Maybe thirty years ago there was something clever about doing an "exposé" on academic journals in the, shall we say "softer" disciplines. The Sokal Affair proved its point, a point that varies depending on one's perspective. What purports to blow the lid off of academic research by demonstrating that nonsensical jumbles of buzzwords can be published if they hit the right notes (whatever topics happen to be trendy) is actually illustrating something that every single academic already knows: that there are some journals out there that will publish almost literally anything.

That was in 1996. Why are we still doing this?

Three attention-seeking trolls with apparently nothing better to do (like real research) decided to do this again twenty-plus years after it was sufficiently demonstrated, but with the added benefit (to the authors) of an explosion of pseudo-journals in pseudo-disciplines over that time period. Pay-to-publish is a thing now ("Open Access," although there are certainly some Open Access journals that have high standards and publish excellent work) and the cost of starting a "journal" in the post-paper world is next to nothing.
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There are *tons* of journals, and many of them are…well, let's just say the bar isn't real high. In my own field, and being at a university where anything peer reviewed Counts (i.e., is good enough in the eyes of the administration in tenure and promotion decisions) I've searched around and found some real garbage out there – things anyone could get a paper published in, but that pride precludes us from submitting to.

I've seen some things on other CVs that sent me Googling to see if they were in fact real journals. Some of these journals are nothing more than randomly uploaded Microsoft Word documents. They can't even be troubled to convert to PDF. And the thing is, a person within academia knows what these journals are upon seeing them. If I publish in the "Iowa Review of Political Science" and it doesn't even have a functioning website, a fellow academic will see that on my CV and conclude that not only does that not Count as a real publication, but also that I have very questionable skills for publishing in such a place. We know what the good journals are and we know the tiers. There are elite journals, good journals, and the lower end of acceptable (journals considered legitimate but not high in prestige). If you have a job at an elite institution you need the elite journals. For most of us, that lower end is "fine" – our institutions just want to see us publishing regularly. It doesn't have to be world-changing, especially considering that people at elite schools have enormous advantages (money, time, resources) over us.
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A clearer example is the daily dozen solicitations we receive to submit papers to "international conferences" in random foreign countries where, amazingly, every submission is accepted provided one pays the registration fee. Everyone knows what this is – it's a way to get one's university to reimburse travel expenses for what amounts to a vacation to someplace nice and exotic.

What these attention-seekers prove – and academics immediately grasp this in a way that non-academics may not – is that "Journal of Poetry Therapy" and "Porn Studies" will publish anything. And note that porn studies isn't necessarily a useless topic, but this (apparently) isn't a serious journal for research about it. This game of "find a topic that sounds funny to non-academics and find the worst journal about it" is not challenging and it's not interesting. This is a well-worn trick that, in 2018, only impresses idiots and people who have predetermined that every academic field except physics is "fake."

26 thoughts on “JOURNAL-ISM”

  • They do it because it still works.

    It is more important than ever because publishing journals can mean good money and it is easier than ever to start a new journal. More seriously, technological change and new attitudes towards the glories of capitalism have put the existing for-profit journal business under attack. Governments paying for research are increasingly wondering why they are spending so much to make the results of that research available, especially in light of collapsing publication costs.

    You can say what you will about physicists, but over 25 years ago they started an experiment that separated the mechanics of publication from the mechanics of validation and reputation. Originally, anyone could publish anything, but that was soon changed to ALMOST anyone could publish anything. Even physicists needed some kind of floor. That was an experimental result. There are still physics journals, but they are about the formal validation process, as opposed to the less formal open process. They are also about reputation management where some journals have more valuable reputations than others. There is still competition to get into the good journals, but even the good journals recognize that they could be replaced.

    This experiment has been so successful, that other fields have started to experiment with separating publication from validation and reputation management. Meanwhile, public agencies funding science are looking askance at the big publishing houses and their increasingly insane costs.

    Where does this trolling fit in? I'd say it's about 80% about publicity and maybe 20% about publishing. The current system really does allow almost anyone to publish anything. It requires the reader to understand the field of journals. Insiders quickly learn which are worth something and which are not, but newcomers, outsiders and casual researchers in the field may not. As research is increasingly global, it is easier to pull a fast one.

    Back when each bank issued its own dollar notes, the Bank Note Reporter managed the reputations of the issuing banks. If someone handed you a five dollar note, you'd be a fool not to look it up and make sure it might be worth some precious metal. Nowadays, the magazine is for hobbyists and collectors. Publication has an expensive and antiquated validation and reputation system. If it is going to be changed, it needs to be challenged. This is a pretty lame piece of the challenge, but you know politics, and this is what this is about. A thousand lame cuts can eventually turn into a bleeding wound.

