John McCool, an editor of scientific writing, had a hunch that the Urology & Nephrology Open Access Journal was a "predatory" pay-to-publish journal. So, he decided to submit a paper chronicling a fictional case study based on a popular episode of "Seinfeld." Here's what happened next.
McCool's paper focused on a man afflicted with "uromycitisis," which he described as "a rare but serious condition" that is caused by "prolonged failure to evacuate the contents of the bladder and can result in a serious infection."
But uromycitisis isn't real—it's drawn from a famous episode of "Seinfeld" which involves the titular character, Jerry, getting lost in a parking lot, urinating because he cannot find a bathroom, and being caught doing so by a security guard. To get out of trouble, Jerry invents uromycitisis, claiming that he could have died if he hadn't relieved himself in the garage.
McCool, who is not a physician, submitted his paper under the name "Dr. Martin van Nostrand," the physician alter ego of Kramer, another "Seinfeld" character. Among his "co-authors" were several other "Seinfeld" characters, such as Jay Reimenschneider, Kramer's friend who eats horse meat, and Leonard "Len" Nicodemo, another one of Kramer’s friends who once had gout.
McCool also made up a fake institution where he and his co-authors worked—the Arthur Vandelay Urological Research Institute—and cited fake articles written by the show's fictional characters.
McCool submitted his paper and "a mere 33 minutes after receiving it, a representative notified 'Dr. van Nostrand' that it had been sent out for peer review," McCool writes in Kottke. Three days later, the journal notified McCool that his paper had been conditionally accepted and requested that he make some minor changes, such as including his fictional patient's lab results. He was also asked to pay a "nominal" $799 fee plus tax. McCool revised the paper but did not pay the fee. Nevertheless, it was soon published online.
In a LinkedIn post, McCool published an email he eventually received from the journal. In it, a representative of the publication informed McCool that it had, "received ... emails about your article that it was a prank article and it is based on a "Seinfeld" television episode." It continued, "We request you to let us know your clarification regarding this issue. Otherwise we will retract your case report from our Journal."
McCool wrote back and confirmed it was indeed a prank—but a prank with a purpose. Calling the journal "possibly predatory," he urged it to "stop taking advantage of genuine researchers whom you know are under tremendous professional pressure to get their papers published" and "stop disrespecting ... the wider scientific community by publishing a fake journal."
He concluded, "Either institute real standards and promote real science or get out of this business. Not only are you not needed, you're actually harmful."
Writing in The Scientist, McCool says the goals of his prank are bigger than exposing one journal. "My long-term goal—an ambitious one, I know—is to stop the production of predatory journals altogether," he says (Kottke, Kottke, 4/26; McCool, The Scientist, 4/6; McCool, LinkedIn Pulse, 4/21).
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