PEER REVIEW

Doh! Fake Simpsons-inspired study dupes science journals

Science publications accept fake paper submitted to point out gaps in peer review

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 2014, 12:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 2014, 12:16am

A pair of scientific journals accepted a nonsense paper from a made-up university with author names borrowed from The Simpsons TV show.

Oops.

Other science journals have been duped by dummy papers. Last month there was "Get me off Your F****** Mailing List", a riveting piece accidentally submitted to (and unexpectedly accepted by) a pay-for-play journal.

But the Simpsons-themed bogus paper was submitted on purpose, Vox reports, in the hope of trapping a bad science journal in the act. Journals are meant to use a system called peer review - where scientists read each other's papers to see if they seem reasonable - to vet their articles. But in the age of the internet, there are lots of publications that forgo peer review - even if they claim to have rigorous standards. And some of these journals spam scientists, essentially offering to publish anything they send in for a fee.

Unlike the mailing list paper, a quick skim wouldn't give the study away. But a cursory read (and a quick Googling of the authors) would do so immediately. The opening summary of the paper reads: "The Ethernet must work. In this paper, we confirm the improvement of e-commerce. WEKAU, our new methodology for forward-error correction, is the solution to all of these challenges."

You don't have to be an expert in ethernet connections or e-commerce to know that those are just a bunch of words strung together (in fact, it was created using a random text generator). And you don't need to be a TV junkie to know that Maggie Simpson is a cartoon character."I wanted first and foremost to come up with something that gives out the fake immediately," the actual author of the paper, Alex Smolyanitsky, told Vox. "My only regret is that the second author isn't Ralph Wiggum."