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Education Canada The Media Science

Science Journals Caught Publishing Fake Research For Cash (vice.com) 137

Tuesday a Canadian journalist described his newest victory in his war on fake-science journals. An anonymous reader writes: In 2014, journalist Tom Spears intentionally wrote "the world's worst science research paper...a mess of plagiarism and meaningless garble" -- then got it accepted by eight different journals. ("I copied and pasted one phrase from a geology paper online, and the rest from a medical one, on hematology...and so on. There are a couple of graphs from a paper about Mars...") He did it to expose journals which follow the publish-for-a-fee model, "a fast-growing business that sucks money out of research, undermines genuine scientific knowledge, and provides fake credentials for the desperate."

But earlier this year, one such operation actually purchased two prominent Canadian medical journals, and one critic warns they're "on a buying spree, snatching up legitimate scholarly journals and publishers, incorporating them into its mega-fleet of bogus, exploitative, and low-quality publications.â So this summer, Spears explains to Vice, "I got this request to write for what looked like a fake journal -- of ethics. Something about that attracted me... one morning in late August when I woke up early I made extra coffee and banged out some drivel and sent it to them."

He's now publicizing the fact that this formerly-respectable journal is currently featuring his submission, which was "mostly plagiarized from Aristotle, with every fourth or fifth word changed so that anti-plagiarism software won't catch it. But the result is meaningless. Some sentences don't have verbs..."
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Science Journals Caught Publishing Fake Research For Cash

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'd like to see peer reviewed journals go away. They're a relic of the past, for many reasons.

    1) The review process isn't transparent. It's too easy for authors to submit fake reviewers or for reviewers to not disclose conflicts of interest.

    2) Reviewers generally don't have access to data and tools to actually verify the quality of the research. It's too easy for fabricated results to get published.

    3) Many conference presentations are recorded. There's much less need for publications when it's easy to go on

    • You do realise that the idea of a peer review is for others to replicate the research and attempt to come to the same conclusions from their own datasets, right? Or are you just a shill?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        If peer review of publications actually involved independent researchers attempting to replicate results, I'd support it. However, that's not how the process actually works. Instead, it involves submitting a manuscript to a journal and suggesting reviewers. The manuscript is assigned to an editor, who then selects reviewers and sends the manuscript out for review. The reviewers generally don't try to replicate the results. They just comment on the manuscript and any supplemental materials that have been sup

        • Using the same dataset if it was published with the article would lead to manipulation of that dataset to meet the already decided upon conclusion. Taking the idea/theory and using an independent dataset is the only way to stop this.
          We've seen the results of this before from just about every lobby group with something they are trying to spin into something more positive , for ex Tobacco lobby, NRA, AGW, the list goes on. Marketting droids meet persons with personal agenda. Having no peer reviewed scien
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Peer reviews were never designed to allowed "others to replicate" ... Because in many cases to replicate the experiment is a multi-year, multi-million dollar venture. Peer reviews were designed to allow others to verify that the correct process was taken. No Averaging of Average, proper control and test groups are explained in the correct sizes to be mathematically valid.

      • Re:hoho (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @04:46PM (#53366839)

        You do realise that the idea of a peer review is for others to replicate the research and attempt to come to the same conclusions from their own datasets, right?

        No. This is wrong. I have peer reviewed nearly a hundred papers over my career, and I have never replicated the research. I read the paper, see if it makes sense, and if the conclusions are supported by the data. Sometimes I recommend the paper be rejected outright, sometimes I suggest revisions for clarification or completeness, sometimes I recommend that paper be published as-is. Typically I will spend a few hours to do the review, for research that would take a year or more to replicate.

        Peer-review can detect sloppy writing and incompetent research. It rarely catches outright fraud.

        • Re: hoho (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It depends on the field a little. We work in material science and about 2-3 times a year we will attempt to replicate work as part of our peer review of other's work. We have all the kit and can usually run a couple of experiments in a few days and have them analysed in house. Again, it depends on the field and the more general approach is as the parent poster outlines.

