The Gross National Debt

Friday, October 4, 2013

Publish, Perish Or Just Make Stuff Up And Publish Anyway



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I had a lit teacher in college who told us one day he'd not gotten a raise in a while because he hadn't managed to get anything published. In the world of advanced academia, you get ahead by getting your work published. "Publish or perish" is the byword.

I have to be boring for just a moment. Bear with me.

The Internet has made this ever more easier, especially where really complicated stuff is concerned. It used to be that for specialty magazines in sciences, an annual subscription could cost as much as $10,000. Yeah. 10 grand for a mag that came out a few times a year.

These publications are also "peer reviewed" meaning other people in the same field review the articles before they are printed. The reviewers do everything short of using physical flame throwers to make the paper and the work in it shrivel and die like a real vampire exposed to the sun. Solid science, except when it's not and the "peer-reviewed" work is later shown to be more full of holes than the federal budget.

Yeah.

Anyway, the Internet has now made science and scholarly journals even more of a joke than Sarah Palin. I heard the author of one such junk paper interviewed in NPR this morning. His "research" was a "drug" derived from lichens. The way he described the paper, even I could have seen it was a joke.

She blinded me with SCIENCE! Oy. I'm old.
Yet, it was accepted and published as legit science.

One thing that should raise a red flag about these publications is they charge the author to publish the report.

Less you think this is just an issue of these "open source" science journals, I have two things for you to consider.


Bo­han­non (the author of the faked report) and oth­ers al­so stressed that open-ac­cess jour­nals are not the only un­scru­pu­lous ones. Da­vid Roos, a bi­ol­o­gist at the Uni­vers­ity of Penn­syl­va­nia, told Bo­han­non that if the sting had “tar­geted the bot­tom ti­er of tra­di­tion­al, sub­scrip­tion-based jour­nals… I strongly sus­pect you would get the same re­sult.” WorldScience.net per link above

The top tier folks are not spotless either.

Industry giants like the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) charge outrageous subscription fees. At that, JAMA and all the big publications do not have clean hands. They have all been forced to repudiate a previously published article. This is rare, but it happens.

The most recent and most famous is the British Medical Journal Lancet article on vaccinations and autism. Despite being roundly shot down all over the place, the article was accepted, published and considered authoritative. It's still cited by people as authoritative.

Applying the "one bad apple" maxim to this, it casts doubt on the entire scholarly publishing industry.

Who ya gonna trust?

It appears, based on "science" we are entitled to our own facts.

Which brings me to an ancillary point. In other words, I'm heading off in yet another direction.
 You may infer from this and other articles I've written about science that I don't trust science. You are partly correct. I have a deep distrust of science, scientists and so forth who speak in absolutes as if they are handing down the ultimate law of the universe. These people, I lump into the same category as the people who wear tinfoil hats and claim to have alien radio receivers embedded in their teeth.

There are scientists who I do trust and respect. They make their case and usually end with a statement like this: "Based on what we know right now." These people are willing to admit things can change. New evidence must be evaluated and that could change the "facts." Science, throughout the history of science, has repeatedly changed the "facts" to match new information and evidence. I can accept that.

What I will not accept (which in itself is hypocritical) is absolutism.

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