Intelligent Design Peer review

As 24 nonsense papers are retracted, Daily Sceptic asks, What happened to peer review?

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It’s as if they are not even trying any more:

Last August, a cluster of fake scientific papers appeared in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing. Each paper now carries a notice saying that it’s been been retracted “because the content of this article is nonsensical”…

If you’re a long-time reader of the Daily Sceptic, computer-generated gibberish being presented as peer-reviewed science won’t come as a surprise because this has happened several times before. Last year Springer had to retract 463 papers, but the problem isn’t restricted to one publisher. In July it was discovered that Elsevier had published a stream of papers in the journal Microprocessors and microsystems that were using nonsensical phrases generated from a thesaurus, e.g. automatically replacing the term artificial intelligence with “counterfeit consciousness”. This was not a unique event either, merely the first time the problem was noticed – searching Google Scholar for “counterfeit consciousness” returns hundreds of results spanning the last decade…

But why don’t these papers get caught by human editors? Scientific publishers like Springer and Elsevier appear to tolerate zombie journals: publications that look superficially real but which are in fact brain dead. They’re not being read by anyone, not even by their own editors, and where meaningful language should be there’s only rambling nonsense. The last round of papers published by this tech+sports group in the Arabian Journal of Geosciences lasted months before anyone noticed, strongly implying that the journal doesn’t have any readers at all. Instead they have become write-only media that exist purely so academics can publish things.

Publishers go to great lengths to imply otherwise…

Given these goals, why does Springer tolerate the existence of journals within their fold that repeatedly publish auto-generated or irrelevant articles? Put simply, because they can. Journals like these aren’t really read by normal people looking for knowledge. Their customers are universities that need a way to define what success means in a planned reputation economy. Their function has been changing – no longer communication but, rather, being a source of artificial scarcity useful for establishing substitute price-like signals such as h-indexes and impact factors, which serve to bolster the reputations and credentials of academics and institutions.

Mike Hearn, “Publisher Retracts 24 Scientific Papers for Being “Nonsensical” – What Happened to Peer Review?” at Daily Sceptic (February 14, 2022)

That’s what “Trust the Science” does. It enables a superstitious reverence for nonsense at best and corruption at worst. And only occasionally does anyone in charge need to pretend to reform anything.

Hat tip: Ken Francis, co-author with Theodore Dalrymple of The Terror of Existence: From Ecclesiastes to Theatre of the Absurd

One Reply to “As 24 nonsense papers are retracted, Daily Sceptic asks, What happened to peer review?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Nothing happened, nothing changed. Peer review has always served to enforce orthodoxy, not to check quality. If those authors really think this is new, they haven’t been in academia. If they have been in academia, they’re lying.

    Fake surprise is a common propaganda trick. Treat a permanent phenomenon as brand new so the recent acts of a scapegoat can be blamed.

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