PSA: Fake Academic Journals

We in the science and skeptic community value peer-reviewed, scientific journal articles as being a reasonably high quality source of evidence and science. We use these articles to make a point, to inform our decisions, and to keep abreast of the current consensus and state of the science for a particular topic. In this day of easy digital publishing, we are seeing an increasing number of low quality, or fake, academic journals. This is not a new problem, but it is one which is growing significantly.

I had been aware of this before, Mr. Dunning did a bit on it in Skeptoid episode 50, but it’s now gaining much broader exposure. A recent article in the New York Times, by  Gina Kolata, brings the subject to national attention. This is a big concern science, media, and especially us skeptical folks. Since many of us aren’t primary research scientists and certainly not experts in all relevant fields, we are left with little choice but to trust the science done by those who are experts. We further are in a position where we rely on peer review and quality journals to further separate good quality science from poor quality science.

What is a layperson, like myself, to do when trying to find good evidence amongst all the dross? Unsurprisingly, help can be found with academic librarians, specifically, Jeffrey Beall. Mr. Beall runs a blog called Scholarly Open Access, in which he discusses issues relating to and about academic journals. He specifically calls out journals and authors engaged in questionable activities. It’s a fascinating read and I encourage you to check it out. The journal Nature even published an article highlighting the issues surrounding questionable journals in this age of cheap and easy publishing.

The takeaway from all this is to continue to be skeptical of all things, even the sources of evidence one might turn to as an aid for skeptical inquiry. Always verify your sources, double-check your references, and look for multiple, independent sources of confirmation for your position.

About Mike Weaver

Husband, father, skeptic, technologist, motorcyclist, hunter, outdoors-man, and evil genius. I am formally trained in computer science, physics, mathematics, and emergency medicine (paramedic, former).
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3 Responses to PSA: Fake Academic Journals

  1. Josh DeWald says:

    The worst thing is when you think you’ve checked your sources, but you still “fall for” a quack study or it turns out the study has been fully rebutted in the scientific literature (or other skeptical websites).

  2. Jim says:

    You know what kind of a moneymaker a journal is? Some charge for submissions and the rest receive them for free (the content), none pay their peer reviewers (their editors), most are not open-access – they charge exorbitant rates to universities and companies for their subscriptions. A real journal is a hindrance to good science as much as it’s a help.
    None of that is an argument for fake journals, but it is call for change. All journals should be open-access and they should pay reviewers. Their massive profits should go back into research – not into their own private pockets.

  3. Mud says:

    I don’t agree with Jim’s assesment but literature is expensive as it does come in swathes rather than individual selected (and relevant) library subscriptions as it was in the medieval times we call those before the late 90’s.

    Now as to trusting journal literature, Brian emphasised that a good deal of literature (especially amongst the non sciences) isnt appropriately dealt with respect to the casual reader.

    For a start, journal access has never been generally available to the casual reader and garbage science may have got a foothold during the heady days of electronic referencing but…garbage science tends to stand out.

    I would direct my all to my heated exchange on garbage science and pseudo science in Brians Californian Naturopathic registration.

    Look, you live in an age where you can get better (much better) access to literature than I ever dreamed of at the start of my career in the mid seventies..

    Sure, I even came across absolute bollocks when I was a student. Get used to it, get a bit more savvy.

    To date I have read Josh’s work on replete science interpretation. Its been great.

    To be caught by a shamateur is no shame in your learning curve. I propose that Josh admitting he had been caught is pretty common. I was pretty hung up on some dubious chromatography (5 months of wasted time)’ when I was much younger.

    This folks came from a “reliable” journal and nearly wasted my only shot at an honours degree. There in lies the shame that students can lose award and rotten testing is viewed as science.

    I am not sure how often I have ranted about the mind numbing amount of poor evidence based testing on Brians skeptoid comments and here. Brian maybe able to provide a rant spreadsheet that includes me.

    So, if you are commenting on EB, go the throat, do that little trivial amount of stats to ensure that the paper you quote has a real result worthy of a conclusion and an abstract.

    Never mindlessly quote from the text irrelevant to…the conclusion. I note that many commenters quote things in the body text that are unsupportable, loosely quoted in passing (ie the introduction), not directly assimilated and appropriately quoted or plainly “just filler”.

    Now my skeptical delusion? I still have no confidence in RTMS on electrochemical grounds and plain old physics…Bugger the medical application..

    Mind you, it looks like big business!

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