Harvard Professor Proves You Can Buy Your Way Into Science


Have a few extra grand and a really bad paper? You too could be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal! That's one of the many things John Bohannon, a science journalist at Harvard, recently learned when he submitted a hoax paper to several hundred journals.

The paper, purporting a contribution to a new "miracle drug" for cancer, focused on the cancer-curing properties of a chemical found in lichen. Ocarrafoo Cobange, a biologist at the Wassee Institute of Medicine, submitted the paper.

Versions of the paper were submitted to 255 journals. It was rejected by 98. Of the 106 journals that conducted peer review, 70% accepted the paper. Sounds promising, right?

The only problem is that Ocarrafoo isn't really a person, and Wassee Institute of Medicine isn't a real institution. Many paragraphs were nonsensical, the paper's methodology was obviously flawed, and it was translated from English to French and back again by Google translate. The only (somewhat) redeeming quality of the paper is that collaborators at Harvard helped to make the work boring enough to be a convincing contribution to the field.  

Bohannon achieved what he had hoped to, however, by providing the contours of what Science Mag calls "the wild west of academic publishing": the booming field of open-source journals originating from the 90s that provide their services not from traditional subscription fees, but rather from fees paid by the submitter to have their paper published.

Bohannon provides a look at just how shady these organizations are by tracing the IP addresses of the raw headers of their emails. Many "editors" were based far from the oversight of the developed world, and with fees up to $3,100 per publication, were probably racking up the dough.

For grad students and young PhDs, I guess this was a predictable move. With 9/10PhDs only offered adjunct positions (and 4/5 of those adjuncts making less than $20,000 a year) this is just greater verification that education is big business, and not afraid to game the guys at the bottom of the ladder. While college tuition skyrockets, "publish or perish" models and the lack of any opportunity to advance to tenure track in academia are cutting out our best and brightest. I hope someone realizes just how much the American University system keeps us afloat. If higher ed doesn't clean up its act, we may be looking at a nation where no one wants to teach the classes.

And for those who thought the Ivory Tower was a crock of shit in the first place, I guess this is all pretty funny.