Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Bringing science into disrepute - Part 2

In December 2017, I received an unusual email from a journal I had never heard of. In this email, I was invited to submit a paper to the International Journal of Agriculture Innovations and Research. It all sounded rather grand, although the email was not signed by a person. No names of anyone in an editorial office appeard in the email, and it felt a little odd. Obviously I have never done any research in this area, and never published in it. So I was a little puzzled about how I got on to their mailing list. But I thought I would set aside my scepticism and submit a paper. After all, what had I got to lose? The time writing the paper, perhaps?

Some years ago, I came across a very funny website called SciGen. Some MIT Information Scientists had got rather fed up with constant invitations to conferences with almost no standards in relation to what they would accept. They developed a site that neeeded only the input of names for authors, and a random text generator would automatically generate a spurious paper in Information Science, instantly. The papers are properly formatted, had references, diagrams, graphs, and enough nonsense jargon to satisfy those who organise academic work only to make money, with no thought given to the quality of science. In fact, the papers are complete nonsense, but they have often been accepted for publication and at conferences. So, it took me about 20 seconds to generate the paper and send it to the International Journal of Agriculture Innovations and Research for their consideration.

Here is their invitation to me:

And here is my response:

As requested, here is my paper.

Best wishes

Will Hughes

I didn't bother with a salutation, or explanation, as no one signed the invitation and there seems to be no named editor. It felt strange writing this kind of covering email for a paper. (Especially in light of the guidance I once wrote about how to write a covering letter for journal submissions.) All this had taken less than a minute. I then waited...

Within 90 minutes, I got this back from them:

Dear Author,
Received your paper and we are submitting it to our reviewers and will get back to you soon.
If you had not submitted .doc (word file) file of your paper, please submit it.
Please also provide the alternate email id and contact number to avoid bounce back problem and communication gap.
Feel free for any query..
With Regards,
ISSN : 2319 – 1473
"Submissions Open"

So, I sent them a Word version, with this email:

Dear Editor

Here it is. I have only one email address. There will be no bounce-back problems.

Best wishes


Then, they must have read it, because two weeks later, at 5 am, they sent this:

Dear Author,
Thanks for your valuable paper submission.
Your submitted paper is not in the scope of IJAIR.
It is most suited to our another journals IJECCE(International Journal of Electronics Communication and Computer Engineering) (www.ijecce.org ). and IJEIR(International Journal of Engineering Innovations and Research)(www.ijeir.org) and we are considering it for IJECCE and for IJEIR.
The review process of your paper has been completed but it will be helpful for us, if you can mail us your concern.

Feel free for any query..
With Regards,
"Wish you Happy Christmas and Prosperous and Bright New Year"
ISSN : 2319 – 1473
"Submissions Open"

So I came back with:

Thank you for this. I have no concern. Please go ahead.
Best wishes

And, hey presto, my paper was now submitted to two more fake journals:

Dear Author,
Thanks for updates and soon you will get the final response from IJECCE and IJEIR

Feel free for any query..
With Regards,
"Wish you Happy Christmas and Prosperous and Bright New Year"

ISSN : 2319 – 1473
"Submissions Open"

I noted that there was still not editors named and nothing that would lead me to believe that this was real, but we we all seemed happy enough, spinning each other along.

The very next day, I got an email with seven attachments! The paper had been reviewed and the referees' comments were in. Fantasic! I was looking forward to read about how the paper was utter nonsense and could not possibly be published. It was going to be a great rejection letter, I was sure. Imagine my surpise when I read this:

And, 40 minutes later, this:

The same paper accepted in two different journals! This was despite their insistance that no paper can be considered for publication if it is being considered for publication elsewhere. They had messed that up, big-time. Still, I was looking forward to the referee reports. Given that the paper was pure random mush, they must have pretty steep requirements? Here are the referee reports, 1 and 2.

This was getting rather stupid. Both journals sent exactly the same referee reports. They were behaving like money-grubbing idiots, so I felt that this was the time to close this down. Here was my final message to both journals:

I am not paying money to publish a paper in your journal. You should have mentioned that there was a fee before you embarked on this process. By the way, I don’t know who you asked to review this paper, but they have no expertise in this area. They have utterly misjudged this paper. Your editor-in-chief is also ignorant in relation to the topic of your journal. I have no idea why you think I would pay money to publish in such a terrible journal. What are you playing at?

