How to spot a bad journal

I get solicitations to publish papers all the time, and I just roundfile ’em. There are journals that are desperate for suckers to pay them to publish their work, and they’ll accept anything. We call them predatory journals, but I have a reservation about that: the whole establishment scientific publishing system is predatory, taking the federally funded output of scientists and billing them so that they can publish. But some are more lacking in discrimination and prestige than others, and have lower standards to the point of absurdity.

Dan Phelps got invited to publish in the International Journal of Paleobiology & Paleontology, which sure sounds like Serious Science, but he took one look at their table of contents and could tell this was a garbage dump. Do you notice anything funny about it?

When accused of being a predatory journal, they have a curious response.

Thank you for your reply, We would like to inform you that ours is not a predatory journal. We have received the ISSN which is provided in our previous email. For your convenience, we are providing the link of our journal where you can find complete information of our journal and Editorial Board members. Link: Kindly revert back if you have any queries. Look forward hear from you soon. Kind Regards, Jackie Crystal Assistant Managing Editor

They can’t be a predatory journal, they have an ISSN! The International Standard Serial Number just means they registered with an organization that issues unique ID numbers to periodicals, magazines, newspapers, even blogs (kinda expensive with no big advantages, so we don’t have one here), and the organization itself says, “it does not guarantee the quality or validity of the contents”.

Some of those titles are dead giveaways, though, and I felt like digging into them a bit. Here’s a fun one, Proving that Dinosaurs are Distant Ancestors of Humans – The East Asian Locus of Evolution that disproves definitively the “Out of Africa” Theory. The title alone tells you that this is nonsense, and that there was no peer review, and that the journal will publish anything.

It was written by Florent Pirot, who is an independent researcher — that means he isn’t a professional employed by any relevant institution. That’s fine, amateur scientists are welcome, but all you have to do is read the abstract to see there’s no substance here.

The study of evolution is clad with vivid debates and each new fossil brought back from ground studies can start a debate, with the ever-existing risk of creative artists looking for celebrity and building dangerously resembling creatures out of thin air. There nevertheless is a very significant, and simple, way, to demonstrate that the parentry of humans is not to be found in the mice of the Jurassic that are presented to be the founding mammals in the mainstream theory but that big dinosaurs that escaped the -65 MY disasters slowly evolved into standing mammals and that our genes are more related to these mammals. Existing literature from PNAS and Science is brought together with the analysis of the author to prove the point.

That doesn’t say anything. He is saying in clumsy English that humans descended from dinosaurs that escaped the KT extinction, but he doesn’t say what he’s going to do in this paper. It’s just as well; this is going to be an exercise in pareidolia and random leaps of logic. For instance:

In Central Asia and Mongolia, the findings of the Nemegtosaurus in the Nemegt Basin show parentry with aurochs, based on the skull, and suggest a farther relation with oreodonts. The skull’s eyes (in the model presented in the Polish Academy of Sciences Evolution Museum) are below two circular areas that obviously were fitted with horns that were perhaps renewed each year, as in deers today. The prominence of the jaws suggests a link with Theropithecus gelada.

Here’s Nemegtosaurus:

Here’s an aurochs:

Anyone care to tell me where they show “parentry”? Because Mr Pirot doesn’t.

This, by the way, is Theropithecus gelada, the gelada baboon. I don’t see anything about the jaws of baboon, aurochs, and dinosaur that suggest a link, other than the general one, that they all have jaws.

Then he gets to his “data”. This, for instance, is a Parasaurolophus beak remain incrusted in the crystallized magmatic rock. Picture taken in Valbonne, from local supply of rocks.

No it’s not.

Another “fossil,” Theropitecus Gelada skull also molded in magma, from the same rock supply as above, estimated to be 10 to 12 MY old:

No, that’s not a baboon skull.

Read further and you find that Florent Pirot is a silly man who putters about in his yard in Valbonne, France looking at random rocks and imagining similarities with various species that he has read about, linking them in imaginary patterns of descent that he can’t justify.

He’s a French Ed Conrad or Roger Spurr! He’s one up on them because he managed to publish a couple of papers on his bizarre ideas in a garbage journal.

Yes, more than one. Here’s another you’ll find entertaining: The Saint Loup of the Col Du Fam, A Smilodon Caught in a Lava Bubble. He’s got lots of pictures of rocks that he fancies to be dramatic fossils, like this one of a teeth.

Ha ha, you may laugh, but keep in mind that this is delusional kook who is being preyed upon by a journal that charges substantial page fees (I don’t know what this one charges, but typically it’s on the order of hundreds of dollars) to put his mad ideas in print. If you can be outraged that televangelists bilk donations out of the poor to build their media empires, you should recognize that this is exactly the same thing, simply substituting Science for Jesus.

