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It’s . . . spam-tastic!

We’ll celebrate Christmas today with a scam that almost fooled me. OK, not quite: I was about two steps from getting caught.

Here’s the email:

Dear Dr. Gelman,

I hope you do not mind me emailing you directly, I thought it would be the easiest way to make first contact. If you have time for a short discussion I was hoping to speak with you about your studies and our interest to feature your work in a special STEM issue of our publication, Scientia.

I will run you through this in more detail when we talk. But to give you a very quick insight into Scientia and the style in which we publish, I have attached a few example articles from research groups we have recently worked with. I have attached these as HTML files to reduce the file size, but I can send PDF versions if you would prefer. As you can see, our style is very different to the traditional science publishing format and we are very much aimed at connecting science in society.

You may also view one of our exciting full editions of Scientia here: [link redacted so I don’t give these spammers any free SEO]

Please let me know if you might have 15 minutes for a short phone call and advise when would be a good time and day for you to discuss further?

I look forward to talking soon.

Kind regards,

Marie Serrano

Publication manager
Science Diffusion

T: +44 7437 *** ***
E: **@***.***
W: www.***.***
W: www.***.***

Hmmm, it sounds like some sort of science publication or newsletter. I get requests like this from time to time, and if I have something to write, I’ll send it off. For example, I’ve recently written articles for these publications that I’d never previously heard of:

Socius

Brazilian Journal of Probability and Statistics

Clinical Neuropsychologist

Journal of Quantitative Criminology

Journal of Survey Statistics and Methodology

You get the idea. Some of these outlets are pretty obscure, I’d probably be better off focusing my literary efforts elsewhere, but I get asked, it’s easier to say yes than to say no, and it’s always good to reach new audiences.

“Scientia” sounded like something of that ilk—actually, it sounded a lot like “Socius,” for which I recently wrote an article. (Actually, my Socius experience was annoying: they told me they wanted the article in a hurry, so I quickly whipped it off, but since then I’ve been waiting forever; apparently it wasn’t in any hurry at all! But that’s another story.)

So I clicked the link to check out the “exciting full edition of Scientia” and . . . ummm, it looked kinda amateurish, but that’s ok. I’ve published in Kwantitative Methoden and in European Science Editing and neither of these looks so professional—heck, for years I had a regular column in Chance, a magazine that has the production values of a high school yearbook, circa 1980—so that’s not enough for me to say no.

But then, scrolling down, I see this:

Wait a minute . . . where have I heard this name before? I did a Paul Alper and searched my blog and found this story of a series of emails from “Nick Bagnall” who at the time had an outfit called “Research Media” that would publish my article for a low low price of “$2,980 USD for the full three page development, this is a required contribution.”

The price is going down, though! I scrolled through their webpage and found this:

OK, 375*4 is 1500, and converting the exchange rates gives us $1912. So their price has gone down by 36%! I think I’ll wait until the price goes negative before considering it.

Now that I realized this was a scam, I looked at “Marie Serrano”‘s email more carefully, and I noticed the subject line: “Solving Difficult Bayesian Computation Problems in Education Research Using STAN – Science Diffusion.” All they did was take the title of our Institute for Education Sciences grant. Too lazy to even realize that this would be a ludicrously inappropriate topic for any magazine that anyone would want to read. And, by the way, it’s Stan, not STAN.

P.S. As I wrote before, this sort of thing really does hurt my feelings. I do all this research because I think it’s important. So it hurts when these people come along and think of me as nothing more than a mark.

P.P.S. I wonder if Nick and Marie are two different people? I guess it’s possible. If so, I guess they’re doing pretty well, spamming scientists who’ve received NSF and IES grants. I guess I should count myself lucky that they’ve only hit me twice so far.

“Scientia,” indeed.

30 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I recently started to wonder why tenured professors would still even care about 1) publishing, and more specifically 2) publishing in “official” journals (possibly with as high of an impact factor as possible).

    What would happen if all tenured professors would only publish pre-prints on things like (psy)arxiv?

    1) I think their work could receive much more attention, and possibly impact, compared to publishing in an “official” journal.

