Fake Scholarly Article on Midi-Chlorians Tricks Professional Scientific Journals

Monday, 31 July 2017 - 10:17AM
Weird Science
Science of Sci-Fi
Science of Star Wars
Monday, 31 July 2017 - 10:17AM
Fake Scholarly Article on Midi-Chlorians Tricks Professional Scientific Journals
Image credit: Lucasfilm
Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise?

If so, you might have been reading the International Journal of Molecular Biology, which along with two other Open Access scientific journals, recently published an article which explores the function of midi-chlorians within the cells of life forms throughout the galaxy. No, not mitochondria—midi-chlorians.

Scientific publications are increasingly suffering from so-called "predatory journals" which lack the rigor and peer-reviewed testing that is widely required for most scientific papers to be accepted as trustworthy. Some journals will publish anything that's submitted to them, while others will require a fee for papers to be accepted. Enter Neuroskeptic, a blogger for Discover Magazine, who recently became so frustrated with predatory journals that he undertook an experiment of his own, seeing how many journals he could convince to publish utter garbage. What's the most convoluted nonsense he could come up with? Midi-chlorians, of course!



Submitting a paper under the name of George McLucas and Annette Kin (Get it? Annette Kin? Anakin?), Neuroskeptic found four journals willing to publish his "paper" on the prequel trilogy's bizarre explanation as to how The Force works in Star Wars. In the end, The International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access, Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and the American Research Journal of Biosciences all accepted and published Neuroskeptic's paper without question (the papers have since been taken down, of course) while the American Journal of Medical and Biological Research accepted the submission, but informed the fictions Doctors McLucas and Kin that they'd need to pay $360 in order to be published.

The best part is just how little these journals actually bothered to review the research before publication. The paper, titled Mitochondria: Structure, Function and Clinical Relevance, would not have passed most university plagiarism tests, as Neuroskeptic "wrote" it primarily by pulling chunks of text from Wikipedia and changing references to mitochondria to read "midi-chlorians." What would usually be a one-way ticket to expulsion from most universities around the world is apparently enough for these journals to go ahead and publish. And if that wasn't enough, Neuroskeptic also copied, verbatim, the text of Palpatine's speech about the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise into the paper, just for kicks and giggles. "Ironically, I'm not even a big Star Wars fan," says Neuroskeptic, "I just like the memes".



These kinds of stings attacking the credibility of predatory journals are nothing new. A couple of years ago, a documentary crew managed to convince several journals to publish a paper claiming to prove that chocolate aids weight loss. In this case at least, the team behind the paper did actually produce some original research, albeit from a study that was deliberately designed to be completely devoid of any scientific rigor. Not only did the team succeed in getting their paper published, but they also managed to whip up a media storm by getting various news outlets to cover their story as legitimate news.

The moral of the story here is pretty simple: science, like The Force, has a light and a dark side. Our carefully designed scientific method can be used for good, dispelling misinformation and ignorance and helping us to better understand the world around us. Or, if people choose to take the quick and easy path, scientific journals can become corrupted, filled with misinformation, and manipulated for the benefit of the Sith.
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