Scam Publisher Fools Swedish Cranks

Perennial Aard favourites N-A. Mörner and B.G. Lind have published another note in a thematically unrelated journal. It’s much like the one they snuck past peer review into Geografiska Annaler in 2009 and which Alun Salt and I challenged in 2011. The new paper is as usual completely out of touch with real archaeology, misdating Ales stenar by over 1000 years and comparing it to Stonehenge using the megalithic yard. No mention is made of the fact that this unit of measurement was dreamed up by professor of engineering cum crank archaeoastronomer Alexander Thom and has never had any standing in academic archaeology. The megalithic yard does not exist.

At first I thought, damn, they’ve managed to game the system again. But then I looked into the thing some more and came to the conclusion that this time, Mörner & Lind have been scammed, poor bastards.

The journal they’ve published in is named the International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics. It’s an on-line Open Access quarterly, and though it has an ISSN number for a paper version as well, this is not held by any Swedish library. This may not be cause for suspicion, because the journal is new: its first four issues appeared last year. The Head Editor is professor of astronomy at a young English university that is quite highly ranked within the UK.

So far, it may look like Mörner & Lind have simply published in a low-impact but legit academic venue. But let’s have a look at the publishers of IJAA, Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP). This outfit publishes from Irvine, CA, but its web site is registered in Wuhan, China, where its president Huaibei “Barry” Zhou is based. He is apparently a physicist. According to a 2010 statement by Zhou to Nature News, he co-founded SCIRP in 2006 or 2007. In the five or six years since, the firm has launched over 150 on-line Open Access journals. Uh-oh.

Suspicions about SCIRP began to gather in December 2009, when Improbable Research, the body behind the IgNobel Prize, said the publisher might offer “the world’s strangest collection of academic journals”. Improbable Research pointed out that at the time, SCIRP’s journals were repurposing and republishing decade-old papers from bona-fide journals, sometimes repeating the same old paper in several of its journals, and offering scholars in unrelated fields places on editorial boards.

This was taken up by Nature News in January 2010, when they contacted Zhou and received the explanation that the old papers had appeared on the web site by mistake after having been used to mock up journals for design purposes. “They just set up the website to make it look nice”, said Zhou. While he had otherwise represented himself as president of SCIRP, Zhou now told Nature News that he helped to run the journals in a volunteer capacity. The piece reports that SCIRP had listed several scholars on editorial boards without asking them first, in some cases recruiting the names of people in completely irrelevant fields. In other cases, scholars had agreed to join because a SCIRP journal’s name was similar to that of a respected publication in their field. Recruitment efforts by e-mail had apparently been intensive and scattershot.

Now, what is this really about? Why is SCIRP cranking out all of these fly-by-night fringe journals that anybody can read for free? The feeling across the web is that it’s most likely a scam utilising a new source of income: the “author pays” model built into bona fide Open Access publishing. A kinder way to put it would be that SCIRP is a pseudo-academic vanity press.

Instead of charging a subscription fee, many Open Access journals charge authors a publication fee once their manuscripts have gone through peer review and been accepted. This gets research out of the stranglehold of the big publishing houses (Elsevier et al.), making it available to tax payers and scholars in poor countries. Instead of putting huge money into their libraries to buy expensive journal subscriptions, universities can distribute smaller amounts among their faculty to pay Open Access publication fees.

But Mörner & Lind’s new paper has clearly not been vetted by any competent scholar. This suggests that anybody can publish anything in SCIRP’s International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics as long as they pay the fee. Its Head Editor tells me by e-mail that he is “concerned about the refereeing process and should investigate”.

And as for the other 150 SCIRP journals? Well, what can you tell me, Dear Reader?

(SCIRP has a few other lines of business too. One is apparently scam conferences. Beware of the International Conference on Internet Technology and Applications.)

Update 16 April: Michael D. Smith, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Kent, stands by his journal. He wrote me today:

I have checked – the article was indeed refereed properly.

I also note that your blog contains many many errors and also draws on selected information taken out of context.

I believe few academics would agree with him regarding the quality of the peer review in this case — be they astronomers, archaeologists or archaeoastronomers.


27 thoughts on “Scam Publisher Fools Swedish Cranks

  1. I’m a professional astronomer. It turns out that (almost) all the most prestigious refereed journals in astronomy and astrophysics charge fees for papers to be published. The “Astrophysical Journal”, for example, charges $110 per page. Other journals have similar fees.

    It’s just the standard practice in this field, and has been for ages.

    This has no real bearing on the story you report, of course, but it sounds like it’s quite different from the situation in archaeology.


  2. However it’s true that some of the reporting of the Open Access movement has misleadingly implied that page charges are an invention of Open Access, something we astronomers greet with a wry smile.

    This talk of Alexander Thom makes me wonder if you ever came across a chap called Archie Roy – a legit astronomer, but also something of a disciple of Thom with a penchant for psychic research and cranky speculation about the Minoans, Thera/Santorini etc. He was an entertaining character whose public talks to the amateur astronomers of Glasgow were always well attended, but otherwise completely out to lunch.