    2) They wouldn’t be participating in all that might be wrong with current publishing (e.g. making publishing companies very rich, closing access to sientific information to the general public, counting on “peer-review” to decide whether someting is a valid/useful scientific contribution, etc.) and perhaps would even help to change the publishing system to one wich is more in line with scientific values, principles, and responsibilities.

    3) No more annoying formatting and other rules to follow when writing up your paper, no more annoying discussions with peer-reviewers, and no more annoying time-delay.

    If i were a tenured professor, and given the information i currently have, i would only publish my work on a pre-print server like (psy)arxiv and not even bother with “offical” journals anymore.

    • Andrew says:

      Anon:

      I haven’t really worked it all out. I post most things online at my website, but I also publish journal articles and books. That seems like a way to reach more people.

      • Anonymous says:

        “I post most things online at my website”

        I think that’s commendable, thank you.

        (I also reason that that’s very useful from a scientific perspective, and it fits with the perspective that science perhaps does not belong to only scientists and scientific journals but to everyone)

    • Dan Riley says:

      Publication in high impact journals is like a peacock’s plumage, the point is to attract the most selective graduate students and post-docs.

    • Ethan Bolker says:

      To earn tenure you have to do some scholarship. Many of us tenured professors got into the business because we wanted to do the scholarship for its own sake, not just as a ticket to punch for tenure. That desire continues even when we’ve gotten there.

      Having found out new good things we want to contribute that knowledge to the community. Postings on arXiv are a good way to spread the preliminary word, but publishing in appropriate journals (independent of impact factor) with good refereeing is the best way to make the results part of the record.

      • This is the explanation I always give everyone for why tenured professors keep working. I still remember the terms of my tenure—only gross negligence, vaguely defined moral turpitude, or insolvency of the university were grounds for being fired. I read that as a license for everyday negligence. I quit and went into industry the year I got tenure, so I never got to test the limits of my new contract.

        • KJA says:

          I was tenured at an “elite” Australian university. While carrying out routine administrative duties I stumbled across multiple cases where the Head of Research in my department “gifted” entire degrees to her research students. I reported this to the University and I was made redundant. The students kept their unearned degrees, and one student got a full PhD scholarship based on the high quality of her non-existent honors thesis. So reporting fraud is also grounds for terminating a tenured academic’s employment.

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        Ethan said: “Having found out new good things we want to contribute that knowledge to the community. Postings on arXiv are a good way to spread the preliminary word, but publishing in appropriate journals (independent of impact factor) with good refereeing is the best way to make the results part of the record.”

        I agree — both the “initial availability” and the “long-term availability” are important.

        In response to Bob’s comment: Having tenure has allowed me to do things that I think are worthwhile that are not part of the usual “job description”, expectations, or career path for a mathematician. In my case, I’ve spent a lot of time working with future and current secondary math teachers, and I was able to take on the job of keeping a small statistics program alive while trying to work for a statistics department. (In fact, the first was what got me involved in the second.) I think both of these have been important contributions to my university, the state of Texas, and society in general — but I would not have been able to do them if I did not have tenure. So, yes, there are people who take tenure as license for everyday negligence, but many who do not, but rather as an opportunity to do things off the beaten path.

        • Phil says:

          Martha (Smith), this is as good a place as any to say: I really appreciate your contributions on this blog. It does not surprise me that you contribute to society in other ways too.

        • Allan C says:

          To me this is how tenure is supposed to work.

          The beneficial externalities of rewarding good, productive intellectuals with tenure can be far reaching. In general, I am a huge fan of giving good people freedom to pursue their own goals/desires free from the immediate economics. Lots of amazing things can come from this. In academia, as well as industry.

          Unfortunately, there is a selection bias problem in who is awarded tenure and it seems to be less than ideal at the moment.

      • Anonymous says:

        “To earn tenure you have to do some scholarship. Many of us tenured professors got into the business because we wanted to do the scholarship for its own sake, not just as a ticket to punch for tenure. That desire continues even when we’ve gotten there. “

        Yes, i understand this. Just to be perhaps more clear: with “publishing” i meant publishing in an “official” journal (compared to only posting a paper on a pre-print server like arxiv).

        “Postings on arXiv are a good way to spread the preliminary word, but publishing in appropriate journals (independent of impact factor) with good refereeing is the best way to make the results part of the record.”

