Hoax: a crazy hilarious paper in a predatory journal

UPDATE: See this Twitter thread by the author for his hilarious interaction with the journal, including the “reviews”.

____________

This paper, pointed out earlier today by my Chicago colleague Brian Leiter, highlights one of the scandals of scientific publishing: predatory journals that will publish anything, allowing researchers to inflate their c.v.s while the journal rakes in outrageous “publication fees.”

The upside is that the paper is fricking hilarious, and so transparently nonscientific that it’s amazing that even an abysmal journal would publish it. Perhaps they don’t care—perhaps all they want is the dosh. But this paper is the result. Click on the screenshot below to go to the paper. Download it quickly, for I have a feeling it will be gone soon. . .

(If it disappears, you can always get a pdf from yours truly.)

Behold: “What’s the Deal with Birds?”

I mean, if the abstract and keywords don’t give it anyway, somebody’s asleep at the wheel:

Abstract

Many people wonder: what’s the deal with birds? This is a common query. Birds are pretty weird. I mean, they have feathers. WTF? Most other animals don’t have feathers. To investigate this issue, I looked at some birds. I looked at a woodpecker, a parrot, and a penguin. They were all pretty weird! In conclusion, we may never know the deal with birds, but further study is warranted.

Keywords:

birds, ornithology, behavior, phenotype, WTF, genomics, climate change

Remember, this is not a joke journal; it’s one that pretends to be serious. Here are a few tidbits (be sure you read the acknowledgments at the end of the paper):

 

And Figure 1, which is lovely.  Remember, the journal is presenting this as peer-reviewed and solid scientific work (well, clearly this one wasn’t peer-reviewed as it was received March 25, and published April 1!).

 

Given the publication date, could this be an April Fool’s paper? No, I don’t think so. The journal isn’t available through my library (of course), but the journal’s table of contents, which you can see, gives no indication that the paper is a hoax. Instead, the journal appears to be a repository for crap papers in all sorts of fields from authors all over the world. In fact, I just saw on Twitter this note from another biologist, Andrew Burchill, that Baldassarre telegraphed his intentions before he submitted “What’s the deal with birds?”.  (Note that, in my own tweet, the hoax paper was regarded as “sensitive content”!):

Greg did a bit of Googling and came up with what’s indented below:

Here’s the link to the publisher’s website– it’s a real hoot!
A statement of “Publication Ethics”!!
It’s not written by a fluent English-speaker. A sample sentence:
We want the outcome of integrity meeting integrity to be compounding source of factual information that will help the world become a better place.
And this (I suspect it’s the opposite of what they intended, but it’s nonetheless oddly fitting.):
Authors should ensure that the manuscript they’ve submitted to us should be under review anywhere else.
They claim to be based in San Francisco. I wouldn’t put money on it.

 

Science is loaded with these kinds of predatory journals; I get invitations to publish in them all the time, often in journals way outside my field, like microbiology or even obstetrics! Maybe if scientists kept loading them up with hoax papers like this one, it would hasten their demise.

By the way, the author’s name, Daniel T. Baldassarre, sounds like a hoax name, too, but he’s a real biologist, an assistant professor of zoology at the State University New York at Oswego, as he correctly notes in the paper’s header. (I’ve put his photo below).

Daniel Baldassare

One final remark. In the “grievance studies affair“, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, and especially Peter Boghossian got into big trouble for “hoaxing” humanities journals with equally ludicrous papers.  Baldassarre won’t get into trouble (and shouldn’t), for his paper is in a clearly predatory journal.  But what’s the difference between a predatory scientific journal that will publish nonsense and humanities journals like Fat Studies or Gender, Place & Culture that publish nonsense but also purport to be venues for serious research? In effect, they both do the same thing: help researchers fatten their c.v.s with worthless research. Why should Boghossian et al. be excoriated for exposing the same kind of crappy journal standards that Baldassarre did?

