Academic spam – the perpetual flow of invitations from fake journals

By Jonas Waldenström

Time for a Friday’s rant. Buckle up.

I am sick and tired of invitations to submit articles to bogus journals. It is an endless shit flow of attempts to lure scientists to publish research in imaginary journals. I am not interested – I don’t want to spend my time and money on useless junk.

Most people delete the emails directly, but for the past year I have instead forwarded them to a special folder. Just to keep a count on them, and get a feel from which publishers they emanate. Today I opened that folder and read a few of them.

In one year I received 428 emails. That’s more one per day, each day of the week (and I am sure I have missed several as well). Looking closer at the 28 emails I received this month:

  • 23 of them were sent from publishers listed on Beall’s list of predatory journals
  • 12 of them were addressed to me (with varying success in correctly spelling my name), the rest were generic (‘Dear colleague’), or addressed to co-authors. My favorite was ‘Hello Dr <name>’
  • 2 of them had journal titles that reasonable match the science I do. The rest of them were tangential, or utterly out of target. For instance, given my scientific profile why would I ever contemplate to publish in ‘Journal of Business Research’, ‘Journal of Plant Physiology and Pathology’, or ‘Advances in Dairy Research’?
  • Some of them have pretty nice homepages, but a closer inspection clearly reveals that the mission is not to promote science, but to earn money.
  • Contact details are minimal – and, I suppose, quite often just post boxes.
  • Instructions to authors are either poorly written, superficial (‘Please write abstract, introduction, material and methods, results and discussion’), or a copy and paste job from other journals.
  • Submissions are usually welcome via email.
  • They all promise fast turn around time from submission to publication. Sometimes within a week.

The one thing that is always evident is that there is a small fee to be payed…

OK - so that's how you write a scientific paper. Excellent. Also note that "All papers will be published in the Journal after peer-review of process" - what ever that means.

OK – so that’s how you write a scientific paper. Excellent. Also note that “All papers will be published in the Journal after peer-review of process” – what ever that means.

Although some of them are amusing to read, the whole business leaves a lingering foul taste in your mouth. These predatory publishers wouldn’t be around if not a sufficient number of people actually submitted papers to them. Either these people are fooled, or they are fools themselves. Both things are bad for science.

One of the emails ended with this little quote. A spam mail feigning its innocence.

One of the emails ended with this little quote. A spam mail feigning its innocence.

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The DUCKOMENT – one document to rule them all

A perfectly ordered office. Each thing in its allotted space. Harmony.

A perfectly ordered office. Each thing in its allotted space. Harmony. Too bad it is not my office.

By Jonas Waldenström

Being stressed by the backlog of papers you haven’t read is a defining property of modern academics. So many papers, so little time!

The organized fellows block time in their calendars for reading the latest articles – like every Friday between 09 and 12. But I consider these folks as outliers in the Ivory Tower time management distribution. Most of us print interesting papers, put them in a ‘to-read-later’ pile; alternatively stuff them in the bag on our way home.

But, no time like present; there is seldom more time later. Printed papers remain unread, and new papers arrive to contest with old ones. On the rare occasions that I clean my office I usually find three or four piles of neatly printed pdf:s that I forgot I ever sent to the printer. Alternatively, I find them cramped and wrinkled in the bottom of my bag together with the debris a domestic life with three kids generates (half a sausage, some old raisins, chocolate wrapper, a diaper, and unsalvageable pieces of toys).

Or if you do read them, how much do you remember later on? After a week, a month, or a year? I often get that tingling sensation that ‘I have read that somewhere’, but tracking the study down involves unleashing your inner Sherlock. As a side note, this actually happens with my own papers – ‘Hmm, didn’t I write that somewhere?’