        This is (part of) what i questioned: why would tenured professors not simply only publish on pre-print servers. You provide some possible reasons why publishing in an “official” journal might still make sense for tenured professors. I question all 3 parts of your sentence:

        1) “Postings on arXiv are a good way to spread the preliminary word”

        I reason it’s just “preliminary” beacause it is being used/seen that way: a lot of the time a (slightly different?) version of the pre-print is later published in an “official” journal, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Furthermore, if i am not mistaken psyarxiv let’s you post updated versions, while keeping the same url/doi/citation.

        2) “but publishing in appropriate journals (independent of impact factor) with good refereeing”

        Good refereeing is dependend on the referees, which you can’t choose a lot of the time, and with no way of knowing and/or validating whether they are “good”. If you can choose the referees, you can just as well ask these people to read your paper before you post it on arxiv.

        3) “is the best way to make the results part of the record”

        I reason pre-print servers like arxiv have some sort of mechanism in place to make sure the content is safe and will be preserved. I reason this is similar to “official” journals’ online content. Pre-print papers are being read, and cited, just like papers published in “official” journals, and are part of the record in the same way i reason. I don’t see a difference between papers posted on pre-print servers and papers published in “official” journals concerning being “part of the record”.

        I think peer-review as is used by “official” journals does not make any sense whatsoever. This is mostly because of 2 things:

        1) it seems rather arbitrary to let 2-3 people provide comments, and/or decide whether the paper is worth publishing. Perhaps this makes even less sense when you think about the role and number of co-authors on the average paper (i.c. there are your 2-3 people already who provided feedback and have decided that the paper is worth publishing)

        2) if you value comments, you can just as well ask some colleagues for feedback before posting it on arxiv. Perhaps you could even make them co-authors if they provide substantially useful feedback (imagine what that would do to improve feedback and/or concerning the discussion about academics doing “peer-review for free”)

        • Anonymous says:

          “I think peer-review as is used by “official” journals does not make any sense whatsoever”

          What i also find interesting to think about is the following. I reason “peer-reviewers” are the same people who write and submit papers themselves. If this is the case, why should someone give more weight to their view/writing based on whether they are presently working via the role of “author” or “peer-reviewer”?

          The only way for this to make sense to me, is to reason that the role they have would somehow influence their reasoning/writing/etc. This can both be “good” and “bad” from a scientific perspective i reason, but more importantly i reason scientists should hone the “good” things that might come from viewing the paper from the perspective of a reviewer, and not rely on “peer-review” for that.

          I also wonder what percentage of papers that get rejected, eventually get published elsewhere. If that’s a very large percentage, i reason that’s another reason why “peer-review” does not make any sense. The only way for this to make sense to me, is to reason that the feedback resulted in an improved paper, which i highly doubt is the case and i highly doubt can be objectively verified.

          I tried to find some information on this, and this is what i found after about 5 seconds of searching:

          “Studies suggest that a high percentage of articles rejected by prestigious journals are published elsewhere. For instance, 72 percent of the articles rejected by the American Journal of Public Health were subsequently published in other journals.”

          https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2009/04/27/when-journal-says-no

          The more i read and think about “peer-review”, the more it doesn’t make any sense to me. To me, it’s actually super un-scientific, as it (sort of) assumes, and results in, 1) some “authority” deciding what is good/useful/etc. science, and 2) some “authority” possibly stifling progress/criticism/etc.

          Also see this:

          https://www.sciencealert.com/these-8-papers-were-rejected-before-going-on-to-win-the-nobel-prize

          I thought the following quote might be relevant concerning “peer-review” in general, and concerning the above link to rejected papers that went on to win the nobel prize:

          “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” – Bruce Lee

          • Ethan Bolker says:

            I haven’t read all your links.

            From personal experience as a mathematician I have found peer reviewing extraordinarily valuable. Reviewers have improved my papers. Reviews of two of my submissions correctly recommended against publication (with reasons) – I shelved them. As a reviewer I have rejected papers as inappropriate for the journal to which they were submitted (perhaps they ended up elsewhere) and improved others, both by checking for correctness and improving exposition.

            • Anonymous says:

              “Reviewers have improved my papers. Reviews of two of my submissions correctly recommended against publication (with reasons) – I shelved them.”