Anything that exposes this kind of academic garbage, including clear hoax papers, is to be applauded, so long as the hoaxes are revealed (as they were with the Grievance Studies Trio) or are so palpably ridiculous (as with Baldassarre’s paper) that they couldn’t be anything other than a hoax.

h/t: Greg Mayer

73 Comments

  1. DrBrydon
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like a lab report I wrote in high school.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      I hope you meant elementary school. 😎

  2. Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Hilarious way to draw attention to a real problem. I hope it works (drawing attention). I hope it didn’t cost him too much, though.

  3. Warren Johnson
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    You missed a great part:

    Acknowledgements

    We thank Big Bird from Sesame Street for comments on the manuscript. Several trained monkeys transcribed videos.

  4. Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm. Publish date is April 1. Did we get fooled?

    • Laura
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      That does seem like more than coincidence, but I would hope a science journal would be serious enough not to permanently publish an April fool’s joke. Does the writer get to choose the date their submission is published? I really hope it’s a hoax, though. I can’t stop laughing at the fact that WTF is listed as a keyword.

      • Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        See my emendation above; the author tweeted his intentions to write this paper before he submitted it. And no, I don’t know of ANY journal where you can choose when they publish your paper. Even predatory journals.

  5. ChrisKG
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Published April 1st….hmmm….why is that date familiar?

    • Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Read the post. There is no indication that this is an April Fool paper. The author has no control about when it’s published.

      • ChrisKG
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Well, that’s just “bird-fishy”.

  6. Michael Scullin
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Please note publication date.

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Jerry did comment on the 1st April point.

      • Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        I’ve added more, and I’ll contact the author if people keep badgering me about this in the comments!

  7. Barry Lyons
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    It appears that this article IS a hoax (also see the comments on this tweet):

    • merilee
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      “…they agreed my words…”
      Hilarious!

  8. Daniel Stowens
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    There’s a legitimate “journal” – the Journal of Irreproducible Results – wonder why this wasn’t published there. The JIR’s been around since the 50s (NO, the 1950s, silly) and has some wonderful stuff in its archives.

  9. alexander
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    If you look at the list of editors associated with Iris Publishers, there is only one who could have known the meaning of WFT, and he probably hasn’t seen the manuscript.

    https://irispublishers.com/editor-in-chief.php

    • JezGrove
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      The editors allegedly associated with the particular journal that published this paper are: https://irispublishers.com/sjrr/editorialboard.php

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        The editorial specialists associated with
        Iris Publishers look like an April Fools joke themselves. I particularly liked Zagazig University in Egypt but, to my amazement, it actually exists. I would guess that these academics correspond, in their own way, to the editorial boards of the grievance study journals that Pluckrose & Co. dealt with.

    • JezGrove
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      I’ve now emailed the first person listed as an Editor-in-Chief (not entirely sure how there can be more than one) drawing their attention to the article, the derision it has attracted, and the accusations that Iris Publishers produces predatory journals. I await a reply with interest.

      • JP415
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        Well, at least they’re getting free publicity.:)

        • JezGrove
          Posted April 16, 2020 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

          Yup, and they probably deserve it all! I’ve just looked at the review process – they only reject work on the grounds of plagiarism if the unoriginal content is 25% or more.

  10. Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    If there ever existed a Sophisticated Theologian academic that was also steeped in Humanities culture, I bet they could publish intentionally serious pieces on such things as Mixed Gender roles in the Vestments of Catholic Priests. Or The Gilded Phallus: The Holy Crucifix as a Symbol of the Patriarchy.
    And the craziness would pass unnoticed.

  11. Ryan
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I think my favorite part (out of many options) is the “That was a lot of work, so I didn’t want to do that again” part.

    • ploubere
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Haha, brilliant

  12. Paul Britton
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Is this the sort of science research that UK gov are using for their Covid-19 advice?

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      No, of course it isn’t. Your attempted facetiousness is contemptible.

  13. Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    “One final remark. […]”

    That’s an excellent final remark. It shouldn’t matter what intentions the authors had in mind, or should it? They could lie about an experiment and make the whole thing up in an afternoon. In principle, it could turn out to be accurate when someone replicates it for real. Nobody would ever know. But then it gets dicey.