  3. A possible interpretation. In that case, we have a publisher and authors who are scamming unwitting editorial board members. Some of whom may of course be on those boards because that may be used as a qualification…


  4. From your link to Improbable Research: one of the republished papers was

    “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” David Dunning and Justin Kruger, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, December 1999, pp. 1121-34.

    A somewhat ironic choice. This was also the paper that tipped an alert reader to the scam: Dunning and Kruger won an Ig Nobel prize for the original version of that paper.

    Björn @6: You are probably right about Mörner and Lind’s motivation, but wouldn’t an archeology publication in an (alleged) astrophysics journal raise some eyebrows?


  5. Just as another point. I looked at the diagram of the ship superimposed over Stonehenge again and marvelled at how perfectly it fit. After all Stonehenge is roughly 100m in diameter and the boat is much longer. It’s taken me quite a while to work out why a 100m diameter circle being shorter than a 70m boat bothers me.


  6. It is a cosmic coincidence that this showed up today AND that I read it (sorry, I usually don’t read this blog) because you will never believe the email I just got:

    Dear [Marry Me, Mindy],

    Research Signpost, leaders in scientific publishing with over 2500 titles of merit is making two requests of you:

    1. Own your Journal Scheme: Under this scheme, you can start and edit your own e-journal in your area of specialization physical chemistry. We will do the name clearance, take the ISSN, DOI, send the journal to the indexing agencies for evaluation and host the journal. You will be sent a User Name and Password which will give you full control of the journal. Under this Open Access Scheme, 30% of the article processing fee will be sent to the Chief Editor and 50% of the advertising fee will be repatriated.

    There will be a one-time set up fee for the Editor which will be U.S. $ 850/- The Chief Editor can publish articles free of cost.

    Got that? For a one-time set up fee of $850, I can create MY OWN JOURNAL, complete with ISSN and DOI. And I can publish in it for free.


  7. Shoot, I actually did a double-take when I first read it because I thought it said…

    “1. Own your Journal Scam: Under this scam, you can start and edit your own e-journal…”


  8. In 2008 a Russian journal that would publish any paper for a high fee got hijacked with a paper that was created with SciGen aka Rooter and automatically translated into Russian by a program ETAP-3. As a result, the journal was kicked off the official list of respectable journals. Yes, former communist countries have such lists.

    The whole story is on the SciGen blog here


  9. “wouldn’t an archeology publication in an (alleged) astrophysics journal raise some eyebrows?”

    If it is about archeoastronomy, as this paper apparently is, then it wouldn’t be out of place in an astronomy journal. Astrophysics? Maybe, but the astronomy/astrophysics split is fuzzy with respect to what is published where.


  10. “It turns out that (almost) all the most prestigious refereed journals in astronomy and astrophysics charge fees for papers to be published.”

    The “big three” are The Astrophysical Journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and Astronomy & Astrophysics. Only the first has page charges; the other two do not. While the other two charge for subscription (as does ApJ, the prices are not in the Elsevier or Springer category but relatively reasonable.

    This episode should remind people that the idea of open access (taken in its broadest sense, i.e. free to read for anyone, not in the hijacked since of page charges instead of subscription charges) as an alternative to inflated prices from Elsevier and others is distinct from the refereeing process. While there might be problems with the refereeing process as well, one needs to solve them separately. Some have suggested doing away with traditional journals altogether, but this episode demonstrates why this is not a good idea. Publishing in a reputable journal is still a mark of quality and it is OK if someone gets money for guaranteeing that.


  11. N-A Mörner and Bob G Lind had a seriour setback, lately, regarding their interpretation of Ales Stenar, the iron/ age viking age stone ship in southest Scania, when the Swedish National Heritage Board published a report that established the dating of that monument as post bronze age(500-900 AD). That report pointed to a second stone ship, a bronze age burial mound next to the ship and stone age usage of the same spot. Wladyslaw Duczko that helped these two zealots last year did actually find nothing of a bronze age road from the shore below up to the monument.


  12. Philip, what about quantum archaeology? “I am entangled with the past, and thus know where the hoard of gold is. If you chip in 1000 $ you will get a share of the excavation profits”. Or something similar.

    BTW, I have always assumed the bronze age population density to have been rather low, the paleoBrits built Stonehenge by dint of continuous effort and relative large size of the bronze age polity that supported the effort. Scania is rather small, if you factor in the total population during the era.


  13. It seems to be more like a business idea then a journal, or maybe perhaps journalism in 2012 is pay to play.

    Just imagine what your newspaper will look like in a couple of years now.


  14. So, did you ask Dr. Smith, who proudly lists “Editor-In-Chief, International Journal of Astronomy and Astrophysics” on his main page next to his directorships, if he paid a fee for the position?


  15. A possible presentation. In that situation, we have a founder and writers who are ripping off unsuspecting magazine selected panel associates. Some of whom may of course be on those forums because that may be used as a qualification…


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