In theory, the peer review process combines many of science’s best ideals. It’s collaborative, additive, and rigorous. But a lot of times, maybe most of the time, it falls apart. And so-called predatory journals are a big part of the problem. They publish papers in exchange for a fee, and all they have to do to keep everyone happy is have a science-y name and look legit.
That’s why engineer Alex Smolyanitsky was able to publish “Fuzzy, Homogeneous Configurations” by co-authors Maggie Simpson, Edna Krabappel, and Kim Jong Fun in two smart-sounding journals: the Journal of Computational Intelligence and Electronic Systems and the Aperito Journal of Nanoscience Technology. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Even journals that attempt to maintain high standards have problems with things like fraudulent peer review rings and lack of proofreading, but predatory journals will basically publish anything, and that’s damaging. Many reporters and scientists like Smolyanitsky have intentionally caught journals in the act by submitting phony papers to expose how lax the standards are. And this tactic has (unfortunately) become an important tool for ferreting out scam journals.
The text of the Simpson, et al. paper wasn’t even coherent. Smolyanitsky just used a bunch of jargon from the text generator SCIgen. Come on. Smolyanitsky told Vox, “I wanted first and foremost to come up with something that gives out the fake immediately,” he said. “My only regret is that the second author isn’t Ralph Wiggum.”