Opinion: Why I Published in a Predatory Journal

My “colleagues” and I at the fictitious Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute were surprised to find our bogus “uromycitisis” case report swiftly accepted, with only minor revisions requested.

By | April 6, 2017

MAX PIXELLast month I was invited to submit a paper to a dubious urology journal. I’m not a physician, much less a urologist. But I am an editor of scientific writing who has a strong antipathy for predatory journals. I’m also a Seinfeld fanatic.

So I decided to troll this publication, the MedCrave Group’s Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal, to see whether they would agree to publish a totally made-up, Seinfeld-themed “case report” about a man who develops “uromycitisis poisoning.” This was inspired by the classic 1991 episode, “The Parking Garage,” in which Jerry Seinfeld can’t find his car in a mall lot, has to urinate, does so against a garage wall, is caught by a security guard, and tries to get out of a citation by claiming that he suffers from a condition called uromycitisis. Seinfeld argued that, due to his illness, he could die if he doesn’t relieve himself whenever he needs to.

I went all out. I wrote my report as “Dr. Martin van Nostrand,” the physician-alter ego of another Seinfeld character, and listed more show-inspired names as bogus coauthors. I made an email account for “Dr. van Nostrand” and created a fake institution where the authors worked: the Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute. In the acknowledgements section of my report, I thanked phony physicians including Tor Eckman, the bizarre holistic healer from “The Heart Attack,” giving him a “Doctor of Holistic Medicine (HMD)” degree. Basically, I wrote the manuscript in a style as close to a real case report as I could, except that it was 100 percent fake.

And, to my surprise, a representative at Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal wrote to say that my manuscript was sent out for peer review. Three days later, it was conditionally accepted. I was asked to make minor revisions—including trimming the abstract and including the phony patient’s lab results—and pay a “nominal” $799 fee, plus tax.

Continuing to dupe the publication, I did all that was asked—except remit payment—and, on March 31, my report was published on the journal’s website (PDF). I have no intention of paying the requested fee.

A simple Google search for “uromycitisis” or “Martin van Nostrand” returns thousands of references to Seinfeld. Checking just one of the “papers” I included in the manuscript’s reference section, the editors or reviewers could easily have determined it was fabricated.

Why did the journal publish a report so easily identifiable as fake? I’ll leave that to the publication to explain.

Why, you might ask, did I take this stunt as far as I did?

For nearly a year, I have been on a personal mini-crusade against fake scientific journals, and I have written several articles on the topic.

In 2016, I was invited to submit a paper to the Journal of Nanomedicine Research, which is also published by MedCrave. I posted an article on LinkedIn about this, but it was not widely read, nor effective at exposing the journal as dubious. So when the urology journal came calling, I thought a more-extreme trolling operation might be more effective. I wrote the fictitious case report over a weekend.

My short-term goal is to expose MedCrave as a publisher that will print fiction, for a price. My long-term goal—an ambitious one, I know—is to stop the production of predatory journals altogether.

John H. McCool is the founder and senior scientific editor of Precision Scientific Editing, based in Houston, Texas.

Editors note: Prior to publication of this article, The Scientist and Retraction Watch requested comment from Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal/MedCrave Group, but did not receive a response on deadline.

See “Hello…Newman: Yet Another Sting Pranks a Predatory Journal, Seinfeld-style,” Retraction Watch, April 6, 2017

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Comments

Avatar of: Neurona

Neurona

Posts: 69

April 6, 2017

Good job reporting your project. Another example of how fake news brings the best work under a common cloud of suspicion, at least for those not in the know.  "Snake oil" has never really gone away.  

Avatar of: Kailash

Kailash

Posts: 1

April 6, 2017

Thanks for your extraordinary efforts in exposing the online publication business.  I wrote a similar article in the Scientist of September 03, 2015, "Pay-to-Play Publishing": Online scientific journals are sacrificing the quality of research articles to make a buck.

I have come to realize, it is all about greed.  Nobody cares about quality, honesty and ethics, just make money by whatever means.  We the scientists have not done much to stop it.  Instead we have helped proliferate it by being a part of these sham oganizations by taking up honorary editorships.

Avatar of: Dee29

Dee29

Posts: 1

April 6, 2017

How can we determine if a journal is a "predatory" journal? Reputable journals sometimes solicit articles on specific topics. If it's not a journal we're familiar with, how can we tell if it's "predatory"?

Avatar of: Terje

Terje

Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from Dee29 made on April 6, 2017

April 6, 2017

Unfortunately, Beall's list of predatory publishers is no longer updated, but an archived list can be found here: 

https://web.archive.org/web/20161222020349/https:/scholarlyoa.com/publishers/

 

 

Avatar of: JonRichfield

JonRichfield

Posts: 115

April 7, 2017

Applause!!!

Sokal and McCool for president say I.

Avatar of: Agilemind

Agilemind

Posts: 8

Replied to a comment from Dee29 made on April 6, 2017

April 8, 2017

If you don't at least semi-regularly read articles from the journal or at bare minimum from another journal from the same publisher, then you shouldn't be publishing there.

April 11, 2017

The scientific community must be grateful to you Mr. McCool for your efforts in exposing a predatory publisher. With the disappearance of Mr..Jeffrey Beall, there is no one to lead the "antipredatory journal program". The practice of getting papers published in predatory journals has become very common in India. Readers can get an idea about it from an article published in December 2016 in CURRENT SCIENCE, a very respected publication from India.

The link: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/111/11/1759.pdf

 Dr. R Prasad, the Science Editor, The Hindu is one among the handful journalists who have been in the for front against predatory journals. He competently summarized the article in CURRENT SCIENCE. 

Please see the link:

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/Researchers-from-national-institutes-publish-in-predatory-journals/article16806280.ece.

Various official agencies such as the University Grants Commission (UGC), India Council of Medical Research (ICMR) etc in India are getting interested in the issue.However, the progress has been very slow.

Avatar of: rgdudley

rgdudley

Posts: 1

April 18, 2017

Sadly the issue of fake journals will only improve when there is true open access to both read and to publish with out excessive fees.   "Real" publishers have created this scientific nighmare.   When open access first took off the ideal was improve access to scientific knowledge for everyone.     The big publishers response was the "pay to publish" open access model.   Unfortunately this incentivised the creation of predatory journals.  There is no easy answer, but we need one. 

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