1847: Dubious Study
Title text: Sounds fine. I looked up the Academy, and it says on their MySpace page that their journal is peer-viewed and downloaded biannually.
This comic alludes to the growing industry in disreputable academic journals, many of whom accept articles of dubious merit for publication without rigorous peer review upon payment of a fee. In an attempt to sound legitimate (and thus attract submissions), many such publishers publish journals whose names sound intentionally similar to (if not identical to) established titles. Here, the National Academy of Proceedings is a meaningless title that sounds similar to the highly regarded academic title Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA.
In the caption, Randall points out that even he is sometimes fooled into believing a study is serious because it is well-formatted and looks professional, at least at first. Even though he eventually realizes the study is dubious, sometimes it's only after reading a significant portion of the paper. A possible unstated concern Randall may have is that some readers might never realize this and end up believing whatever results and conclusions are included in the paper, thereby leading to a belief in false or misleading information among some portion of the population.
The title text implies that this (at present) fictional journal has a dubious online presence in the faded internet site MySpace, where the publishers make claims that may be true but are misleading: "peer-viewed" sounds similar to "peer-reviewed", the community-led process of establishing a paper's scientific integrity prior to publication, but in fact means only that scientists have viewed the content (as Cueball is now). Likewise, some journals might be "published biannually", whereas "downloaded biannually" implies that the journal is read only twice each year. Single articles in high-profile journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences would expect to receive hundreds to thousands of views in their first year of publication. The fictional journal publisher no doubt hopes that an inexperienced scientist may mistake these claims for meaningful statements of authority, and thus submit a paper (and eventually pay a fee for its publication).
The National Academy of Proceedings in fact sets itself apart from certain predatory journals by ensuring that the claims on its website are in fact factually accurate (if phrased to mislead article authors, particularly those with English as an additional language); some journals are openly dishonest on their websites.
Randall also judges academic content based on superficial details in comic 1301: File Extensions, where he focuses on how the information is formatted (in particular if it is in TeX or with the TeX rendering-style of a scientific publication). Similarly, in 906: Advertising Discovery, Randall muses on how we automatically trust anything formatted in Wikipedia style. (This was later proven in a scientific study.) And on a different note, prestigious-sounding but meaningless names also appear in the title text for 1068, where SwiftKey suggests the phrase "Massachusetts Institute of America" to Randall.
- [Megan is standing behind Cueball who is sitting at a computer desk using a laptop.]
- Megan: Are you sure this study is legit?
- Cueball: Sure, it says it was accepted for publication.
- Megan: Where?
- Cueball: Hmm... The National Academy of Proceedings.
- [Caption below the panel:]
- If something is formatted like a serious scientific paper, it can take me a while to realize it isn't one.
- No it wasn't. But weren't you inclined to believe it just because of the little blue ""?
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