Tagged: publish or perish

Those Times I Wrote for STEM Professors

Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes, an associate professor of chemistry at Rhodes College in Memphis, wrote a very popular editorial, published today, arguing that colleges should balance the push for STEM majors but not at the expense of a liberal arts curriculum. One reason is that having a strong arts and humanities background helps scientists explain their research.

Scientists are often unable to communicate effectively because, as Cornell University president David J. Skorton points out, “many of us never received the education in the humanities or social sciences that would allow us to explain to nonscientists what we do and why it is important.”

I can personally attest to the benefit of thinking across disciplines, by which I don’t mean a film person writing to a literature scholar. Can we call it disciplinary agnosticism?

Back in my grant-writing powerhouse days, I wrote a few grant applications reviewed by people at the graduate school, not just those in our field. One of the tips we received for writing these was to pitch it to a “New York Times-level reader.” The aim of the advice is to force students to write for intelligent, non-experts. But when I learned that professors from across the university would be reading my proposal, I always imagined a chemist, a mathematician, and an economist poring over my proposal. I pictured the physics professor from my first year of college, and the psychology TA from sophomore year.

In my mind, these “quants” would appreciate something analytical but light on impenetrable theory. I included a brief summary of the historical context, some concise reasons for why the US would care about Latin America during the Cold War, and a step-by-step outline of what I hoped to learn. In other words, I wasn’t seeking to impress my advisor or a panel at a narrowly focused academic conference. I had to explain, in logical terms, what my research was and why it was important.

Did it work? Aside from one time I was pressured to apply for a grant to research my “homeland” in Brazil—my family is from Guatemala—I never was rejected for a grant.

That, and I am happy that I can understand the history of radio frequency allocations in the United States as well as the difference between latency and throughput.

Not only do STEM majors need liberal arts and humanities, but liberal arts and humanities scholars also need to embrace the thinking STEM majors get from their work, too.

A balanced education? What a crazy idea!?!

You Have to Be “Cuckoo” to Pay Some Journal Processing Fees

Last February, I responded to a Guardian article on how computer generated papers were being accepted for academic conferences that charged a hefty fee. I argued that accepting “gobbledegook” is a predictable result of for-profit conferences—and journals (see below)—that are motivated to publish anything as long as the author pays a substantial “processing fee.” It is an affront to academic integrity.

This predatory practice is happening with predatory academic journals, too. Writing in Fast Company, Elizabeth Segran reports on Mark Shrime, a PhD student who made up an article and sent it to several “open-access” medical journals:

He did it using www.randomtextgenerator.com. The article is entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and its authors are the venerable Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. The subtitle reads: “The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals.” Shrime submitted it to 37 journals over two weeks and, so far, 17 of them have accepted it.

However, the article has not yet been published. Why not?

They have not “published” it, but say they will as soon as Shrime pays the $500. This is often referred to as a “processing fee.” Shrime has no plans to pay them.

You really should read Shrime’s bogus article yourself. It’s worth a few laughs. I only got through the first page because much like QuickType (a.k.a. Auto-Complete), the sentences are grammatically correct but semantically meaningless. My head began to hurt.

But the article was not all just algorithmically composed nonsense. Shrime clearly had a sense of humor when he came up with the institutions that employ Messrs. LeBrain and Welles (who, by the way, have very similar voices). Azusa Atlantic appears to be a play on Azusa Pacific University, a Christian college near Pasadena, California. As for the Green Mountain Institute of Nutrition, I am going to guess that Shrimes was making himself a K-Cup coffee when inspiration struck.

Taylor and Francis and the “Streisand Effect”

Members of the editorial board of Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation have threatened to resign over the decision of the publisher, Taylor and Francis, to first, delay the publication of an article that criticizes the economics of academic publishing, and then redact a significant part of it when it was eventually published months later.

I wonder if we even would have even been familiar with this article if they just let the editors publish the article in the first place. The article in question, “Publisher Be Damned: From Price Gouging to the Open Road,” has over 3,500 views, by far the most of any article in that issue.

Computer Generated Papers

From Ian Sample at The Guardian on how computer-generated fake papers are flooding academia:

The students wrote a simple computer program that churned out gobbledegook and presented it as an academic paper. They put their names on one of the papers, sent it to a conference, and promptly had it accepted. The sting, in 2005, revealed a farce that lay at the heart of science.

The farce is not just that academics are being duped by computers writing “gobbledegook.” It is that there are “dodgy” conference organizers and journal publishers that are ready to accept anything so they can bilk an author. This hoax was a valiant attempt to expose those.

Conferences aren’t free. If you write a paper and have it accepted at a conference, don’t expect any payment. You will have to pay a registration fee to attend the conference and likely pay for your own travel. Most reputable conferences charge a reasonable fee to cover their expenses, which can be substantial, but you do see some conferences with some exorbitant, jaw-dropping registration fees. It is wise to stay away from those.

You can see a similar trend in the proliferation of “open access” journals. These journals are available online for free instead of charing an individual a cover price or a library for a subscription. Instead, they charge the author a publishing fee.

Publishing anything, even “gobbledegook,” for a fee is a predictable result of conferences and journals that exist primarily to generate a profit.

When hoaxes like these get reported in the press, readers assume that authors submit conference papers or journal articles as completed works. They do not. It’s possible that some of the paper proposals submitted as “gobbledegook” had a sound kernel of an idea that could develop into a solid paper with some revisions. A panel chair or an editor will often shepherd a conference paper or a journal article so the author can revise it. But it’s hard to judge whether the conference organizers were duped because they accept anything to generate a registration fee or whether they accepted it with revisions. As the Social Text–Sokal incident made clear, no one expects a hoax.