Don’t believe everything (peer-reviewed) you read on the web

Recently, my attention was drawn to an article the same way I find many articles: through Facebook. Several of my many science-minded friends referenced a recent article from sciencemag.org entitled “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”, where a spoof paper with clearly bad controls was submitted to 304 open access journals and was accepted by 157. After reading a variety of comments with tones ranging from outrage to, “damn, I need to start writing some fake papers,” there was no way I wasn’t going to check out the article.

peer review image

Image used with permission from http://strange-matter.net/screen_res/nz060.jpg

Basically, some writers from Science generated a fake paper the claimed a chemical extracted from a lichen had shown anticancer properties. While the article claimed that there was a strong dose-dependent effect of the drug on the cancer cells, the effect barely varied over 5 orders of magnitude. The paper claimed that the chemical was dissolved in large amounts of ethanol before being added to cells, but the control cells were given no ethanol, meaning that likely what was killing the cells was not in fact the chemical, but the ethanol itself. Testing controls with the same solvent as the other conditions is standard, especially when large amounts of the solvent itself can have toxic effects. The spoof paper also went on to make large claims about how the molecule tested has potential as an anticancer drug.

It would seem likely, given the inherent flaws in the article, that the academics reviewing this paper would immediately raise a red flag about its content. However, the majority of the journals accepted the paper, including 45% of the journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), which is meant to identify the credible open access journals. Many of the journals that offered the authors any feedback ignored the glaring scientific mistakes and simply made suggestions for changes in formatting.

As a grad student, I read peer-reviewed papers nearly every day. And while I’ve always known that I should be critical of everything I read, I was still shocked that this spoof article with such glaringly bad science was accepted by so many publishers. While I’m not as tempted to submit my own fake articles as some of my Facebook friends, this sting operation performed by the writers at Science is making me much more skeptical of papers I find on the web.

Amanda Levy is a doctoral student in the materials science and engineering laboratory of Peter Searson, director of INBT.

 

INBT’s Nano-Magic appears at first USA Science and Engineering Festival Expo

The first USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo is set for October 23-24 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology will be there showcasing some of our research. More than 1,500 interactive exhibits and stage shows are planned.

INBT will present a hands-on exhibit of demonstrations dedicated to self-assembly entitled “Nano-Magic” that will allow visitors of all ages a chance to learn about now atoms, molecules and materials have ways of building structures all by themselves. Graduate students affiliated with INBT training programs will help visitors understand the science. In addition, several of the videos created by INBT’s Animation Studio will be on display on a computer monitor.

Some of the other exhibits include the science behind TRON and other Hollywood movies, baseball, superheroes, Thanksgiving dinner, and NASCAR as well as the mathematics of speed jump roping. There are also 50 stage shows featuring science musicians, comedians, and rock stars. Even the Redskins cheerleaders will be leading a pep rally for science.

Bring the whole family to this free event. Come check out our booth located at Section NM 6, Booth No. 610, along with several other Johns Hopkins affiliated exhibits listed here. Visit the official festival website to view all exhibit and stage shows, download a map of the Expo grounds, and view the entire festival calendar.

Related Link:

INBT Animation Studio

INBT students to teach about self assembly during national science expo

USA Science and Engineering Festival, Oct 23-24

Predoctoral students, faculty and staff affiliated with INBT, including students in INBT’s National Science Foundation funded IGERT program, will help demonstrate the principles of self-assembly to children and adults alike. Participants at the INBT booth will be able to see at the macro scale what happens when materials of various shapes and sizes assemble into more complex structures at the nanoscale. Through a variety of hands-on experiments and by watching a variety of movies and animations about self assembly produced by the INBT Animation Studio, the students hope to be able to share their expertise in science and engineering with the general public.

During the two-day expo, USA Science and Engineering Festival organizers anticipate at least 750 exhibits from more than 350 of the nation’s leading science and engineering organizations including colleges and universities, corporations, federal agencies, museums and science centers, and professional engineering and science societies. Topics represented range from aerospace, green energy, medicine, biotechnology, climatology to robotics, nanotechnology, botany, neuroscience, genetics, and more.

The USA Science & Engineering Festival is the result of the highly successful inaugural San Diego Science FestivalSM held in April 2009 and both are the brainchild of life science and high technology entrepreneur Larry Bock. The festival is hosted by Lockheed Martin and sponsors include Life Technologies Foundation, Clean Technology and Sustainability Industries Organization (CTSI), Larry and Diane Bock, ResMed Foundation, Farrell Family Foundation, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Agilent Technologies, Amgen, Celgene Corporation, The Dow Chemical Company, National Institutes of Health, Illumina, You Can Do the Rubik’s Cube, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., Genentech Inc., MedImmune, Sandia National Laboratories, Project Lead The Way (PLTW), K&L Gates, NuVasive Inc., FEI Company, Case Western Reserve University, Silicon Valley Bank, Bechtel Corporation, SpaceX and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Media partners include Popular Science and Science Illustrated, New Scientist, EE Times Group, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, POPULAR MECHANICS, Forbes Wolfe Emerging Tech Report, FAMILY Magazine and SciVee, Inc.

Additional Information:

Preview of the types of exhibits planned for the National Expo and view a short video of what happened in San Diego here.

For a complete list of sponsors, partners and exhibitors, click here.