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Tracking fake science journals that don't play by the rules

Bradley Allf, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in Science & Technology News

“If articles aren't being peer-reviewed then we don't know for sure if this is good research,” Berryman said. “One article, off the top of my head, said that 5G causes COVID — like spontaneous growth of COVID in the body.”

That ludicrous article was published in a predatory journal and its results were shared thousands of times on social media and even made it onto the Austin-based conspiracy theory website Infowars.

If a group wants to spread disinformation, predatory journals allow anyone to launder disinformation through a mill that turns a loony idea into a scientifically verified fact — or at least something that appears that way.

To combat the problem of fake science, what Berryman does for Cabells is sort out the wheat from the chaff—the “real” journals from the impostors — by analyzing their website for signs of predatory practices. This allows the scientists and libraries that subscribe to their service to know whether or not a journal is legitimate.

“We’re like the journal police,” she said.

It’s not just Cabells that’s fighting back against these scammers, however. Scientists themselves are taking the law into their own hands by deliberately submitting nonsense to suspected predatory journals to prove that the publications don’t practice peer review.

 

Josh Gunn, a professor of communication studies at the University of Texas, submitted one such paper to the "Open Access Library Journal” when the journal wouldn’t stop pestering him with emails. Gunn’s article is written using convincingly sounding academic jargon, but is utter gibberish.

One characteristically opaque line reads: “ … we embody the existential peripheries of our de-material freaked archival existence, such as the tautological utopian exigence of the Pope ‘on’ Twitter.”

Despite the obvious flaws, the journal quickly published the paper. Gunn repeated the stunt a year later with a different predatory journal. Upon publication, he was asked to wire hundreds of dollars via Western Union to somewhere in Bangladesh — something he declined to do.

While Gunn’s article was meant to be silly, he said other articles published in these journals “could result in the loss of life,” if people accepted potentially incorrect information as truth.

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