    Nobody should have to rely on anyone’s intentions, as science purports to be based on solid evidence, i.e. replication and falsification. And yet, we do have to rely on good intentions to some degree, as we cannot vet everything ourselves. We have to rely on some honest scientists to question flawed papers to eventually weed them out.

  14. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Hilarious!

  15. Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like the way Donald Trump would write a ‘scientific’ paper.

    • merilee
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      There would be a lot more “My”s in DJT’s paper.

  16. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Had there been a peer-review panel of ornithologists, they’d’ve at least sent it back suggesting more specificity, like, “What’s the deal with pigeon shit?”

    Now, that would be a paper worth perusing.

  17. JP415
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    The graph was the best part, with “weird beak” being one of the axes. That bit made me laugh out loud.

    • Posted April 16, 2020 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      I liked “climate change” on the vertical axis. Makes it very topical.

      • JP415
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

        Good for search results!

  18. freiner
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what everybody’s laughing at here. Just this morning I looked out my window and saw a blue jay in my red maple. Later on, I saw two (2) cardinals (red) in it. I thought “What’s the deal here?” It’s good to know someone’s finally trying to get a hold on this stuff in a real scientific way with numbers and everything.

    • JP415
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      Great Moments in The History of Science, Part I

  19. ploubere
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Finally, a scientific paper us non-scientists can understand.

  20. Teresa Carson
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Key word: WTF
    I’ve felt like adding that to papers I’ve edited (never yours, of course). Thanks for a bright spot in a dull rainy day.

  21. Posted April 16, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    There is the old article from The Onion which I paraphrase: Thomas Jefferson’s Grant Proposal Denied.

  22. Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Published April 1. I found the pdf…it’s hysterical.

    Here’s another slightly more serious but interesting study on control groups used for parachutes:

    https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k5094

    Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial. British Medical Journal (2018)

  23. GBJames
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  24. Liz
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    “__ the deal” Lol the whole thing.

    • Muffy Ferro
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      YES — the graph. “The deal.” LMAO!!!

      • Liz
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Also the third sentence in the Introduction after clicking on the screenshot: “This sentiment is shared by people across socioeconomic backgrounds.” lol!!

  25. merilee
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    “…no other things like bugs and bats…”
    😂

    • JezGrove
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Undeniably a sensible step to avoid confounding factors.

      • merilee
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        They might bug you and drive you batty😬

  26. JezGrove
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Best laugh of the day! Why don’t I get hilarious academic papers like this one to proofread?

    • JezGrove
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      I meant to add that joking aside, PCC(E)’s comments about the disgraceful treatment of Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian are spot on. The journals that published their hoax papers should be the ones receiving punishment, whilst the intrepid trio who exposed the journals’ failures should be praised for their efforts to strengthen academic publishing.

  27. Derek Freyberg
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    My favorite from the publisher’s website was: “Publication Ethics
    At Iris Publishers, we value the integrity with which authors go beyond the realm of human imagination… “.
    All too true.

  28. revelator60
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Prof. Baldassarre was inspired by this bit from “Look Around You”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh0Y2hVe_bw

    • merilee
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      🤣

  29. Posted April 16, 2020 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place and commented:
    Pretty funny.

  30. Posted April 16, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Baldassare even tweeted the reviewers’ comments:

    The reviewer comments are

    THE MATERIAL PRESENTED IS VERY INTERESTING. THE ARTICLE ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

    Whole thread here:

    Note that he first submitted it, to a different predatory journal, in February. They rejected it, probably detecting the parody. The first journal, Entomology, Ornithology & Herpetology: Current Research, from a different publisher, is at least as ridiculous as the one who published it. Among their “Journal Highlights: are “Bird Nische”, and “Amphibian Lizard”!! Under the former, they have

    Bird Nische is defined as the group of birds population inhabiting a particular region or an ecosystem highly suitable or they can thrive only there.

    And under the latter, they have

    Amphibian Lizards are cold blooded and smooth skinned vertebrates. As like some of the other species, they show the characters of amphibians and lizards.

