Sunday, November 29, 2015

One more sign that a Journal is bogus. Or is it?

I went to an AMS conference with my High School Student Naveen (who presented  this paper)  and an ugrad from my REU program Nichole (who presented this paper). Note that this is a math conference- low prestige, mostly unrefereed, parallel sessions, but still a good place to pick up some new problems to work on and learn some things, and meet people.

Both Naveen and Nichole later got email from a journal urging them to submit their work! They were also invited  to be on the Editorial Board! I can understand inviting a HS student who is a SENIOR to be on an editorial board, but Naveen is a SOPHMORE!

Naveen and Nichole  both emailed me asking what this was about and I looked around and found, not to my surprise, that the journal is an author-pays journal of  no standards. On the other hand, it was open access, on the other other hand, they had an article claiming that R(4,6)=36 (might be true, but if this was known, I would know it, see this blog post for more on that proof technique).

The pay-to-publish model is not necc. bad, and is standard in some fields, but is unusual for math. Of perhaps more importance is that the journal had no standards. And they prey on the young and naive.

Or do they?

Consider the following scenario:  Naveen  publishes in this journal and this publication is  on his college application, hence he gets into a good college with scholarship. He knows exactly what he is buying. Or Nicole does this to help her Grad school Application.  Or I do this for my resume and get a salary increase. Or an untenured prof does this to get tenure ( Deans can count but they can't read). And it gets worse--- the school gives the prof tenure, knowing the papers are bogus, but now they can say they have a prof who publishes X papers a year! At some point I don't know who is scamming who.

This blog post (not mine) gives several criteria for when a journal is bogus. I'll add one: When they ask a 15 years old to be on their editorial board.


  1. A few years ago I had seen a proof of NP = P published in a bogus journal like the one you discribe. I was thinking how harmful it would be if some young student would take them for real and actually try to work one such "proofs".

  2. Deans can count but they can't read?

    1. I thought "deans can count but they can't read" was a well known expression;
      however, when I googled it it only got 37 hits. The second and third most popular hits were to this blog. By contrast "Davenport Schnizel sequences" gets 12,800 hits. None to this blog, but after I make this comment maybe it will be 12,801 hits, one to this blog.

      The phrase `Deans can count but they can't read' refers to tenure being decided on the NUMBER of papers, not the QUALITY of the papers.
      So if someone publishes in one of those bogus journals knowing that they are bogus, paying for it, but gets tenure based on those papers, this would be an example of NUMBER of papers counting but QUALITY not.

  3. Bill, your scenario sounds a lot like what happened to set off the financial crisis in '07 / '08. Everyone knew the housing loans being made were bogus, but they also knew that the next person down the line would pay good money for them, so everyone kept making the loans.

    Why doesn't the same logic cause bogus journals to spiral out of control and bring down academia?

  4. Excellent question! How many of the scenarios that I sketched above could actually
    1) HS student having an article in a fake math journal and impreses the College Admissions Committee who don't know about math. This could work but even here there may be some glitches- what if someone on the committee asks a math person about the work? If the mentor is NOT in on this then that could cause some confusion when the mentors letter does not mention the paper. IF there is no mentor than maybe that could work. But now we are looking at a HS student who knows about bogus journals on his own. Unlikely.

    2) Tenure or Salary Review at a research institution. I don't think this would work as people at research schools are aware of these issues.

    3) Tenure or Salary Review at a school demands a paper-a-year (or some small number) and does not see itself as a reserach school anyway. OKAY here it
    really could work and the spiral-effect you speak of (write of?) is possible. It hasn't happened yet. What COULD happen is that a small college that tries to use the prestige of having lots of profs with lots of papers tries to apply for grants or move up in rankings, or something THEN it would be found out. And THAT school may be embarassed. But unlike the Financial crisis the schools are not linked together, so one suffering does not make others suffer. Also, so a school is a bit embarassed, not sure what really bad thing happens.