Is it possible to publish scientific articles written as a joke?

It is not the norm, but it has happened: using the right words and form, someone has managed to persuade academic publications to publish nonsense articles.

25 years have passed since the first, great joke against the academic world: it was 1996 and Alan Sokal (professor of physics at New York University), fresh from the publication of the book Imposture Intellectuals , in which he criticized the lack of rigor in publishers and postmodern academics , he became the protagonist of what would go down in history as the “Sokal affair”. To prove his thesis, Sokal submitted an article entitled ” Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity ” to an academic cultural journal, Social Text . of quantum gravity “).

The content? Stuff . A jumble of technical terms and academic big words put in the right places, in support of nonsense theses and with some concepts that were ideologically close to the thinking of those of Social Text . The result? The magazine published the article, later declared by Sokal himself a joke written to prove the truth of his thesis.

PAROL (ON) AND IN FREEDOM. At this point someone may be thinking that, since these are publications with a humanistic content, it was relatively easier to make fun of … academic rigor. And that everything would become more complicated if we were talking about “hard science”. There is an episode that seems to agree with those who think so.

An article published in the Spanish version of The Conversation tells us about it : it was the early 2000s when the brothers Igor and Grichka Bogdanov , science communicators and French TV stars, wrote some physics articles (some of which contained their hypothesis on what happened before and during the Big Bang) which, once published, received criticism from many experts in the field. John Baez, a famous American mathematician, called the work “a mixture of apparently plausible sentences with correct technical words written in the correct order, but without logic or cohesion”. According to the German physicist Max Niedermaier it was “pseudoscience”, written with a technical jargon in full Sokal style. Some time later the French CNRS ( National Center for Scientific Research ) concluded that their works had “no scientific value”.

INTELLECTUAL AI. Yet there have been some occasions in which, even scientists, have been made fun of … In 2005, three MIT students made fun of the academic world. To criticize the fact that many expensive science conferences were organized with the aim of plucking young researchers eager to “make curriculum”, the three developed a computer program that could automatically generate academic articles by mixing random phrases and technicalities from other works. One of the AI ​​articles was accepted at a computer science conference that same year!

QUANTITY VS QUALITY. Although those described are very rare episodes, exceptions that confirm the rule of academic rigor, must nevertheless make us reflect. The current system requires, in particular to the youngest who seek to make a career in the academic field, to publish as much as possible : the more articles you have, the more your work is recognized. Hence the risk that quantity prevails over quality and that the revision of some not-so-convincing articles ends up getting out of control: as claimed by the movement born in Berlin in 2010 called ” Slow Science “, “science needs time to think ”

by Abdullah Sam
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