        • No. This is wrong. I have peer reviewed nearly a hundred papers over my career, and I have never replicated the research. I read the paper, see if it makes sense, and if the conclusions are supported by the data. Sometimes I recommend the paper be rejected outright, sometimes I suggest revisions for clarification or completeness, sometimes I recommend that paper be published as-is. Typically I will spend a few hours to do the review, for research that would take a year or more to replicate.

          As someone who's

      • You do realise that the idea of a peer review is for others to replicate the research

        If it was peer *replication* they wouldn't call it peer *review* would they, idiot?

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        do realise that the idea of a peer review is for others to replicate the research and attempt to come to the same conclusions from their own datasets, right?

        You are entirely wrong. That's simply not what "peer review" means. That's a step after peer review, which BTW almost never happens. Peer review is simply a methodology check: did this research use accepted best practices.

      • You do realise that the idea of a peer review is for others to replicate the research and attempt to come to the same conclusions from their own datasets, right?

        You literally just made that up, knew you were doing it, but didnt give a fuck that you were completely full of shit.

        You also thought everyone else was completely stupid? For fuck sakes.... never post again.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1) The review process isn't transparent. It's too easy for authors to submit fake reviewers or for reviewers to not disclose conflicts of interest.

      This is where a good journal has an editor that works their ass off trying their best to catch conflicts of interests and lazy reviewers. Most decent journals have a process for appealing bad reviews, and in my experience, the editors tend to pretty quickly ignore reviews that are lazy or conflict with the paper. The results aren't perfect, but most of the time work pretty well.

      2) Reviewers generally don't have access to data and tools to actually verify the quality of the research. It's too easy for fabricated results to get published.

      This depends on the journal, as more are now including data sets. I've had reviewers redo calculations in papers I've published,

      • Most decent journals have a process for appealing bad reviews, and in my experience, the editors tend to pretty quickly ignore reviews that are lazy or conflict with the paper.

        You say this like its a good thing. The only reviews that get appealed would be the ones that stop a paper from being published. No author is going to appeal a review that gets his/her paper published.

        The end result can only be more fake papers being published, not less.

    • by xtsigs ( 2236840 )

      4) Is it better to have a paper about a data set or the actual data set? Is it better to have a paper about a research tool or the actual research tool? Judge researchers based on the data and analysis tools they release, which is far more of a contribution to science.

      Occasionally, the other four points you make do happen, but this solution doesn't work any better than peer reviewing because there would still be, in your own words, "incentives to withhold data that might be contradictory to a hypothesis or that they can't explain yet." If recorded conferences (your point #3) were the standard instead of papers, the same corruptions in the process would (and do) plague the conferences.

    • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @07:34PM (#53367585)

      No, peer review is the part of the system we need to keep. Replace the journals with websites, and invite peer review on the site. Access problem solved, journal monopoly broken.

      • No, peer review is the part of the system we need to keep. Replace the journals with websites, and invite peer review on the site. Access problem solved, journal monopoly broken.

        You've literally described many journals, like PLoS One for example. It's a website, not a printed journal. Peer review is all done online. Invitations are sent out by email, though not via the web, bye the review is usually done via some system on the website.

        • Yes, things are moving that way, but there are still too many print journals still around that operate as high-priced monopolies. It's a matter of changing the culture one journal at a time.

      • Oh, you mean all editors were eliminated and it is only the printing press people who take it all and ASSUME they will ONLY get serious and up to level papers publishable as-is without further review? Can happen...
        • There is no need to 'eliminate' editors. Moving journals to websites will take away that primary argument in favor of money-grubbing monopoly, "It costs a lot to distribute small numbers of print issues with charts and illustrations to scattered college libraries..." This is easy to do on websites, and the savings will enable hiring some perfectly good editors from that putatively vast pool of underemployed academics out there.

  • "Journals" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2016 @04:09PM (#53366641)

    Try that with real science journals and see how far you get.

    Say...: The Analyst, Analytica Chimica Acta, Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry, Polyhedron, Acta Physica Polonica, Molecular Physics, Applied Optics...

