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


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.”

Scientists Find a Possible Link Between Beef Jerky and Mania

Scientist have discovered a surprising new factor that may contribute to mania: meat sticks. As NBC News reports, processed meats containing nitrates, like jerky and some cold cuts, may provoke symptoms of mental illness.

For a new study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, scientists surveyed roughly 1100 people with psychiatric disorders who were admitted into the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore between 2007 and 2017. They had initially set out to find whether there was any connection between certain infectious diseases and mania, a common symptom of bipolar disorder that can include racing thoughts, intense euphoria, and irritability.

While questioning participants about their diet, the researchers discovered that a significant number of them had eaten cured meats before their manic episodes. Patients who had recently consumed products like salami, jerky, and dried meat sticks were more likely to be hospitalized for mania than subjects in the control group.

The link can be narrowed down to nitrates, which are preservatives added to many types of cured meats. In a later part of the study, rats that were fed nitrate-free jerky acted less hyperactive than those who were given meat with nitrates.

Numerous studies have been published on the risks of consuming foods pumped full of nitrates: The ingredient can lead to the formation of carcinogens, and it can react in the gut in a way that promotes inflammation. It's possible that inflammation from nitrates can trigger mania in people who are already susceptible to it, but scientists aren't sure how this process might work. More research still needs to be done on the relationship between gut health and mental health before people with psychiatric disorders are told to avoid beef jerky altogether.

[h/t NBC News]

Who Started Casual Fridays?

For employees at the mercy of an office thermostat, Casual Fridays provide some much-needed relief during frigid winters and the scorching months of summer. Though many offices are beginning to loosen their dress codes permanently, plenty of employees still cling to this one day a week when wearing shorts won't raise any eyebrows and that T-shirt won't result in an email from HR. But Casual Friday didn't begin just as a cure for discomfort in the workplace; there was also money to be made. 

In the 1960s, Bill Foster, president of The Hawaiian Fashion Guild, plotted to find a way to sell more of the colorfully designed Aloha shirts to their residents with the launch of "Operation Liberation," which gave two shirts to every member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii Senate. The purpose of this campaign was to persuade the politicians to allow government workers to wear the lightweight shirts not only to beat the heat in the summer months, but also to support the state’s garment industry. The custom took off in 1966 and was given a familiar name, "Aloha Friday."

Technology giant Hewlett-Packard claims to have sparked the spread of casual wear in the workplace around the same time in the San Francisco Bay area. Called "Blue Sky Days," this Friday custom wasn't just limited to clothing: HP's founders—Bill Hewlett and David Packard—wanted people to take these days to think of more creative ideas and initiatives outside of their normal routine. This idea soon caught on throughout Silicon Valley and, eventually, into other industries.

However, the spread of this casual trend on the mainland resulted in haphazard, sometimes sloppy attire in the workplace. To help clarify the issue, and to promote his own brand, Rick Miller of Dockers stepped in with an ingenious marketing plan. In 1992, he sent an eight-page “Guide To Casual Business Wear” to approximately 25,000 human resource managers to distribute to their employees. This kickstarted the Dockers brand by popularizing the khaki pant and redefining what is acceptable attire in the workplace.

Now, many nations adopt a Casual Friday approach for similar reasons. In 2005, Japan implemented a Cool Biz policy that granted a summer dress code during hot weather months, in exchange for a more moderate temperature in office buildings. This meant offices were saving energy by keeping their temperature at no less than 82.4°F, but workers could breathe a bit easier in business casual tops and sneakers.

Blame the fashion industry, the unbearable heat, or simply an evolving cultural attitude. The likes of Bill Foster’s Aloha Friday and Rick Miller’s “Guide To Casual Business Wear” gave employees permission to dress for comfort on the job—for at least one coveted day of the week.

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