Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Pseudoscience R Us

Louis Vuitton. Scholarly Publishing.  They might want to grab coffee and compare notes.

It's no secret the realm of questionable parenting news and advice keeps growing. It might surprise you to know the realm of questionable scientific findings also keeps growing. For a hefty fee pretty much anyone can get a study published these days. Thanks to the Internet, the "open access" model of scientific publishing and some shady entrepreneurs the public has access to even more pseudo-scientific claims than ever before. Welcome to the dark side of scholarly publishing:
The number of these [author-pay] journals and conferences has exploded in recent years as scientific publishing has shifted from a traditional business model for professional societies and organizations built almost entirely on subscription revenues to open access, which relies on authors or their backers to pay for the publication of papers online, where anyone can read them. Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too), New York Times
How much money? Sometimes thousands of dollars or thousands more than it costs to have a study published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal (i.e. how much an adjunct gets paid for teaching one course).  

Often the pseudo-science journals are published online where everybody and their favorite mommy blogger looking for supporting evidence can read it for free. No need to charge readers when the authors (e.g., the grad students, the post-docs, the untenured professors) have already forked over limited stipends and grant money to have their work "published."

So plentiful are journals of ill-repute someone started a blacklist of predatory research journals.  I'd like to think this list hangs on every lab wall right next to the other sites naughty studies go (e.g. Retraction Watch, The Psych File Drawer, the floppy disks in my attic), the purgatories of academic publishing.

It gets better. Not only is there a blacklist of bad publishers but a counterfeit journal ring according to a special report in Nature, yes, a reputable science news source.  Journal of Pediatricks, anyone? New Englands Journals of Medicine? Louis Vuitton's copy cat problems pale in comparison. Who cares about a few faux leather goods when we got seedy journals confusing and preying on researchers, public health officials and journalists trying to keep the public well-informed?

I'd take the fake bag any day over the fake journal even if it means a month of Brazilian bikini waxes and mani-pedis to go with it. What about you?


geekylabmom said...

The predatory journals are bad, but more from the "people believe the crap they read here" perspective than worrying about the legitimacy of the journal if you plan to publish there. We know which open access journals are peer-reviewed, and which are reputable, as a rule. At least in my field.

So it's the people reading the stuff from the predatory and not-peer-reveiwed online journals that worry me.

That said, I'm entirely pro-open-access, to the point where I'm going to avoid any journal that's not public access for my own publications. Because the public should have access to the real science without going through a paywall.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your insight, geeklabmom. I hear you on the fierce paywall but do are there many well-regarded open-access journals in your field?

It seems more traditional journals are giving open-access a nod by putting some articles online for free but I welcome more access. It seems ridiculous that a single journal article costs more than a hard-cover book even when the article isn't new. That just doesn't seem right.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Geekylabmom, you ever go to Retraction Watch?

Barbara TherExtras said...


"the purgatories of academic publishing"

Good one, Polly.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Barbara, couple years in parochial school...

Kiwi Mama said...

One would hope that people would be smart enough to spot blatant counterfeit sites (Journal of Pediatricks? C'mon people, the name even looks dodgy!), it's the pseudo-science journals and publications that concern me the most. By all means, have as much information available as possible but please, do NOT try and pass it off as legitimate research or scientifically based. That's my two cents anyways.

Barbara TherExtras said...

So the concept of purgatory is only taught in parochial schools? Possibly. Stupidly.

Religion is a cultural concept & should not be kept from public education. A different topic, I know.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Barbara, would be a shame if only the Catholics got to think about purgatory. So useful in thinking about matters besides sin. Always fascinated by Limbo too...

Ah different topic indeed, are you suggesting another post? Not sure I'm gonna touch that with a ten-foot....a....a...papal scepter..