You do not even sign your emails with a name. This is not an academic process in any way. If you want to publish this paper in your so-called journal, go ahead. But I am not paying a penny. And I don’t care whether the paper cannot be withdrawn. Keep it. It can bring you nothing but disrepute.

They never answered this, and I suppose they never published the papers. Now the agriculture journal have written asking for another paper. I am not sure I can be bothered again. It took much longer to write this blog post than I spent on the actual tasks. But then, that's the price of having a blog!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Bringing science into disrepute

There is a growing number of journals and conferences whose sole purpose seems to be to elicit papers and then charge authors for publication. This is not the route to scientific communication and dialogue. Here is today's example, which seems to be sent to anyone they can get an email address for, regardless of the kind of science or quality of work:

Journal of Applied Science and Innovations

Dear Dr Professor Will Hughes

Greetings from Journal of Journal of Applied Science and Innovations 

To celebrate the Vol. 1 Issue 3, it is our pleasure to invite you to contribute an article. Your contribution will help the journal to establish its high standards and get indexed by prestigious indexing services soon.

Short-communications, Review articles, Research articles, Case reports etc. are also accepted.

Note: On this happy occasion, we are here to announce that those who contribute their manuscripts will receive Discount to the articles submitted on or before November 10, 2017.

Submit your article at to this E-mail id.
appliedscience@rroij.com, editor.jasi@peerreviewedjournals.com

Please provide your acceptance to the same.

Look forward for your reply

Best regards,
Cynthia Grace
Journal Coordinator 
Journal of Applied Science and Innovations

This message is confidential. It may also be privileged or otherwise protected by work product immunity or other legal rules. This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to which they are addressed. If you have received it by mistake, please let us know by e-mail reply and delete it from your system; you may not copy this message or disclose its contents to anyone. The views, opinions, conclusions and other information’s expressed in this electronic mail are not given or endorsed by the company unless otherwise indicated by an authorized representative independent of this message.

There are hallmarks of fake standing here. Claims that the journal has high standards and hints that it might become indexed by as commercial indexing service, as if that were a badge of recognition. It isn't. Many indexing services are indiscriminate. The list of types of communication that indicates they will take anything as long as you pay. You can even get a discount on the charges for publication if you are quick! So, the only things missing from this is any connection to a recognised University, an established publisher, an international editorial board, a web page, even a named editor who is an authority in a particular field.

I sincerely hope that no one is taken in by this cynical practice of milking the academic community for money.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Chale Wote Arts Festival 2017

Avoid Chale Wote festival, Jamestown, Accra. It is dangerous. As soon as I walked near to it, six burly men wearing white tee-shirts with the word "Security" in white letters on black background accosted me. They were rude and aggressive. They had seen me taking a photo of some graffiti as we strolled down the street. We had seen no entrance, and no apparent barrier into this festival. I was not even planning on spending more than ten minutes on this festival, as I wanted to visit other places in the vicinity. These men surrounded me, held my arms and roughly manhandled my expensive camera from me. They were all shouting very threateningly that I was not allowed to take photos without a permit and I would need to pay GH$250. “This is not America”, they shouted as the marched away with my camera signalling that I should follow. I tried to explain that I was not American, but they were not interested. I supposed that they were not referring to nationality but to the rule of law and human rights. I shuddered inside. This was scary. Should I go with them, or just write off the camera and all the photos from the trip so far?

The further we walked, the more shocked and scared I became. I had already been walking around Jamestown, having first visited the Fisherman's Village. The plan was to swing through this festival (AKA giant art sale) and visit the boxing gym to see and photograph the local kids being trained. But these security thugs were not interested. They walked away with my camera and someone said, “go with them”. I had no choice. They marched me to the quadrangle of some old building and they took my camera indoors and upstairs while I was told to wait outside in a quadrangle, surrounded by a crowd of about 20 beefy men with bulging muscles and tight shirts and scowling faces. These were thugs, not security people, despite what it said on some of the tee-shirts. My guide was also clearly disturbed by this and started calling his boss to come and help, and the other guide duly turned up. Lots of shouting in local language. I was nervous and feeling extremely vulnerable. Even the guides were ineffectual at getting my camera back or calming the thugs.

