Non sequitur references and possible paper mills

Via Kevin Zollman, I recently learned about the work Elisabeth Bik and her team have done to identify what they call the Tadpole paper mill, an operation responsible for “over 400 [papers] from different authors and affiliations that all appear to have been generated by the same source.” The image forensic techniques that Bik and colleagues use have no ready application in philosophy. Still, there are dubious publications.

For scholarly reasons and as a matter of vanity, I have a Google alert set up that lets me know when any of my scholarly work has been cited. I got an alert back in April which included a reference made in a paper that was published last year in Studia Musicologica. I followed the link expecting to find reference to my work in philosophy of music.

This led me to the paper “Brand Communication and Field Environment Construction Based on Graphic Art Aesthetics” by Li Zhengmin. The reference is not to my work on music, but instead to a coauthored paper of mine on scientific predictivism. The reference in Li’s paper follows some sentences which have nothing at all to do with science or prediction. Even more strangely, the entire list of works cited is works in the philosophy of science, history of science, and scientific methods— none of which have anything at all to do with the content of the paper.

Curious, I checked some other papers from the same volume. I readily found five other papers which follow the same pattern, with works from the philosophy of science used as references for claims that are utterly unrelated. There was another with similar non sequitur references but to papers from biomedical journals.1

A few weeks later, I got a notice about two papers in the journal Convivium: “Eye Health Effects of Adolescents Based on Psychological Intervention and Ecological Humanistic Spirit” by M Ning and “Application of the Culture of Hailao Porcelain in the South China Sea to Art Design Teaching” by Z Liang. These, too, were utter non sequiturs.

A brief glance at some of these papers suggested that the contents were actually related to the title. I didn’t take too close a look, though, because I wouldn’t know how to identify serious research on brand communication or Hailao porcelein. I certainly wouldn’t be able to tell if the body text itself was plagiarized.2

Although I can’t say if the content of the papers themselves are original research, the citations are clearly a sham. Using irrelevant references is blatant academic dishonesty.3 The fact that several different authors have done it suggests it’s the work of a paper mill.

  1. I reached out to the editor of the journal but got no reply.
  2. This is not as egregious as the case many years ago of the author who published my article under his own name.
  3. As Quine clearly showed in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” 😛

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