May the force be with you, too

September 1, 2017

Tomasso, a vitreoretinal surgeon, recently shared a blog by someone who calls him/herself “Neuroskeptic”.Neuroskeptic penned a spoof “scientific” article about midichlorians, which are the little organisms inside cells that give Jedi Knights (the good guys in the “Star Wars” movies) their powers (and unfortunately, confer those same powers to certain bad guys, like Darth Vader).

Tomasso, a vitreoretinal surgeon (I don’t know whether or not he is a loyal Ophthalmology Times reader), recently shared a blog by someone who calls him/herself “Neuroskeptic”.1

Neuroskeptic penned a spoof “scientific” article about midichlorians, which are the little organisms inside cells that give Jedi Knights (the good guys in the “Star Wars” movies) their powers (and unfortunately, confer those same powers to certain bad guys, like Darth Vader). The article is supposedly authored by Drs. Lucas McGeorge and Annette Kin, allegedly faculty of the University of Saskatchewan, and is quite literally a big joke. A footnote in the manuscript admits that it is mostly plagiarized from a Wikipedia article about mitochondria.

Neuroskeptic submitted his manuscript to nine scientific journals (three journals rejected it; two journals recommended revisions and resubmission). As proof of peer-review, the author received the reviewers’ comments, some of which made it clear that the reviewers were aware of the joke and included humorous suggestions for revisions along the “Star Wars” theme. Nonetheless, the article was not rejected by these two journals. Three journals accepted and published the paper. The ninth journal accepted it but wouldn’t publish it unless a $360 fee was paid. According to this prankster:

So does this sting prove that scientific publishing is hopelessly broken? No, not really. It’s just a reminder that at some “peer-reviewed” journals, there really is no meaningful peer-review at all.

Key takeaways

 

Key takeaways

What is the significance of this experiment for us ophthalmologists as we read the various publications that come across our desks?

First, my belief is that it behooves us to be our own peer-reviewers and read articles critically. Before I make a substantive change in my clinical practice suggested by a journal article with some exciting new claims, for example, I expect to see confirmation of this key observation in other articles, by colleagues, in a limited subset of my own patients, etc. We should not be cynical when it comes to the medical literature, but definitely skeptical, considering that a majority of exciting observations in reputable journals are not subsequently confirmed when other scientists try to repeat the experiments.2

Second, repeated testing has proven to me that this midichlorian, Jedi mind-control is a bunch of hooey. In the first “Star Wars” movie, the Jedi (Obi-Wan Kenobi) is surrounded by armed evil storm troopers. Obi-Wan waves his hand at the head trooper and says: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. You can go about your business.” The storm trooper repeats the sentences and allows the good guys to escape. I can attest to having tried this trick literally dozens of times, on my children and in faculty meetings, and it hasn’t worked once.

Third, I can disclose here that I always submit my editorials to a confidante prior to forwarding them to the brilliant editorial staff of this periodical that we all enjoy reading so much. For reasons unbeknown to me, this individual feels free to criticize and on occasion to censor me-90% of the drafts survive, albeit frequently after some revision, so maybe there is something to this mind-control trick.

The other 10% are relegated to the digital garbage heap that is the trash bin on my computer desktop. This is the 10% that I typically consider to be the most entertaining, but you, dear reader, probably will never realize the debt of gratitude you owe the censor. 

References

1. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2017/07/22/predatory-journals-star-wars-sting/#more-8981
2. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-39054778