After ten minutes, the first man, tall and threatening with his moustache and posturing body language, came back out and barked questions at me but did not let me answer. He said I must go with him to pay this money and get a permit. After several attempts at asking him to just listen quietly, I managed to tell him who I was, that I was not a commercial photographer, and that I was not interested in permits or commercial arrangements. I just wanted my camera back and to leave, as I was running short of time by now. I was on a three-hour window to explore this area and I didn't want to spend any more time in Chale Wote Festival. I told him my name and workplace and showed him my business card. He made a token attempt to look up my name on the internet but just shouted the strange response, "your name is not in the database, I don't trust you, you are collecting data and you cannot have data for free, you need to pay". He then walked across to a quieter part of the quadrangle and told me to go with him away from the thugs. he looked me in the eye and quietly asked, "OK, do you work for MI5?", "no sir", I answered politely. "Do you work for MI6?", "No, sir", I answered politely. A short pause then he said, "OK, I don’t believe you. You are being tricky, you are a spy". What demented fantasist! Clearly, whatever I had to say was of no interest or significance. The man was a delusional mobster and imagined that he was a really important part of the festival, because he could command some thugs to be violent. So I was as meek and calm as I could be.

I was then marched over to another place. On the way, we walked passed the graffiti that I had photographed in the first moments of this terrible experience. Two small boys, about 11-12 years old attracted my attention. One took my hand momentarily while we walked and said quietly and calmly, “don’t worry, you will get your camera back”. He smiled while he said it and for some reason, this was remarkably reassuring. His friend on the sidewalk pointed at the people with my camera, then at himself that and me and mimed, “you will get it back”. My emotional reaction in this turmoil turned to amusement as I digested the irony of what the boys was indicating – that if they thugs did not give it to me, the boys would just steal it and bring it to me! Amazing. I would have happily paid them if it came to that. (Afterwards, I discovered that they had already ascertained which taxi was waiting for me, so they would know where I was later, if it came to that. Fighting fire with fire, I thought.)

In this next location, other people shouted at each other for a while, the original thugs having disappeared, apart from the one carrying my camera, although he had no security tee-shirt or anything that would identify him. I started to imagine that he was holding the camera until someone gave him some money. We then went to yet another place, something like a car park with gazebos and a place where permits on lanyards were being sold to people filling in forms and parting with cash. Various unknown and unidentifiable people yelled at each other and argued. My senior guide was getting so angry at these idiots he was shouting and waving his arms and it all seemed as though things might get violent, after all. And then finally someone calm faced me and said, "OK, you can have you camera back if you may GH$250 for a two-day permit but you must ask your man to stop shouting so aggressively". I said that he was not “my man” and I did not want a permit; I did not want to take any photos; my time at this venue was finished. I just wanted to leave.

I had been held detained for nearly an hour by now and was getting very thirsty in the hot sun and was sick with worry. Three Police stood nearby looking completely disinterested, as if this was normal life. I tried to stand near them and to get their attention, but they were totally oblivious and uninterested. I supposed that they needed cash to intervene and only worked for the biggest payer. I could not compete. Finally, a big man about 6 feet 6 inches tall joined in. He would not speak to me or make eye contact. When I tried to explain myself to him he just said, "I want to know what these guys are telling me". He did not want to know what I had to say. Then another man joined in and he would not let me speak until he heard what the shouty people had to say. Finally, he looked at me and said calmly that they had a big festival, that he was the representative of the mayor and some other authority, that they were providing blanket coverage of the whole event to ensure that nothing untoward happened, that they were conscious of the need to control and manage what was going on and that I would get my camera back. He asked me for my account of the situation and I explained that I was a professor here for a conference that was over and had just taken a short walking tour of Jamestown with a guide in order to take some photos and see local life. I was not really interested in Chale Wote. It was just something we came across. “There has been a misunderstanding”, he said. “Fine”, said I, “can I please have my camera back now as I need to leave”. “You will get your camera back”, he said, and then took me with an entourage of more shouty people, including the youth who would not give up the camera, to another place with big steel doors and a little step-through gate, into yet another courtyard. Here, there were some artists demonstrating their art of making something to an audience. For some reason, we had to stand here to argue some more with the same people. It was getting surreal. I tried to ask this senior man, if I was going to get my camera back, could we stop arguing about it and just give it back to me so that I could be on my way. But, apparently, he still had to argue with a few more thugs first.

