Scientist Published Papers Based on ‘Rick and Morty’ to Expose Predatory Academic Journals

Scientists have discovered a way to use magnets to fight back against intergalactic parasites. The trick is that it only works in the Zyrgion simulation. In a paper published in several scientific journals, Newer Tools to Fight Inter-Galactic Parasites and Their Transmissibility in Zyrgion Simulation, leading scientist Beth Smith laid out research describing a new method to fight the terrible parasites that live by implanting false memories in their hosts.

That is, of course, bullshit. Beth Smith, the Zyrgion simulation, and intergalactic memory implanting parasites are all references to Rick and Morty. The paper is an obvious troll, but that didn’t stop three scientific journals— ARC Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, IOSR Journal of Pharmacy and Biological Sciences, and Clinical Biotechnology and Microbiology from publishing the paper without a second glance.

The Rick and Morty scientific prank is the work of Farooq Ali Khan—an undergraduate college professor and PhD student in Hyderabad, India—and it highlights a serious problem for serious scientific research. There are hundreds of academic and scientific journals out there, many of them with good reputations and a process for peer review.

But for every legitimate journal, there are a dozen predatory institutions that will publish anything sight unseen or demand money from the authors to publish.

“The fake science, fake news epidemic is getting worse by every day, and I really wanted to do something about it,” Ali Khan told me in an email. “There’s a lot of money involved in it and these people are getting more powerful, and several mediocre science papers are being published, which is a severe threat to science [and] academic research.”

Ali Khan is a Rick and Morty fan who wanted to expose some of the academic journals publishing junk science. He reached out to American librarian Jeffrey Beall, an outspoken critic of what he calls “predatory journals.” Beall maintains a list of offenders on his personal blog. Ali Khan picked 14 journals from the list and submitted his fake Rick and Morty paper to them.

Three published the paper without comment and five demanded payment for publication.

Three of the journals rejected the paper outright, including Journal of Bacteriology & Parasitology, which sent Ali Khan commentary from the reviewers. “The article’s language is very confusing and many words doesn’t make any sense to me, for instance, dinglebop, schleem, schwitinization,” one reviewer said.

“Is this a joke?” Another asked. “Intergalactic parasites?”

Only one of the 14 journals Ali Khan submitted his paper to took the time to have it peer reviewed, meaning another group of scientists or experts in the field takes a look at the submitted paper and makes sure it isn’t complete nonsense.

In this era of fake news, many blog posts and news articles trade on scientific research. Ali Khan says it’s important that readers don’t take every academic article they read at face value.

“I firmly believe these stings [will] help educate a lot of young students… and early career researchers and save their money,” Ali Khan said. “Awareness is one way to fight this epidemic.”

He advises readers to take a look at journals’ websites; junk science ones ares often poorly designed. Look out for spelling errors and the quality of their previously published work too, he says.

If that sounds like too much work, check Beall’s list of predatory journals to see if the research you’re reading about comes from a suspect source.