    You can’t parody this stuff– the clueless self-mockery infuses everything about it. How could you possibly come up with something more ridiculous than this?

    GCM

    • JP415
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Ha — it’s great that Baldassarre was able to work in “Bayesian approaches.” Bayes’ theorem is all the rage these days. It sometimes gets misused to promote junk, in the same way that quantum mechanics was a few years ago.

      • JP415
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        “Three experts” = Larry, Moe, and Curly!

  31. Posted April 16, 2020 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi All. I am the esteemed author of “What’s the deal with birds?”.. To clarify a few points: from the outset, this was a satirical endeavor designed to shine a light on the world of predatory journals. I actually managed to talk this “journal” into publishing my “paper” for free. I think they figured if they gave me a freebie now, I’d submit something else later for a fee. They originally asked for $1,700. To fill out the paper a bit and make it appear more legitimate at first glance (which is the only glance it received from the “editor”), I interspersed some text and references from a real paper of mine. But the whole thing is nonsensical and ridiculous by design. The journal is not in on the joke at all- The April Fool’s Day publication date was just a happy coincidence. I obviously have no intention of padding my CV with this and I don’t think any legitimate scientists would ever even stumble upon it in the course of research and be duped by it. Please share the story far and wide. As Jerry points out, the hope is to expose these fraudsters and maybe take some of them down for good.

    • JezGrove
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Congratulations on a wonderful piece of work – I haven’t had such a great laugh in quite a while.

      • merilee
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Ditto😂

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted April 16, 2020 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        Let me second the Congratulations. Dr. Baldassarre, there are other journals that
        are in serious need of your submissions. Permit me to suggest that you work up a few
        manuscripts for Affilia, Sexuality and Culture, and Gender, Place, and Culture. These treasuries of scholarship need more
        work in the veins pioneered by Pluckrose, Boghossian, and Lindsay, and continued so neatly by yourself with Iris Publishers.

        • Posted April 17, 2020 at 5:21 am | Permalink

          Congratulations on two fronts
          1) Exposing of this type of journal so effectively
          2) Producing such a hilarious paper in which to do it. What a read! I hadn’t laughed so much in ages … just the medicine needed in these rather dark Coronavirus times

    • Posted April 16, 2020 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      Well played. I suspected that you had cut-and-pasted pieces of actual papers (otherwise it would be a lot of work, and you wouldn’t want to do that again!). Figure 1 is pure genius.

      GCM

    • Posted April 16, 2020 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

      Brilliant and hilarious!

  32. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted April 16, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Nice! The publication date of this beauty is April 01, 2020!

  33. Volodymyr
    Posted April 17, 2020 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    The guy is a genius! I had such a good laugh reading his article! Admit it, the figure about about ‘looks like a fish’ and ‘weird beak’ connection to climate change is ingenious! I still cannot believe they published it on April 1 coincidently. I imagine them having a good laugh and deciding to post it on the Fool’s day to share the joke with their readers. Otherwise, the thought that they claim to be a peer-reviewed scientific paper is just horrifying.

    • Posted April 17, 2020 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      We’ve established beyond doubt (see the post again and the update) that this was NOT an April Fool’s joke. What you imagined is not correct.

  34. rickflick
    Posted April 17, 2020 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    It occurs to me that adding journals like these predatory publications, should be easily detectable by those hiring based on a candidate’s cv – f the hiring institution doesn’t just count numbers of papers, which would be rather foolish. If someone was attempting to maintain or advance ones career in academia, having published in junk journals should be a red flag to administrators. So, what’s the incentive?

  35. Nick King
    Posted April 17, 2020 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Along the same lines, google “MIT paper generator” to see how 3 students wrote a program to generate fake journal submissions, using random associations of complex vocabulary, complete with graphs. You can instantly author using SCIgen.

  36. JezGrove
    Posted April 18, 2020 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a woodpecker and a penguin. Now all we need is a parrot with a weird beak: https://youtu.be/A4rKEezMu2w


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