  • Knox Harrington says:

    “Almost literally anything?” Really? So it I jerked-off onto my keyboard and typed where the cum hit they’d publish it?

    I’ve been bemoaning the use of the word “literally” by 20-somethings for awhile now. I thought it was coming from them. It never occurred to me that it could be trickledown from their teachers until now. (I use the word trickledown very deliberately) Hey! At least you’re not using it when you literally, actually mean “metaphorically!” That’s the worst. It’s almost as bad as people who use “nonplussed” to mean indifferent, apathetic or unmoved.

    For fucks sake: teachers need to stop bitching about shitty pay until they can work out the English language.

    I didn’t even get past that first graf. No doubt you’ve written something really stellar about something you’re justifiably outraged about.

    You sound like a fucking moron. Just sayin’…

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    The goal is to sow FUD about the academy, the same way Trump does about the press, because free inquiry is dangerous to the conservative project.

    Conservatives have failed to produce their own scholarship and journalism of merit. The next best thing is to get everyone feeling like they can't really trust anyone anymore.

  • I've always liked g'da's take: better to keep your mouth shut and people think whatever they want to think but grandmother was right, Knox, it's best to let people think you're a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    Yes, we're pretty non-plussed these days about an aggressive use of the literal and metaphoric. It's a living language, it changes, evolves. You blew your dogwhistle, no doubt you'll get paid.

  • You fucktards can rape the English language to your hearts content; I’ve known 4 out of 5 Americans are fucking functionality illiterate for some time now. But when a person who teaches does it in the same breath they complain about the fellow dwellers of their ivory tower it makes me think, “hey maybe the people teaching the morons are actually the morons.”

    Jhooiser: isn’t it a bully business I don’t actually complain about substituting “literally” for “figuratively” then? Yes I mentioned it in the subordinate clause of an immaterial sentence; so why have you latched onto it? Hmm?

    Look, you idiots can go along with being gaslit and ask, “YES Sir! Can I have some more!” But the rest of us don’t have to. (Shit, I should have known you’d attack the proper use of diction and get upset I abused your hero: Ed says things you agree with. You, thusly, are part of his tribe!)

  • Hey Ten Bears? Shouldn’t you be teaching the indigenous to deal blackjack instead of giving the white man lessons on a written language? When you figure out that every single written sentence doesn’t necessarily require a comma…then you can preach to me about looking like a fool.

    Yes, I’m judging you based on your words. Deal with it.

  • Ok Jhooiser, did you actually read that blog post or just skim it? Because I did. It uses the following to reinforce the point:
    In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer wrote of the very perfect and gentle Knight: “He neuere yet no vileynye ne sayde In al his lyf vn to no maner wight”.

    And then it explains that the way Ed used the word is incorrect, non-standard English.

    But, in a world of infinite possibilities I’m sure you’re going to find a blog somewhere that explains why it’s perfectly fine to use their, there and they’re interchangeable. No doubt they’ll explain that’s how it was done in the original proto-indo-european predecessor to modern engrish.

    And, also: go fuck yourselves!

  • Well, aren't you a bundle of joy, Knox. I'll let your comment stand on its own, I have better things to do.

    Nice post as always, Ed.


    Dude is a Jungian psychologist, which is about as subjective a field as you could ever imagine.

    Ed is correct to point out that this game is old. Hell, even _Closing of the American Mind_ predates the Sokal hoax.

  • Damn. That Aero magazine link is some seriously tiresome, masturbatory bullshit. I really appreciated the lectures about how folks on the left are stooges and can't be bothered to think critically about academic publishing. But, as a snowflake/limousine liberal, I DO enjoy dressing as a strawman on the weekends so folks can take aim, primarily while I'm shouting at non-gender-queer people or whatever. I couldn't make it though the article, but I assume that the word "sheeple" had to come up at least once.

    I'm also surprised that "feminist geography" is a thing, albeit not the thing one would likely assume from the name.

    "Porn Studies" has a weak impact factor. Just sayin'.

  • Jhooiser: you’ll leave my comment to stand as opposed to what? Deconstructing it for parallels to Proust? Do me a favor and go explain to a grammar nazi that everybody knows what you mean when you reply to them with “your a faggot!”
    The adults are talking.

  • G'da also used to say 'give 'em enough rope they'll happily hang themselves.

    "Your a faggot" – rolling on the floor laughing my rosy red ass off.

