Submitting Hoax Papers to Journals Outside One’s Field Is Unethical

To the Editor:

The recent “conceptual penis” controversy highlights a fundamental need for all academic publishing (“Hoax Article in Social-Science Journal Gets a Rise Out of Some Scholars,The Chronicle, May 20).  All professional fields assume that their members adhere to certain basic ethical codes; therefore it is distressing when researchers submit hoax papers to journals in fields outside their own. The most famous case, in Social Text, highlighted a fundamental conceptual and semantic disjunction between disciplines, which dates back to C.P. Snow’s Rede Lecture, “The Two Cultures.”  However, much coverage of these hoaxes elides a key concept in the exchange: the dishonesty and violation of trust inherent in such submissions in the first place. The act of submitting a paper for publication should be an inherent assertion that the work reported is of high quality and was performed by the authors.

In biomedicine, an author who submits a manuscript for peer review thereby acts as a guarantor for the quality of the work reported. This development is mandated by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors and more than thousand journals worldwide. Any author who submits a work, should, by so doing, assert that s/he guarantees the quality of the work and is willing to represent it publicly.

Coverage of the “conceptual penis” emphasizes the hoax’s failure; however, the journal’s editor blamed peer reviewers, and journalists have blamed open-access fees for the problem.  Yet, there is no evidence that the peer reviewers did not act in good faith, and open-access fees are charged even by highly prestigious journals such as PLoS Medicine. Authors submitting hoax articles should be held responsible for their actions, and the editors of high-quality, non-predatory open-access journals should not be punished because of an act of dishonesty by submitting authors.

Lisa DeTora
Assistant Professor of Writing Studies and Composition
Hofstra University
Hempstead, N.Y.

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