16 October 2013

Using “journal sting” papers for teaching

Say what you will about John Bohannon’s Science article about dodgy peer review, he’s done a service by getting people talking about problems of journal credibility and peer review. My link list is over 50 pieces now, and still growing.

Bohannon may have done those of us teaching technical writing another service. When I teach students how to read through original research papers, I want to show them bad examples as well as good examples. Bad examples force you to confront and articulate the details about why the paper doesn’t make its case.

Jeffrey Beall found at least four websites that published one of Bohannon’s hoax papers, and has archived them on his blog:

The sites that put the hoax paper up have done a passable job of typesetting them. They have included on the hoax papers all the usual paraphernalia that you see in regular journals: page numbers, banners, DOI numbers, ISSN numbers, and so on. Thus, to an untrained eye, there are no obvious giveaways in the presentation that these are anything other than a short paper published in in the usual way. Bohannon has created papers that, to a student, look like the real deal.

The paper is short enough (3-5 typeset pages) that students can do a read through and start picking it apart in a single class period.

Even better for teaching purposes, Bohannon provides a “key” to the paper’s major problems in his Science article. The problems do not require a specialist’s knowledge in cell biology, or cancer, or probably even biology, to pick them out. For instance, one of the key graphs claims it shows a “dose dependent” effect. Most people can grasp the idea of a “dose dependent” curve, if you present it right. “If something is anti-cancer, what do you expect to happen to cancer cells if you give them more of it?”

When they first start to read the scientific literature, students can be a both a bit too deferential and bit too trusting. You need the bad examples to convince yourself that you need to read critically and not take things at face value

Related posts

Open access or vanity press, the Science “sting” edition

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