First Santa’s Little Helper gets a credit card, now Maggie Simpson has been published in not one but two scientific journals. And yes, it’s the Maggie Simpson who has been an infant in a blue onesie with a bow in her hair since 1989.
The paper, titled ““Fuzzy”, Homogeneous Configurations” lists Margaret Simpson, Kim Jong Fun and Edna Krabappel and its authors, but it was actually written by SCIgen, a program that randomly generates Computer Science research papers complete with graphs, figures, and even citations. According to the website, “it uses a hand-written context-free grammar to form all elements of the papers” with an eye towards amusement over coherence.
For engineer Alex Smolyanitsky, SCIgen was a way to expose a pair of scientific journals, the “Journal of Computational Intelligence and Electronic Systems” and the “Aperito Journal of NanoScience Technology.” Both are notorious predatory journals — journals that spam scientists with offers to publish their work for a fee without the challenge of passing a peer review. He added authenticity (of sorts) to the submission by adding an affiliation, the nonexistent Belford University.
It’s sort of funny that a paper with two obviously fake authors was readily accepted by two “scientific” journals, but it’s also incredibly worrying.
Smolyanitsky’s stunt highlights the problem of dubious publishers. The problem can be traced to the early 2000s with the advent of the first open access journals that promoted free access to research and used fees from its published authors to stay afloat. There are legitimate open access journals out there like PLOS ONE that use a peer review system, but there are many others that only appear legitimate to scam a processing fee from scientists keen for a publication credit.
Ultimately, these predatory publishers allow researchers to artificially build their resumes while making things more difficult for legitimate researchers (they’re forced to wade through useless papers). Scientists can now get away with half-baked work, which as Homer Simpson says is the American way, while those behind the journals are left channeling Dr. Nick Riviera: “The most rewarding part was when he gave me my money.”
But jokes aside, it makes for a black day for science publishing when good science isn’t the most important part.
IMAGES: 20th Century Fox; Alex Smolyanitsky