Finally, in this performance space, the youth relinquished the camera, and I was allowed to put it back in the case. I left with my guide because the car I had booked for the morning was waiting for me, and there was now only sufficient time to back to the hotel before the agreed time elapsed. I was called back, of course, as these people, whoever they were had not finished. Now, the issue was that they did not want me to leave feeling victimised, bullied and upset. The mayor's rep wanted to apologise and wanted me to accept that it was just a little misunderstanding. Despite my inner anger and extreme anxiety about spending another moment in this terrible place, I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and quietly, calmly thanked him for his apology and told him I accepted it. Then I walked away at a brisk pace without looking back, as they continued to shout their vain attempts to persuade me that this was just a little misunderstanding. Finally, back at the car the guides wanted money even though they had failed to provide the protection that they had promised and they would not let the car go until I handed over something. They said they  had helped me because they had got my camera back. I said, no, you made it worse by shouting and jumping around as if you were going to beat someone up. I had got the camera back myself from the mayor’s representative by talking quietly and calmly. But they insisted that I had to donate something to the free school they ran for the fishing village kids, so I had to give them some money in order to leave. By now, I just needed to get out of there as quickly as possible without looking back.

After struggling through road blocks and police and security people shouting that we were not permitted to drive out, as we should never have driven in, we finally escaped. What a bloody shambles. As you might imagine, my recommendation is steer clear of this place unless you leave your camera at home. Even then, steer clear of Chale Wote Festival. It is an awful, nasty and brutish place where gangs are operating under cover of some kind of faked authority. If you must go, stay in a large group with some strong, local, official guides with you at all times. And don’t take a camera.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Units of measurement

As a society, we have, for centuries, been developing measurement standards and a variety of units for a wide range of purposes. But watching and listening to BBC, I have come to realise that there is now only one unit of measurement; football pitches. Everything on the BBC is measured in football pitches. So, what I want to know is, how big is a football pitch? I wish we could use real units of measurement.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Conceptualizing a research project

In my work as a supervisor of dissertations, whether BSc, MSc or PhD, I have developed an approach to help with research design and developing an outline of research.

The first question that needs to be settled is, what kind of science does the student want to do? Incidentally, social science is a kind of science in my mind. Who are the key researchers in the field that this students wants to base his/her work on? Some kind of conceptual model is usually required to make clear how the main concepts connect. The main concepts would be drawn from the research literature on the topic.

Second, where is the data from and how will it be analysed? Many students begin the dissertation process with a description of the kind of observations they wish to make, but this can only be part of the research design if it is placed in the context of the conceptual model, which itself is based on a theoretical position.

Third, if someone is working in a well-trodden academic discipline with a clear theoretical tradition that underpins it, then they typically do not explain their theoretical position, since understanding that is taken as a basic tenet in the discipline. So it is fair to expect that many papers will be silent about their theoretical perspective, even though it can be implied from the kind of question they are dealing with. In a multi-disciplinary or inter-disciplinary field like construction management, it is important to be explicit about the theoretical position. This does not always need a whole chapter. It is sometimes a few lines in the early part of the dissertation.

Following these three aspects, the initial work will rely heavily on literature review and will set up theory-concept-observation as an axis that leads to the research design. I tend to insist on a clear explanation of the connection between theory-concept-observations. Every dissertation student, I think, needs this to be clear in the write-up. This initial setting up will eventually form approximately half of the thesis followed, of course, by the second half; analysis-discussion-conclusions, which acts as a kind of mirror to the first half. These may be translated approximately into chapters: introduction, literature, methods. And it is useful to think how the analysis reflects the methods; the discussion reflects the literature (and conceptual model); the conclusions reflect the introduction.

With this conceptual model of a research dissertation in mind, I find supervision becomes much more transparent and students tend to see better where they are headed. There is no strict recipe for a dissertation, of course, and each student will change this initial framework as their confidence grows. But I find it forms a good starting point. Many different kinds of research can be covered by adapting this model to fit the kind of research.

I sketch this out frequently when talking to students, annotating it with keywords and ideas that relate to their specific interests and type of research. Sometimes it needs significant changes in order to make sense. But it still forms a good starting point for the early discussions when the student does not really understand what it means to do research and the supervisor does not really understand what the student wants to do. I have not yet had time to prepare a nice graphic with drafting software, but a pen-sketch is good enough:

The diagram shows how the conclusions relate back to the theory, how the discussion chapter relates to the conceptual model and how the analysis relates to the observation. It also shows how the aims inform the theory, the theory informs the objectives, the objectives drive the literature review to provide the conceptual model, the conceptual model leads to the research design and so on. Finally, we can see how the general issues lead to increasingly specific issues in the first half, and the second half involves moving back to generalized statements for the conclusions.

