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"Dr. Fraud" Sting Nabs Dozens of Phony Scientific Journals

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Sometimes you just have to fight fire with fire. Scientist Anna O. Szust (“Anna, a Fraud” in Polish) convinced 48 journals to offer her a job despite her flimsy credentials—and the fact that she doesn’t exist. The real researchers behind the sting operation detailed their findings in the journal Nature.

Researchers who don’t publish their work risk losing tenure or funding, but slots in prestigious journals are incredibly competitive. This “publish or perish” mandate has thus fueled two big problems in academia: an emphasis on flashy, attention-grabbing findings; and an industry of predatory journals that take researchers’ money in exchange for the promise of publication.

A few years ago, a group of researchers in Poland became “increasingly disturbed” by the number of invitations they were getting to become editors at sketchy-sounding journals. “It became clear that the problem was huge,” they write, “yet had not been empirically examined.”

To get the lay of the predatory publishing landscape, the researchers invented a second-tier scientist with a fairly obvious fake name. Anna O. Szust had a variety of disparate scientific interests, fake university degrees, and had authored book chapters for publishers that don’t exist.

Even with all this fake fluff on her C.V., Dr. Fraud was still not qualified to edit a scientific journal—but that didn’t stop her from trying. The researchers wrote to 360 different publications—120 respected titles, 120 open-access, and 120 suspected predatory publishers—asking if they’d hire Dr. Fraud as an editor.

More than half of the journals didn't reply. Of those that did, all of the established journals turned her down. But eight open-access journals and 40 suspected phony journals appointed her an editor. Some were open about the fact that the position was meaningless; one journal responded, “It’s our pleasure to add your name as editor in chief for this journal with no responsibilities.” Another noted that Fraud’s cover letter said that she hoped to attain a degree she already claimed to have. But such a minor detail didn’t stop that journal from extending a job offer to her anyway.

Some of the journals “revealed themselves to be even more mercenary than we expected,” the authors wrote. They entreated Dr. Fraud to recruit more researchers who would pay to publish. Several offered her a cut of the profits.

After the experiment ended, the real researchers contacted the journals that had made job offers and told them all the truth. Six publications denied having ever accepted Dr. Fraud in the first place. One threatened legal action. At least 11 of the predatory titles are still using her name on their websites. Fraud even found herself listed as the editor in chief of a publication the researchers had never contacted.

“It is difficult to predict the future editorial career of Anna O. Szust,” the authors write, but “this rise of predatory journals threatens the quality of scholarship.”

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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