              I wonder if it can be objectively determined whether papers have indeed been improved, and to what extent (i.c. is it really worth all the effort/time/resources), and whether submissions were indeed correctly declined and possibly subsequently shelved by “peer-review”.

              I sincerely doubt this is even possible. And i sincerely doubt this is even worth all the effort/time/resources. If you post a pre-print and it contains mistakes, that’s no problem from a scientific perspective i reason. Perhaps your shelved papers could still contain something useful from a scientific perspective.

              Regardless, if papers have been improved, and if submissions were correctly (declined and subsequently) shelved as a result of “peer-review”, i reason this can/will also happen with just 1) having co-authors (which i reason do similar work “peer-reviewers” do) and/or 2) having some colleagues take a look at the paper.

            • Martha (Smith) says:

              Ethan,

              I am also a mathematician. My experience with peer reviewing in mathematics is similar to yours. But my experience is that in many other fields, the peer review system does not work as well as in mathematics.

    • Clyde Schechter says:

      Well, those of us who got into research because we like doing research, like to keep doing it even after we get tenure. And to do many kinds of research, certainly in my field, requires getting funding. Grant reviewers expect to see continuing evidence of productivity–and the currency of that realm is the peer-reviewed journals, with the high-impact journals counting for more. So to keep doing what we love to do, that is a price we pay.

      It also varies a lot by specialty. In physics, arxiv seems to be widely recognized and accepted. But in health care it is not, nor is anything analogous to it available.

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        “… with the high-impact journals counting for more.”

        Sad. In math (in my experience), it’s the quality of the work that is the most important, not the journal it’s published in.

  2. Larry Raffalovich says:

    In some universities the point is to get promoted &/or a salary increase.

  3. Paul Alper says:

    For more on a, but not necessarily the, Nick Bagnall, go to The Academic’s Guide to Publishing
    By Rob Kitchin, Duncan Fuller

    https://books.google.com/books?id=BecDA6mgUCgC&pg=PA68&lpg=PA68&dq=nick+bagnall+research+media&source=bl&ots=Q9k8v_rnAr&sig=J0eHqdvrsQWwazibFvWNXsKtoSo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjnqv7L1abYAhWNxIMKHXWQCkk4ChDoAQgmMAA#v=onepage&q=nick%20bagnall%20research%20media&f=false

    “If their intended story is a critique of your research, it is usually best to try to cooperate in some way – especially if they are going to run the story regardless. … As such, writing for newspapers entails translating your message into what former journalist Nicholas Bagnall (1993: 2) terms ‘newspaper language’: The …”

    From http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/12142774/Nicholas-Bagnall-journalist-obituary.html we learn that a Nick Bagnall died in 2016.

  4. Smut Clyde says:

    Jeffrey Beall covered Sciencediffusion / Scientia a while ago, and fortunately the thread was Waybacked:
    https://web.archive.org/web/20161222222004/https://scholarlyoa.com/2016/11/15/spammers-invite-researchers-to-pay-to-advertise-their-research
    In Jeff’s words, Scientia is “not a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal. Instead, it’s an aggregation of paid advertisements for research and researchers — scientific puffery.”
    The business model, essentially, is to exploit the desperation of academics to get research grants (or extend the grants they have received already).

    It appears that the letter you received is their standard template.
    “Research Media” was sold to Emerald Publishing Group in 2013, and may have gone legit, leaving its original directors and staff to seek new openings for their talents — hence the appearance of Scientia in the same market niche.

  5. Smut Clyde says:

    People who did pay Nick Bagnall $$$$ to have their work promoted in his old “International Innovation” outlet will be shocked and surprised to find that the website vanished with all its content in 2016.

    • Andrew says:

      Smut:

      I’m sure that Bagnall and his colleagues gave them all a full refund.

      In all seriousness, it could be that Bagnall got zero takers on that earlier pitch. Indeed, the whole scam may have been indirect: Perhaps he was trying to get venture capital funding (or whatever it’s called) based on the premise that he could suck money from thousands of scientists. So he makes up this scam that doesn’t fool any scientists—but maybe he got a few thousand dollars from credulous slimeballs who wanted to be his business partners.

      The possibilities are endless.

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