical Journal, where the author pays. Where would you submit a paper with a big discovery?
posted by lukemeister at 8:52 PM on June 14, 2009


I've gradually learned that mathematics behaves very very differently from other disciplines, with theoretical physics being maybe half way between physics and mathematics. A few difference include : (1) mathematicians are polite to one another, especially in print, (2) authors are virtually always listed alphabetically, (3) solo author papers are common, (4) refereeing a math paper correctly requires real work, and (5) good mathematicians don't necessarily apply for grant money.

I strongly suspect any math journal charing authors, ala PNAS or PRL, would rapidly lose stature, if only because some portion of real geniuses couldn't be bothered to even ask the department to pay. The top math journal is widely felt to be Annals of Mathematics, published by IAS & Princeton. I think all other top "general" journals are held by mathematics societies, like the AMS & LMS, or Universities, like Duke. Elisiver holds several top speciality journals, like the Journal of Algebra, but they've already lost the Journal of Topology when the editorial board all resigned in unison over pricing, and formed a competing journal.

I think the general view in mathematics is that journals provide no function aside from refereeing and editorial selection, both voluntary & unpaid positions, and the progressive view is that journals will eventually consist of nothing but selections of articles on arxiv.org.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:08 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


So how do the society and university journals work in math? Who pays for them? As I said way back earlier in the thread, in biology most of the society journals are the ones with page charges, because societies don't have the money to publish a journal for free.

I was just at my professional society's annual meeting a couple of weeks ago and it was decided that our journal will go to online only because we aren't making enough from subscriptions and page charges to print and mail it. It's the for-profit journals like Elsevier that can afford to to publish without page charges, but there are many concomitant problems with that.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:49 PM on June 15, 2009


I don't know the economics well, but a math journal's only contribution is the unpaid work of editors and referees. If your not being robbed by your publisher, then subscriptions easily will pay for printing. I know the LMS earns money from it's journal, the AMS acts as publisher for both books and journals, and the university ones are similar. Oh, the ASL even gives free journals to every member. Maybe your society's publisher just decided "biologists are all rich" so they upped their profit margin?

As an aside, you must use tex/latex for writing mathematics since equation editors are idiotic. So you then get print quality output without paying professional typesetters and buying expensive Adobe products. Btw, young mathematicians & physicists must place their articles on the preprint server arxiv.org, which only accepts submissions in tex/latex.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:51 PM on June 17, 2009


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