LiteratEye #18: Fakers Find Flaws in Open-Access Free-for-All

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Pranks

Here’s the eighteenth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #18: Fakers Find Flaws in Open-Access Free-for-All
By W.J. Elvin III
June 19, 2009

In this section, we discuss existing research into red-black trees, vacuum tubes, and courseware [10]. On a similar note, recent work by Takahashi suggests a methodology for providing robust modalities, but does not offer an implementation [9].

– Excerpted from a heap of gibberish accepted for publication by a well-known science journal. As this column explains, the promise of the “open access” movement in scientific and scholarly journals is not without problems.

russiatodayWho owns knowledge? One way to get a clue is to try to access research papers published in expensive, exclusive scientific and scholarly journals. Can’t do it with a simple Google search. To pick that lock, you’ll need a credit card.

However, the open access movement is changing that.

The open access movement strives to make scientific and scholarly studies available to all, free. That’s the bottom line. Naturally there’s a more complicated explanation, so, if you want to explore the finer points, check out the Open Access Overview.

Anyway, what a great idea, specialized knowledge accessible to all, minus the usual sky-high price tag.

And you figure these big-hearted publishers of elite and prestigious journals that have been raking in astronomical subscription prices and hefty pay-per-view fees are just opening the gates to the rabble?

Sort of.

What they’re doing is compensating for lost subscription revenue by charging the authors big bucks to get their stuff into the publications that count in their fields. The authors – academic and scientific researchers – are captives of a “publish or perish” institutional or corporate environment. What choice have they got but to pay some big whopping APC or “article processing charge”?

Well, they do have a choice in many cases. They can pass the “APC” on to the corporations and institutions they serve, because those outfits derive great publicity benefits from their published work. So it may well be a deep-pockets big-budget corporation – Pfizer pharmaceuticals, for instance – or a university or other research entity that actually foots the bill presented to the author.

Often there’s not a lot of oversight of the process, so you might have situations where less than scrupulous publishers print any cockamamie thing offered, so long as the author, or the author’s bankrollers, pays the price.

To test that possibility, pranksters have sent blatantly bogus research papers to the publishers of scholarly or scientific journals. And in some cases the junk was accepted – with an APC price tag, of course.

The most recent exposure of problems in the field came a few weeks ago when Philip Davis of the Scholarly Kitchen blog teamed up with Kent Anderson of The New England Journal of Medicine. They submitted a completely nonsensical manuscript to The Open Information Science Journal, a product of Bentham Science Publishers. The paper’s purported sponsor was the Center for Research in Applied Phrenology (CRAP).

The paper, Deconstructing Access Points, was actually generated by SCIgen, a program developed by MIT students to produce spoof documents that look great and say nothing.

SCIgen has been used by hoaxers around the world in submitting prank papers for publication in specialized journals or in response to calls for papers to be presented at specialized conferences. According to RussiaToday web site, a Russian scientific magazine actually printed one such hoax, Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy.

Bentham, an international firm publishing a couple of hundred journals having to do with chemistry, medicine, pharmacology and other specialized areas, accepted the bogus paper – based on “peer review,” they declared – and requested an $800 APC fee. The money was to be sent to an address in Saudi Arabia, “as soon as possible to avoid further delay in publication.” (Fees up to $3,000 have been asked of authors seeking to get their work published).

Have the hoaxes accomplished anything? The stunt aimed at Bentham resulted in the resignation of their top editor, Bambang Parmento. He departed blaming Bentham’s internal processing. He also slammed the hoaxers for unethical behavior.

Well, there are some despicable forms of entrapment loose in this world, but a harmless prank exposing a potentially harmful practice hardly qualifies. Suppose the submitters had been malevolent? Suppose they’d concocted research that, when replicated, would cause serious harm?

One benefit, certainly, is that the hoaxes have helped spread the idea among scholars and scientists of starting their own quality-controlled journals.

Trucking around through sites with posts by scientists and scholars is not always the most energizing activity, but I did run across one intriguing location. The author claims his paper – more a photo essay – was accepted for presentation at a conference sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE. The entry is titled: A Statistical Method For Women That Can Help Our Sexual Education.

In the interest of accurate reporting, I have checked and rechecked the material allegedly accepted by IEEE. There is no mistake. The entry consists almost entirely of photos of naked women.

photo: Russia Today

(Copyright 2009 WJE, exclusive to The Art of the Prank, for reprint rights contact

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