The other thing that should annoy you is some creationist wanker like Matt Powell will seize on this and wander about telling people that those stupid evilutionists believe dinosaurs evolved into a baboon evolved into humans when no, we don’t. Some bête imbécile in the South of France thinks that, and a criminally fraudulent journal is parasitizing him.


  1. StevoR says

    Its one thing to be an amateur scientist. Nothing wrong with that or having different ideas and speculations I think.

    Its a whole other thing and very much a less okay and good one to then ignore actual scientists and actual science entirely..

    Florent Pirot seems to be doing the latter.

  2. James Fehlinger says

    Its a whole other thing. . . to then ignore actual scientists and actual
    science entirely..

    Well, unless you’re right and the “actual scientists” are all wrong!

    Like, uh, this guy for instance:
    Oh yeah, the whole yudkowsky project is openly anti-scientific,
    even though it doesn’t look it at first. He literally tells people to
    “break their allegiance to science”. He thinks that if you’re smart
    enough, you dont need “testing” or “experimentation”, you can
    just deduce your scientific breakthroughs by thinking really hard
    (with bayesianism), hence the idea that super-AI would instantly
    have magical powers. . .

    The Way of Rationality(TM) transcends science, dontcha know?


  3. PaulBC says

    “Kindly revert back if you have any queries.” Revert back to what? Does the editor think Phelps is a shape-shifter?

    On the bright side, Anne Elk may have finally found a journal that will publish her results.

  4. chrislawson says

    As Reginald says, stromatolites never went extinct and living examples can be found today.

    I’ve never been to Shark Bay, but it’s on my wishlist for precisely this reason. Not far from Shark Bay’s living stromatolites are the Marble Bar stromatolite fossils, at 3.45 billion years old, the oldest known biogenic fossils.

    (Shark Bay and Marble Bar are actually 1300 km apart. But that’s not far by West Australian standards…)

  5. chrislawson says

    Man, it’s just sad. That picture of “‘a teeth” is, according to the caption “extremely light (perhaps 10 grams).” I know he’s an independent researcher who doesn’t have access to a full university set-up…but you can buy a decent scientific scale for $20 that will fit in your pocket. He doesn’t understand the importance of reporting basic data. Essentially his scientific equipment is a camera phone and a huge bucket of paradoelia.

    He fails to understand that fossils in igneous rock are extremely rare, for the reason that the extreme heat of the magma destroys almost all organic structures. He claims that “the animal was entirely molten” and yet retains what he thinks is a recognisable smilodon shape.

    His theory of everything (linked from the paper) is that morally dubious activities generate “fireballs” that destroy landscapes, and that this is “the definitive explanation of the collapse of the Maya civilisation.” (This in another predatory journal with the misleading title International Journal of Physics.)

    Why would such a thing happen to a smilodon? Glad you asked. It was gluttony. “… [T]he smilodon was obviously eating too much and had accumulated a large trove of bones and this attracted a fireball that vitrificated the predator in a blast.”

    The crown of this paper is this: “It may also be argued that the small skulls found below the site of the smilodon (in the crystallized lava) are human heads that were in the smilodon’s cave and were reducted by Fermionic condensation under the energetic impact of the fireball and its very high radioactivity.”

    It’s just goobledegook. Fermionic condensates are extremely difficult to create even in a high-end physics lab. It’s so difficult it took nearly 50 years from the first theoretical prediction to the first lab creation in 2003 — at a temperature of 5×10^−8 K, very much not the kind of temperature found in explosive volcanic fireballs — and the key feature of fermionic condensates is that they are superfluid and not magic skull-shrinking rays.

    As you say, it’s just a journal gouging money out of a deluded kook. It is definitely not science.

  6. PaulBC says


    I know he’s an independent researcher who doesn’t have access to a full university set-up…but you can buy a decent scientific scale for $20 that will fit in your pocket.

    I use an inexpensive electronic kitchen scale for preparing mixed drinks and weighing the amount of liquor to the gram. Indeed, it’s not a full university setup though it has come in handy for grade school science fairs as well. (Easily found on Amazon for under $10 and very handy for all kinds of things.)

    If I find myself saying “I will pour a little (perhaps an ounce) of bourbon into this seltzer.” I know it’s time to stop.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Pirot: … big dinosaurs that escaped the -65 MY disasters slowly evolved into standing mammals …

    Uhh, he almost got it right. For the full details of reduced-sized dinosaurs in disguise among us, see Garcia, E: Anonymous Rex, and its sequelae: Casual Rex and Hot and Sweaty Rex.

  8. PaulBC says

    Anyway, we all know the Altrusians devolved into the Sleestaks, not into humans. These authors are the kind of people who would refer to Enik as a “talking Sleestak.” Idiots!

  9. Florent Pirot says

    I descend from the Velociraptor which is an ancestor (-80 / -70 MA) of the Citipati osmolskaie. From which I descend more directly. So yes I publish in predatory journals ! Of course.
    (I’m also vegan.)