This week I started another approach. Instead of the piles, boxes, bags and drawers, I created a master document. This document, cleverly titled The DUCKOMENT, is the one document to rule all documents. In The DUCKOMENT I immediately pin down the most important findings of a paper on ducks and influenza, separated under headings that make sense to me. In a way this is writing a loooong review, slowly line by line. I also put the paper in the reference managing system, so it is all done and not in another pile labeled ‘to include in Endnote’ (I already had three of those…). And I tabulate important data in an associated spreadsheet.

Time will tell if this is a smart move or not, but so far it is nice to see The DUCKOMENT slowly building reference by reference. As I store it in my Dropbox I can access it from home, on the road, in the jungle, in da office.

Regrettably, an alternative future is that I will have five copies of the file, each with a slightly different name, in different folders, in different computers, or more likely in a printed form under the sofa behind a diaper…

One document to rule them all,

One document to find them,

One document to bring them all

and in the darkness bind them.

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Littlest workshopTM – small, but productive meetings are the best

A duck and computer, all wrapped up in a nice package - extend this to a workshop and you'll have the LittlestTM Workshop.

A duck and computer, all wrapped up in a nice package – extend this to a workshop and you’ll have the LittlestTM Workshop.

By Jonas Waldenström

Last week we organized a duck immunology workshop here in Kalmar that brought together people with various backgrounds in pathogen research, immunology, and movement ecology.

And it was a great meeting! Over the course of two days we presented data, discussed findings, and crafted possible research roads for the future. We also ate out on restaurants, and went to Ottenby Bird Observatory for some hands-on experience of birds. Some of the folks had met before, but most had not. My co-organizer Robert Kraus (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology) and I wanted to have a small meeting that fostered interactions. And it small it was, actually only 14 people. But we coined it the first International Duck Immunology Workshop (IDIW), partly for fun and partly because we would like to see this series to continue.

Me, Martin Wikelski and a duck - as well as a slightly tilted horizon. Photo Helena Westerdahl.

Me, Martin Wikelski and a duck – as well as a slightly tilted horizon. Photo Helena Westerdahl.

Anyway, what are the benefits of a small meeting?

To start with, everyone gets involved, and you have plenty of time to talk to each other. In my experience, lasting collaborations depend on social interactions – you are more inclined to do good science with someone you know, than with someone you never met. With time, such collaborations turn into friendship, and it is incredible how much you can do with a set of friends. Actually, I think most of the stuff I have done in my career would have been impossible without good friends that chipped in with ideas and analyzes.

Secondly, ideas come more easily in shared brainstorming. By connecting disparate dots, a cohesive picture may appear. The opposite is also true – your wonderful idea perhaps wasn’t properly thought through, and comments from folks with a different background may help you find the weak spots.

Thirdly, if we want to foster a new generation of scientists, we PIs need to provide a space for our students. Newly started PhD students are often intimidated at big scientific conferences, overwhelmed by it all, and old PIs tend to talk with other old PIs, rather than with unknown students. In this meeting we had two fresh PhD students that were given time to present their ideas of what to do in their projects, and to get direct feedback on their plans. Quite brave of them, but also very fruitful.

So, yes, size of a scientific meeting matter. A lot! Larger meetings have the benefit of attracting a bigger crowd, but if carefully crafted a small meeting can give all the output from a large one, but in distilled form. Let’s go for more Littlest WorkshopsTM in the future, shall we?

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An eye for an eye – plotting my revenge on the #vandaleyeser

By Jonas Waldenström

There is a new postdoc in town. A social, witty and intelligent postdoc. He is also a vandal, or more precisely: a vandaleyeser.

When I walked pass my lab the other day, this was what I saw:

‘Dear gull, why do you have so large eyes?’

'More salt, anyone?'

‘More salt, anyone?’

This is a thesis I am reading for a thesis defense next week. My guess is that these three Mallards are infected with bird flu

You got to hand it to him: this is pretty funny. An excellent way of lighten up your day. But hey, kid, this is just the beginning – I will vandaleyes you back. Revenge will be paid, an eye for an eye!

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