Publication phishing?

Received a nice invitation today from the American Society for Information Science and Technology journal to submit a paper and to join the editorial board. Sound like a journal you know? Me too but no, it’s not JASIST. It’s ASIST, a previously unknown entity trading a little closely to being over the line, one imagines. Take a look at their web page.   No, they are not even close to American, if the editorial board is anything to go by.  Clever or deceitful?  I expect you know the answer.  What’s next, a new journal entitled Natures? Sign me up.

Grievance Studies and the Academic Hoax

Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship

Read this and weep — laughter? tears? your choice really. Personally, I’m glad folks do this from time to time as it reveals something of the flaws in the system. Two things to note. As I teach my Understanding Users class, humans have to organize a lot of data coming at them quickly, and they do this by mobilizing the rapid, sometimes automatic categorization schemas in their heads. When something looks kinda real, and one has no real reason for doubting authenticity, then you organize your thoughts around it and move on to the next data point. In this case, the reviewers likely received what they assumed to be a genuine paper and allowed their own automatic processes for reading and deciding to publish or not to kick in without too much effort. It’s lazy but it’s human.  So, no, it is not too surprising this happens and people can fool the process.

Second thing — it takes some brave folks, particularly untenured ones, to tackle this kind of project and risk censure and disapproval from one’s community for dragging them into disrepute, allegedly. I don’t share that view, I think Pluckrose, Lindsay and Boghossian might be targeting low hanging fruit given the choice of topic, but they raise genuine questions about scholarship and editorial practices in some parts of the academy that deserve attention.


There I was trying to ‘bujo’ my next few days (I’m so glad they chose that constriction and not just the initials for bullet journaling) when I realized I was running late for a faculty meeting. We have lots of them, at least one a month, and they can be quite tedious but at least they get us all in a room talking and making decisions. Now of course, when faculty gather to make decisions, there’s a certain fluidity to the process that means either a) we forget we took a decision and vote on the same things multiple times over several semesters, just to be sure, or b) like the people of Britain rethinking the referendum, we decide to hold another vote to undo a decision taken before. It’s endless fun, really.

No need for details, who knows who’s reading anyway, but I am regularly reminded of scenes from Russo’s Straight Man when I’m at work. For faculty meetings however, Malcolm Bradbury’s History Man  captures it more pointedly — if ever there was a laugh out loud description of the foibles and freneticism of faculty votes, that book has it.  It all came flooding back when I entered the scene slightly late today. Sometimes life really is like a novel. Glad, when I think so, that it’s an English farce rather than a Russian tragedy that comes to mind.

Anyone remember telephone numbers anymore?

Back in the classroom teaching Understanding Users, am covering human working memory and its limits we all experience when being bombarded with new data. I used the example of trying to remember someone’s telephone number the first time you hear it while trying to find a place to write it down. You know, it’s the classic example of how you rehearse the data continually until you can dump it externally.  In the course of this, I came to realize that most students of a certain age have not experienced this specific example. Technology has moved us all along and phone numbers are not rehearsed in memory until recorded anymore are they? People just call and leave a record, or they instantly mail/txt numbers to each other in real time, letting the computer do the work. How many telephone numbers can you even remember anymore without checking your phone?  Time for me to get some new examples now that ‘cognitive offloading’ is the norm.

Interesting talk on bias from Ricardo Baeza-Yates

Our first speaker at the iSchool this fall offered an interesting overview of the forms and pernicious nature of bias on the web. Some examples were truly eye-popping (try the Google translator for English to Turkish) but others seemed to conflate the idea of bias with judgement which I’m still trying to unpack. Food for thought, here’s a flavor.

Scholarly publishing and the mafia?

I receive innumerable invitations these days to publish my work. Nice eh? For a while I kept a folder of nutty requests from new journals or conferences that wanted me to speak. In the past two months I’ve been asked to consider joining such outlets as the Journal of Drug Design and Medicinal Chemistry, the International Journal of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, the wonderfully titled Probe: Computer Science and IT, among others. None of these actually are what they seem but on the surface of course, they sound good.  If so inclined (and for a minute, I was), I could have given a keynote address in Berlin at an international Neuro-Psychiatry conference this year.  Not bad for a professor of information.

The problem is, scholarly publishing and its associated conference circuit are now big business. And naturally, rogue publishers and conferences have sprung up. Most of these ‘journals’ seem to have no track record, provide an address in some industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, and a requirement that you pay for the privilege of publishing actual pages with them. Of course, as an editorial board member, they waive or reduce the charges for me, or you, or whoever is stupid enough to accept the invitation.  I presume some of these succeed because well, some academics want to publish, quickly, to flesh our their resume with fine sounding titles.  In an era of increased concerns about faculty ‘productivity’ and the stranglehold on academic publishing by a few (and growing fewer) large houses, one can understand the market for alternatives.

While there is a serious side to all this, I can’t help but have a little fun at the expense of these operators. After receiving two invitations, one a follow-up asking if I was really not interested in giving that keynote, I asked if they minded my talking about something other than Neuropsychiatry? I suggested that given my background, a nice talk about UX or HCI would be perfect. Nonplussed, the inviting agent came back with ‘yes,  your talk about UX or HCI  covers aspects of neuropsychiatry so we would be honored’.   I really was tempted….I really was. Imagine going to the conference, being introduced as the keynote speaker, a renowned (allegedly) expert,  and then talking about something totally unrelated to the conference. Yes, I know we can all recount some keynote speaker doing just such, but I mean doing it intentionally and making no effort to even relate to the subject matter of the conference. I actually wondered if anyone would notice or even care? I’d probably get an invite to keynote the next Agri-Business conference too.

All this comes to mind today when I receive my latest invitation, again in poorly worded English but surely revealing it all unintentionally from a group that goes by the name of ‘journals-mafia’. I know right?  Here’s a sample from the invite:

Are you an editor of the journal or a member of editorial board?
If so, we propose a big profit for you and your journal.
The profit is from 1,000 up to 10,000 dollars per a month.

It is necessary to publish articles.
The same work that you do, but you can get more money doing this with us.

My company works in the markets of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, China and Iran.
We publish a lot of articles.
There is much more demand than we can publish.
We do not have enough journals in which we can publish all the articles.

That is why we are searching more and more journals for publication every day.
We will share our profits with you.

An alternative option is to buy your journal.
If your journal does not bring you joy no longer, we will buy it.

The scheme of our work is simple:
1. The author writes an article.
2. The author pays us for publishing an article in a journal.
3. We work with the text of the article; we review and edit this article making it of excellent quality.
4. We check the quality of English language.
5. We format an article according to the requirements of a journal.
6. We send an article to the editor of the journal.
7. The article is published.
8. We share our profit with the editor of the journal.

Win – Win – Win.
All the parties are satisfied.

Ever feel you’re in the wrong business?

Usability and job ads

I confess, it’s hard to resist perusing job ads. I want to see what’s out there and what other universities are thinking they want in a new hire (clue: everything; certainly more than you or I might modestly claim to have). Of course, some just make me laugh out loud, but presumably not as intended. Across my inbox falls one beauty last week which I had to share with the faculty. It consisted of an eight line brief description followed by a 10 line URL (surely a new attempt at a world record in a competition we all thought died in the last century). The irony being the job was for a faculty member specializing in usability.   Clearly, they recognize what they need!