The opening paragraph of an article published in the International Journal of Molecular Biology on July 14, 2017, reads as follows:
“The midichloria (pl. midichloria) is a two-membrane bearing organelle found in the cells of eukaryotic organisms. Midichloria supply adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which serves as a source of chemical energy. While the majority of the DNA in each cell is located in the cell nucleus, the midichloria itself has a genome that shows substantial Force capability.”
It might, if you, like me, paid a bare minimum amount of attention in high school biology, but can recite every line of The Phantom Menace without breaking a sweat (or feeling any shame).
The article, entitled Mitochondria: Structure, Function, and Clinical Relevance, was actually part of an elaborate hoax set up by an anonymous blogger named Neuroskeptic who wanted to expose a number of predatory scientific journals that publish bullshit articles for monetary gain.
How did Neuroskeptic do it?
By writing an absurd paper that conflated real science with made-up facts from the Star Wars movies.
The Force Is Strong With This One
Neuroskeptic’s article, which was eventually published in four journals, was “an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism, and movie quotes.”
The paper included an entire passage that’s taken word for word from a monologue given by the villain of Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine, as well as gems like this:
“Beyond supplying cellular energy, midichloria perform functions such as Force sensitivity.”
This is not only not real science, but one of the most controversial parts of the Star Wars series.
In addition to trolling readers throughout the paper, Neuroskeptic published the paper under the names “Lucas McGeorge” (an obvious homage to director George Lucas) and “Annette Kin” (in honor of good ole Anakin Skywalker).
Basically, anyone who has seen Star Wars or cares at all about writing quality should have immediately moved Neuroskeptic’s paper to the trash bin.
So why did it get published in four scientific journals?
“Get Me Off Your F—ing Mailing List”
Turns out, many so-called “peer-reviewed” journals these days will publish anything, for a price.
Over the last few years, open-access publishing has become a rather seedy business. What started as a way for up-and-coming academics to have more opportunities to share their work has become a pay-for-play system where authors pay outrageous fees in exchange for a by-line.
Traditionally, journals make money from subscribers who pay a fee. Authors, on the other hand, pay nothing to be published. This new wave of journals flipped the model – subscribers can read for free, while authors pay, sometimes as much as several thousand dollars.
In addition to being a pretty rough practice for writers, this new model of publishing spawned evil shadow companies straight from the Dark Side: predatory journals, that have fancy journal-like names (such as American Research Journal of Biosciences) but will really publish just about anything.
Neuroskeptic is hardly the first to try to expose these nefarious practices. A few years ago, two researchers published a paper that literally read “Get me off your f-cking mailing list” over and over and over again. And, earlier this year, another group made up a fake scientist and got her accepted on the board of over 48 different journals.
So much for “peer-reviewed.”
Help Us, Neuroskeptic, You’re Our Only Hope
Unfortunately, a lot of these predatory journals have headquarters overseas and, with no timely way of telling whether or not their board members are real or fake, there’s not a lot that can be done to take them down.
Ultimately, all of the journals that published Neuroskeptic’s paper did end up removing his work, though they’re all still in operation and taking money from unsuspecting authors daily.
So what can we do?
Mostly, we have to rely on authors, researchers, and Jedi Knights like Neuroskeptic to continue to expose these terrible practices and bring balance back to the Force. Or, you know, the open-access publishing industry.
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