    The problem here is what the media defines as "science". They don't really know what they are talking about.

    Like any scientist would take something called the "Journal of Clinical Research & Bioethics" seriously. Ha! You can tell by the name it is bogus and has nothing to do with real science.

    • Re:"Journals" (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2016 @04:34PM (#53366769)

      This. There are a massive number of journals that exist just to make money and pad researcher's CV. I get more than a dozen spam emails a week from these journals, plus another dozen plus spam emails from conferences that will accept anything. Besides journals that exist to make money, there are others created by psuedoscientists to publish their own papers that kept getting rejected elsewhere.

      Not all journals are equal, and you have to spend a bit of time to learn what is actually used in a field (the horror... it takes a time investment to understand something). The fake ones often try to pick rather formal sounding names, or names that are mishmashes of other well known journal names, making it confusing on purpose.

      I have to wonder how often these fake journals amount to anything within academia? How often are they cited outside of themselves? Having been on both sides of the interview process, I've seen that papers on a CV get actually read, so BS and pointless work gets called out. The bigger danger seems to be when people not familiar with a field cite it, or it gets used in a non-science news piece.

    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @10:19PM (#53368577) Journal

      Try that with real science journals and see how far you get.

      You missed the point.

      If you read even the SUMMARY of TFA, above, you'll see that the POINT was that the fake-journal operations are buying up REAL journals, with real reputations, and converting them into more pay-for-play fakes. (Their customers will no doubt be willing to pay even more for placement in a respected journal, before its reputation collapses.)

  • They are absurd. They exists purely for the purpose of acting as gateways to science, except they're largely privately owned, and often deeply corrupt.

    It's not helpful anymore. All the benefits of such a system can be achieved in far better ways in the modern era - peer review doesn't need a publishing system anymore, nor does statistical analysis, replication studies or metastudies.

    The closest thing to a remaining benefit would be reference count - but even that's a dubious statistic, since so many journ

    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @06:33PM (#53367337) Journal

      You've claimed repeatedly that something better can be done. I used to work in science and published a reasonable number of papers (and have reviewed considerably more). How much journals suck and how to make them better is a really popular pub topic among scientists.

      Turns out it's really hard and there are no easy solutions. So, instead of telling us how things ought to be better actually make a suggestion. Otherwise it's just abstract complaining about how things aren't good enough.

      • Several methods I can think of. First, just leave the printing stage off, let any libraries that find that important just print off their own copies, and remove that excuse for high fees. That's like version 0.01.

        After that, you can experiment (which is sort of being done) with proper reputation systems to replace the "we're a big organization with $X, no one else can play" model. Sure - the big organizations would still dominate most of those, and scoring 'points' in such a system would still require mo

        • Several methods I can think of. First, just leave the printing stage off, let any libraries that find that important just print off their own copies, and remove that excuse for high fees. That's like version 0.01.

          All journals are available electronically for less than the paper copies. Professionally edited ones like Nature are always going to to cover the costs of staff. Other than that, many journals are now open access or allow open access papers to be published there. The latter since it's now a require

      • You've claimed repeatedly that something better can be done. I used to work in science and published a reasonable number of papers (and have reviewed considerably more). How much journals suck and how to make them better is a really popular pub topic among scientists.

        Turns out it's really hard and there are no easy solutions. So, instead of telling us how things ought to be better actually make a suggestion. Otherwise it's just abstract complaining about how things aren't good enough.

        You want a solution? Fine.

        The solution we all strive for is actually pretty damn simple. To create it, ensure an organization devoted to publishing truth and fact is well insulated from the greedy corrupt world we live in today, and is backed by those who demand a validated peer-reviewed process as a mandatory step prior to publication.

        And yes, the world is greedy and corrupt. You sure as hell don't need another study to prove how greedy and corrupt it is, nor do you need a study done to validate what ca

        • You're confusing science journals with journalism it seems. But it's good that you have an angry opinion about a field it appears you are completely unfamiliar with. Go you!

