People put so much weight on what the “experts” say – it’s easier to abdicate our own research and critical thinking and rely on others who are supposed to know more than we do. It makes sense to an extent – no one has time to do their own research on every question that comes up, especially complicated issues like science or economics – but blanket trust placed in others, simply because they have a degree or have been published somewhere, can be a dangerous thing.
Case in point: A scientist who blogs under the name “Neuroskeptic” wrote a spoof academic piece and submitted it to nine scientific publications, to see whether any would publish what was clearly and explicitly a farce. He chose a Star Wars theme for his submission, writing under the names “Dr. Lucas McGeorge” and “Dr. Annette Kin,” and focusing on the “midi-chlorians,” fictional entities that live inside cells and give Jedi their powers.
The bulk of the paper was a copy-and-paste of the mitochondria entry from Wikipedia, changed with a simple find/replace to turn mitochondr* into midichlor*. He then added clear Star Wars reference, such as:
- “Beyond supplying cellular energy, midichloria perform functions such as Force sensitivity…”
- “Involved in ATP production is the citric acid cycle, also referred to as the Kyloren cycle after its discoverer”
- “Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside in all living cells – without the midi-chlorians, life couldn’t exist, and we’d have no knowledge of the force. Midichlorial disorders often erupt as brain diseases, such as autism.”
- He inserted dialogue verbatim from one of the movies, including the monologue on the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise.
He even admitted what he did in the footnotes, stating ““The majority of the text in the current paper was Rogeted from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrion Apologies to the original authors of that page.”
The result? In the author’s own words:
Four journals fell for the sting. The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ) I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny.
Finally, I should note that as a bonus, “Dr Lucas McGeorge” was sent an unsolicited invitation to serve on the editorial board of this journal.
This should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who uncritically quotes, or defers to, an expert simply because they’ve been published somewhere. They could well be legitimate – or they may not. Do your due diligence in any case.