Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This science spam is getting ridiculous

There was a time when all the spam e-mails I received were the normal, mundane kind, advertising sildenafil citrate, websites supposedly showing pictures or movies of people without their clothes, bargain watches, and of course deals on the lines of "I am the widow of a Nigerian banker and I will send you $4 million if you send me $10,000 first".

That changed, if I am not mistaken, when I participated in one specific conference in 2011. The organizers must have put the details of all participants, including their work e-mail addresses, onto the web and from there they must have ended up in the mailing lists of scientific spammers. This type of spam has been mentioned on this blog before - e-mails inviting the recipient to register for some for-profit conference or a predatory for-profit online only journal. The latter are more often than not willing to "publish" whatever nonsense you send them in exchange for a fee. The blog Scholarly Open Access helpfully documents their dubious practices, including a recent not entirely surprising case in which an open access journal simply disappeared, deleting all the articles authors had paid for to get "published" there. Really, don't waste your manuscripts on outfits like these.

Anyway, I feel that these spam e-mails are getting ever more frequent and stupider. Here are just three from the last few days, indeed two of them appeared in my inbox only today.

This is, I hasten to point out, the most professional-looking of them all. Still, the new journal they advertise is the "Journal of Genetics Study", which is nice in a way because you do not have to look further than the title to realize that you are not dealing with serious publishers. Of course, the entire text of the e-mail is just as bad. Would you trust somebody who writes like that to assess papers for publication? Their submission system appears to be called "Submit Manuscript", and the new journal "employs an anonymous peer review process, where the referee remains anonymous throughout the process". Great. I will employ a no-manuscript-submission policy towards Herbert Publications, where I will not submit any manuscripts to any of their journals.

Doesn't this second e-mail just look awfully professional? Lilac script with highlights in two different shades of blue, arbitrary spacing between words, arbitrarily chosen words in bold, awkward English, bombastic choice of words, obvious appeal to the narcissism of the reader...

I seriously wonder what the "high impact index 3.12" is that they are writing about. As far as I can tell that journal simply does not have an actual impact factor with Thompson Reuters, so maybe they refer to some self-invented measure that they designed to sound similar to the IF? It would not be entirely surprising; many of these predatory open access publishers do, after all, have a strategy of naming their journals in a way that is sneakily similar to the names of well regarded and serious periodicals. If there is a very renowned "Journal of Botany", they will for example found a for-profit online only journal and call it "Journal of Botany Research" in the hope that some inexperienced young researcher will confuse the two and submit their manuscript to the latter. Perhaps the "impact index" is a similar idea?

This third e-mail offers a perfect example of the naming strategy mentioned above. There is a serious journal called Phytotherapy Research, so why not simply glue two additional words to the front to give yourself a legit-sounding name?

The layout of the e-mail is the funniest of the three, of course. If I have counted correctly, it uses six different font colors, and everything is in bold. Note also the erratic placement of asterisks, spacers and punctuation. All the more surprising then that the writer showed a lot of restraint with regard to font sizes and completely avoided the use of all caps. Still, I would break off contact if an acquaintance ever sent me such an e-mail, reasonably assuming that somebody with a mind like that is capable of anything. As an invitation to submit a manuscript it defies all description.

How does that work as a business model? Does anybody who is intelligent enough to write a manuscript without trying to eat the keyboard really take an invitation like this serious enough to consider submitting said manuscript in the advertised journal? Then again, there are apparently also people who send their money to the "widow of the Nigerian banker"...


  1. If you ever were the corresponding author on a peer-reviewed paper, or otherwise had your email address revealed to something that is available through the PubMed, then that is the explanation. That is the address source of countless spammers targeting the scientific audience.

  2. The thing is, I had published quite a few papers before the spamming started, that is why I connect it with the conference. But perhaps it is simply that the spamming is getting worse every year and 2011 was when I noticed the difference.