        • You know, one theoretical solution to all problems of greed and corruption is to take hypothetical competent humans of known utter honesty and put them in charge. The trick is (a) ensuring that there are such people, and (b) figuring out who they are. Election through the Electoral College seems to not quite work.

          While you're figuring out those things, the rest of us will try to improve the real world.

      • For almost 4 years I was the director of what I like to refer to as a "software sweat shop" on the campus of a major university. Because of our generated revenue, my disliked boss was guaranteed tenure with the only requirement being that we publish six papers during those 3 years. We didn't have much to publish on other than case studies of end users and prognostications of the future of computers in ecology. If it weren't for lame journals I would have had to have devoted much more effort to getting ou
  • by Anonymous Coward

    For those not familiar with it, back in the mid-90s there was the Sokal Hoax [wikipedia.org]

  • Now every man must come at times to the aid of the party through the general precept that ethical behavior demands support of the community. It is by reason of erroneous reasoning of this kind that we become unjust and in general evil, or worse, slytherins;

    That's gold baby. GOLD!

  • Fake News (Score:5, Informative)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @05:50PM (#53367175) Journal

    If you read the article closely, you'll learn that fake journals publish fake research papers. What a surprise.

    Let's see him get his phony paper published in Nature, Annals of Mathematics or the Reviews of Modern Physics. Then we'll have something to talk about.

    This is just another story from the hard Right (National Post was started by Canadian con-man Conrad Black) which seeks to convince people that you can't trust those crafty scientists so it can make it easier to get the yokels to believe whatever garbage they want them to believe.

    • Canadian con-man Conrad Black

      I feel I must rectify. You actually mean: "British con-man Conrad Black".

      He hasn't been Canadian for 15 years (and good riddance too, why they let him back in is a mystery to me).

      • I feel I must rectify. You actually mean: "British con-man Conrad Black".

        He hasn't been Canadian for 15 years (and good riddance too, why they let him back in is a mystery to me).

        So I guess that means he finally got out of Federal prison. I know they sent him away for four years for fraud, but I don't remember him getting out or where he went. I'm surprised that as a convicted felon he was able to immigrate. I'm surprised anyone accepted him.

    • If you read the article closely, you'll learn that fake journals publish fake research papers. What a surprise.

      Let's see him get his phony paper published in Nature, Annals of Mathematics or the Reviews of Modern Physics. Then we'll have something to talk about...

      Speaking of discussion, one would think that such a controversial topic as climate change would warrant said organizations to devote some time and resources to it, and publish the facts to quiet or alarm the masses once and for all.

      Oh wait. Nevermind. Seems the problem more lies in believing said organizations.

  • by Lorens ( 597774 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @06:24PM (#53367307) Journal

    "If they do otherwise y are blamed," -- y was not defined beforehand, nor was x... But Y?

    "for example the sort of actions which people in a prisoner-of-war camp have been force to perform." -- Use the Force! English conjugations are so freaking difficult!

    "What sort of acts, we must ask, should be we call compulsory?" -- I didn't find the sentence in which he accidentally a whole verb, but I did find where the verb ended up!

    "It is by reason of erroneous reasoning of this kind that we become unjust and in general evil, or worse, slytherins" -- Aristotle . . . was he in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw?

    "for who would bear fardles unless the person who does not understand these acts involuntarily?" -- and some editors should fall upon their bodkins

    "But that is a topic for another day." -- This is probably the only sentence which is good enough for a fourth-grade paper . . . not good enough to get a good mark, of course.

  • Perhaps it's time for reputable publishers and the academic community to get together and agree on some minimal standards about what it means to be a "reputable journal" or a "reputable publisher."

  • by WorBlux ( 1751716 ) on Sunday November 27, 2016 @12:25PM (#53371507)
    If the tides were turned.
    If California were Red...
    And Wyoming Blue...
    Jeff Bezzon's Puppet
    The WA-post paper
    Would sing high praises
    Of the that old bargin
    The Connecticut Compromise

    You see no politician has true principles, except for the principle of seeking more power.
  • In this age of near-universal Internet access, all scholarly research should be online - and free.

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