Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cogent Spam and, while we are at it, ARTOAJ spam

In the last two weeks several of the blogs I read have discussed an attempted 'hoax' publication that aimed to repeat for gender studies what Alan Sokal did for postmodern cultural studies in general when he made up a nonsense paper and got it published in a well-respected journal catering to that field. In the present case, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay made up a deliberately nonsensical paper on the "conceptual penis as a social construct", but that is where the parallels end.

It seems as if they first submitted it to a relatively low ranking journal, were actually rejected, and then got it published in an even more obscure and, crucially, pay-to-play journal called Cogent Social Sciences. They then immediately went public explaining their hoax and declaring, "we suspected that gender studies is crippled academically by an overriding almost-religious belief that maleness is the root of all evil. On the evidence, our suspicion was justified". However, many people immediately pointed out it is not as easy as that.

They also, and actually first, discuss the problem of crappy pay-to-play journals, but as has been discussed elsewhere, we don't really get to use this experiment to prove two potential reasons why the paper was published at the same time. If it was published because Cogent Social Sciences is such a low quality journal that it will accept anything, then the stunt proves nothing about gender studies as a whole. Conversely, if the paper was published because the field of gender studies has no standards except the requirement to see maleness as evil, then it proves nothing about crappy publishers.

More concerning, however, seems to be the discussion that the 'hoax' has spawned. From a feminist perspective I have seen a blog post and an essay that both argued that the people celebrating it as a success can only be motivated by a hatred of feminism and a fear of women in power. I am not really sure where that comes from; the possibility should at least be entertained that the underlying motivation is the one that is stated, i.e. being fed up with postmodernist gibberish and the politicisation of academia.

On the other hand, I found it really frustrating how many people who are supposedly rationalists, skeptics, and generally science-savvy do not appear to understand at all the problem of crappy pay-to-play journals. Over and over, even in comments under articles that explained in detail what is going on here, people would write something to the effect of "but a social science journal accepted it, so there". Argh. If some guy operated a website called International Journal of Evolutionary Biology Research out of his garage, and a creationist paid him $200 in publication fee to get a nonsensical paper posted on that website, would that show that all of evolutionary biology is nonsense? Quite so. Then why the failure to appreciate the same problem in this case? Blind tribalism?

I was a bit torn at first when I had a look at the Cogent Open Access website myself. It looks much more professional than most obscure pay-to-play publishers I have seen so far, and I could at that moment not remember them spamming. Then again, I also never heard of that publisher before. Looking into a few papers they published in an area that I can judge I was not exactly overwhelmed, but okay. Just a few days ago, however, on some whim I looked into my junk mail folder, and what would I see but a spam eMail from Cogent Biology?

Again, it is not the worst I have seen, but let's count the ways in which it raises red flags for me:
  1. Well, first of all, it is a spam message, randomly soliciting papers from huge numbers of researchers who did not sign up to receive these message. This is not a practice generally associated with serious publishers.
  2. Promise of quick review and, in particular, suprisingly fast publication after acceptance.
  3. Suspiciously broad scope of the journal.
  4. Bragging about being 'indexed' in services that either are the usual suspects, or I have never heard of, or are mere utterly non-discriminating search engines like Google Scholar, as if any of that were a mark of quality.
  5. Unprofessional random bolding, italicisation, and colouring of words across the text of the message.
Add "greetings of the day!" and two more font colours and it would be utterly standard for the field. In other words, this clinches it, at least for me: I think publishing the 'hoax' paper in Cogent Social Sciences demonstrates absolutely nothing about gender studies (and nothing that we didn't already know about publishing).

Note, by the way, that the two following statements are completely independent:
  • This so-called hoax was a dud, and the people who celebrate it either don't understand its problems or exhibit a disconcerting failure of skepticism.
  • Gender studies as currently practiced is largely bollocks.
It is entirely possible to believe both at the same time, although personally I do not consider myself qualified to have an opinion on the second statement. More to the point, even if the second statement could be proved beyond doubt, it would not at all disprove the first. It is curious how many people do not seem to appreciate that, as they appear to try to demonstrate the success of the hoax by pointing at completely different papers that they also consider ridiculous.


While on the topic of science spam, on Monday I received a particularly hilarious instance:
Good Morning.....!
What a professional salutation.
Can we have your article for successful release of Volume 6 Issue 5 in our Journal?
Wait, what article are you talking about, specifically? Also: no.
In fact, we are in need of one article to accomplish the Issue prior 10th June; we hope that the single manuscript should be yours. If this is a short notice please do send 2 page opinion/mini review/case report, we hope 2 page article isn't time taken for eminent people like you.
So basically: send us whatever you want, we just want stuff!
Your trust in my efforts is the highest form of our motivation, 
Gibberish alert!
I believe in you that you are eminent manuscript brings out the best citation to our Journal.
I believe in you that you are poor at constructing English sentences. And this is just beautiful: they come right out and say that this is about what is best for their randomly capitalised "Journal" as opposed to what is best for science or the author. Ye gods.
Anticipate for your promising response.
Ding! Gibberish!
Sophia Mathis
If that is really the name of the author of that message I will eat my hat.
Agricultural Research & Technology: Open Access Journal (ARTOAJ)
The names keep getting more ridiculous. I guess all the good ones are taken? Now for the finale:
*Note: Wanna get more citations for your articles publish with us as i-books, e-books & Videos.
"Wanna". Somebody thought they could emulate what a serious academic publisher would write and they came up with "wanna get more citations". The mind reels.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for your post. I got the same email from the unkonw International Journal of Cell Science & Molecular Biology. I'm not a native english speaker but I was intrigued by the sentence "I believe in you that you are eminent manuscript brings out the best citation to our Journal". Now I know it's a hoax