It must also be noted that not all research goes through this sequence. Ethnographic methods are often highly appropriate for construction management research, especially for those who have experience in practice. It is not always necessary to behave as if you have no experience or as if you were an outsider to the industry. If you are an insider, then look at ethnographic methods. These often involve immersing oneself in the field and then developing theory from the experience. For part-time MSc students, in particular, this is a very powerful way of construction a piece of valid research.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Doctoral researchers working with industry

There are at least two perspectives for doctoral researchers contemplating working with industry. First is the problem of negotiating access for data collection and second is developing networks of industry contacts for the purposes of further career development. Many researchers feel that practitioners may be nervous about disclosing commercially sensitive or personal information. It is useful to understand such nervousness and deal with it. This requires clarity and honesty about why data is needed, and a careful data collection strategy that avoids giving the impression that data is being trawled on the chance that something useful will emerge. Some participants seem responsive, others don’t. Therefore, do not worry about unresponsive individuals but focus on finding the responsive ones. Many companies fear that they may give away time that they cannot afford, or, worse, reveal confidential information that might weaken their competitive advantage. It helps take an approach where they stand to gain from participation. It also helps if we talk like someone who understands and appreciates the nature of commercial confidentiality (like you mean it). Generally speaking, companies may not be interested in the intellectual aspects of research but they will be interested in problem-solving. So, try to think about what you might give them in return for their participation that helps with problem-solving. It will probably not be the same material that you incorporate into your thesis, but that’s usually a good thing. In terms of networking, it helps your data collection and negotiation of access if you are not a complete stranger. There are strategies for developing networks, inviting industry people to seminars on campus about your research (involving your supervisors and other academic staff as well as alumni of your School or Department), setting up discussions on serious social networks like LinkedIn and so on. Some time ago, a researcher in USA, Phil Agre, wrote about using the internet for developing research and professional networks and he updates it from time to time. It is worth looking at: http://vlsicad.ucsd.edu/Research/Advice/network.html

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Conference posters

After submitting your paper to a conference, instead of being invited to make a ten-minute presentation, you may be invited to present a poster instead. This is a good opportunity to put your work in front of others, and it should involve different techniques to those involved in making a presentation.

The first thing about posters is that your message about the research you are doing is more important than any corporate or brand image of your institution. I would avoid the habit of cluttering up your valuable piece of paper with logos, names of research units, collaborators and so on. You may find that there are certain requirements of some funding agencies and some institutions to have a clear acknowledgement of their support. These should be adhered to. But don't add unnecessary logos and associated names unless they are really needed.

Next, it is good to use graphics and large fonts. A good poster will focus on one aspect of your work, rather than trying to put everything across. There is no need for bibliographical references, and it is good to avoid jargon and complex sentences; big fonts, nice graphics and short messages. Graphical communication works best when you avoid fussy and unnecessary embellishments such as 3D, shadows, gratuitous use of colour and so on (most of the default settings in Microsoft Power-point and the like need to be changed to remove many of these features; it was developed for business presentations, not research presentations). An overriding principle is that the density of data in a graphic should be greater than the equivalent text that might alternatively be used to represent the same data. So pie charts are a complete waste of paper, because the message in a pie chart can be put across in one sentence of text. Histograms are frequently better portrayed as a list of labels and numbers. Your audience is not innumerate, and they understand the relative sizes of numbers. (You don’t need to draw me a picture to explain that 75 is much bigger than 10.) Graphics work best when every line, colour, symbol and label perform a function that is more concise than writing things out. There is some really good advice and detailed exposition on the use of graphics for conveying information by Edward Tufte; get hold of it if you can.

It is interesting to type “scientific posters” into Google. That is how I stumbled upon some useful guidance from North Carolina State University where it is emphasized that there are basic principles of scientific poster design: Focus, Graphics, Order. I like the advice given there. Also, I recommend a good PhD Blog, called the Thesis Whisperer, where there is further good advice.

To summarize, this is a good opportunity to develop a skill-set that differs from making presentations. Posters should have minimal clutter. There should be a clear focus, good use of graphics and a clear sequence of ideas. This will make it easier for observers to ask questions and for you talk about your research. Finally, it is OK to be uncertain about research that is in progress.

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