    Anytime time you'd care to step outside, boy, it would be my great pleasure to deliver a more appropriate response.

  • Ed,
    If '… I publish in the "Iowa Review of Political Science", does that mean that what I say isn't true?

    Or are you merely doing what comes naturally: judging my character by the car I drive?

  • As more than enough people already pointed out all over the internet, there are two core problems with this 'hoax': First, it is itself bad scholarship because they didn't have any controls: how much easier would a good paper have been accepted? How would papers not fitting the editors' ideological biases have fared? How easy is it to get equivalent nonsense accepted in equivalent journals in other fields? This is just very poorly designed.

    Second, and somewhat related, they clearly have an animus against social science, without asking themselves if they same doesn't apply to, say, economics, philosophy or even some parts of biology. Now some people might say that second one is tu quoque on my part, but it really isn't, because their claim is not "peer review sometimes fails" but "peer review is considerably worse in social sciences than in other fields".

    What surprises me most is, however, that they don't seem to have any feeling for what the decent journals are, despite claiming to have immersed themselves in the field for a year. To quote from a random item in my spam folder: "Greetings for the Day. We tried several times, but there is no response from you, we would like to contact you again! Doctor, we have come across your academic profile and very impressed with your Published articles, Research Interest and your contribution to the scientific community. … So, we will be glad if you can submit your research work for publishing in our esteemed journal." Riiight.

  • duquesne_pdx says:

    This is a well-worn trick that, in 2018, only impresses idiots and people who have predetermined that every academic field except physics is "fake."

    I believe that there are plenty of them out there who don't believe much in physics, either.

  • Off topic (after reading the comments that's not an apology), could the Cubs season end any better for a White Sox fan? 'Which team had a better season' is now a serious question. From the home field advantage throughout the playoffs to the first team out in a four game span.

    No detail was left out. Two games at Wrigley Field, good pitching with no hitting, Anthony Rizzo watching for the last five innings, Kyle Hendricks gives up the winning run, Cubs strike out 1-2-3 in bottom of the 13th, and on it goes.

  • Let's see:

    "Knox Harrington", "Knox" and "Knoc"? WTF?

    Should we assume that Knox Harrington is the primary and the other two are sockpuppetz or is it some other arrangement? It boggles–the Burnin'stoopitbatshitKKKrazzeemofo ideerz are strong with this one.

    As for trashtalkin' other commenters, well, that usually doesn't work, either.

    And, for the other troll.

    "Or are you merely doing what comes naturally: judging my character by the car I drive?"

    Not necessary, when you can be judged by what you say.

    ""I need to make a correction. I have never pretended that I intend to do anything but comment on the absurdity of the progressive delusion. Hence, I don’t think I have ever attempted or proffered solutions."

    So you admit to being nothing but a fucking troll.

    A little unintentional birthday gift to me @ 9:55 AM on 10/25/17.

    Thanks, for being clear. And just so I'm clear. I intend to put that bit in quotations, and only that, as a reply to any comment you make on any thread.

    Now, fuck off, troll."

  • @knox
    Do you mean that literally '4 out of 5 Americans are fucking functionality illiterate' or is that more of a figurative statement?

  • Trying to pretend that the journals that the fake articles were submitted to were fake pay to play journals or insignificant minor journals that will publish anything after a non-existent peer review is wrong.

    They were real journals.

    For example: Published by Routledge, edited by professors from research universities and not from some community college. This is not some minor insignificant operation.

    Gender, Place and Culture, published by Routledge, is a well-established geography journal with an international circulation in its field. The aim of Gender, Place and Culture is to provide a forum for debate in human geography and related disciplines on theoretically-informed research concerned with gender issues.

    Editorial Board

    Managing Editor:
    Pamela Moss
    Faculty of Human and Social Development
    University of Victoria
    Victoria, BC, Canada

    Katherine Brickell
    Department of Geography
    Royal Holloway, University of London
    Egham Hill, Egham, Surrey, UK

    Kanchana Ruwanpura
    Institute of Geography
    University of Edinburgh
    Edinburgh, UK

    Margaret Walton-Roberts
    Geography and Environmental Studies
    Wilfrid Laurier University
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

    And here is a sample of review comments:

    There are issues – pretending that everything is okay is why it has become worse since 1997, and not better.

  • I wish Ed had been around to tell me Hypatia wasn’t a real journal back in the nineties when I was an arts grad student, because I spent a lot of time down in the circulars section cross referencing articles and footnotes and citations through years and years of printed issues of Hypatia which isn’t a real journal

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