Here’s a good overview at Nautilus of the various sorts of authorship fraud that takes place with scientific publications. The authors, Adam Marcus of Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News and Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch, are focusing especially on the schemes that invent authors, co-authors, reviewers and so on, with many useful examples. I particularly liked the professor of informatics at Göttingen, Burkhardt Morgenstern, who got tired of all the invitations from spam journals to join their editorial boards. So he sent replies in the persona of Prof. Hoss Cartwright, and the publishers were only too glad to add ol’ Hoss to the mastheads. Prof. Cartwright’s CV includes a PhD in Studies of Dunnowhat, a postdoc at the well-known “Some Shitty Place in the Middle of Nowhere”, and (of course) his current position as Cattle Manager at the Ponderosa Institute for Bovine Research. (I myself was glad to see the classic German affection for old US Westerns to still be visible, and I’ll lay excellent odds that Prof. Morgenstern read Karl May when he was growing up). I’m also willing to bet that numerous readers will feel as if their own CVs include a stint, one way or another, at SSPMW, and they may well have overlapped with Hoss while they, too, were scheming how to escape.
The article also brings the unwelcome news that the Medical Council of India has apparently now put in a rule that faculty seeking promotion have to have four (count ’em) full papers to become associate professors, and eight to become full professors. China has a big problem with this kind of thing, too, as do many other countries, which pretty much completely explains the foul engine rooms that drive the worst parts of scientific publishing. You’re not trying to “communicate” your “results” to “other people”, not at all – you’re trying to jump through the hoops and check the boxes. But before I (or anyone else) looks down on this sort of thing as applied to other countries, it’s worth remembering that the same sort of thing goes on in the US and everywhere else. It might be set at a (slightly) higher pitch, but publish-or-perish seems to be the rule most of the time.
And when you set up a system that way, you shouldn’t be surprised at what it produces. You get what you provide real incentives for, every time. In the case of scientific publications, what you get runs from (at best) a promising young professor at a good research institution decided to break up that manuscript into two manuscripts, all the way down to (at worst) some time-serving faculty member at, well, SSPMW, cranking out a piece of crap paper, whose contents may or may not even be real, in order to send it (for a fee) to some predatory piece of crap journal to impress a review committee that doesn’t know or doesn’t care what a sham it all is. The former situation is a waste of effort, and the latter is a waste of everything that can be measured. But that’s what gets rewarded, so whattaya want?