There’s a new way to fight intergalactic parasites — but it only works in the Zyrgion simulation.

A still from Rick and Morty.

Rick and Morty schleem

In an episode of Rick and Morty (a recent, very popular cartoon series which focuses on a mad genius called Rick and his less-than-intelligent grandson Morty), a race of intergalactic aliens implants false memories into their hosts, and our heroes try to fight them off. In a newly-submitted paper, Beth Smith, Rick’s daughter, describes a new method to fight the terrible parasites.

Of course, none of that is real; it’s fiction. But what if you could publish it as real science?

Undergraduate college professor and PhD student Farooq Ali Khan tried to do that. Like most scientists, he is aware that among the hundreds or thousands of high-quality scientific journals, there’s also a lot of bad apples. These bad apples are predatory journals — journals which offer no value and are often filled with rubbish, but which are often able to trick naïve, well-intended researchers. Khan teamed up with American librarian Jeffrey Beall, an outspoken critic of predatory journals. Beall maintains a long list of known offenders on his personal blog. Khan, a fan of Rick and Morty, picked 14 of them and sent his intergalactic paper.

Predatory

Predatory journals essentially try to make money by masquerading as scientific. They publish anything or everything or even demand money from the authors to publish (something which some high-quality journals also do).

The abstract is just delicious:

“We propose some novel tools to combat the long existing problem of inter-galactic parasites such as Klaousmodiumcruzi which are known to have caused havoc amongst various populations. [..]We’d also like to boast that our work has received accolades from the scientists whose work we followed including the greats like R’onaldI’saac and Charles Kao.”

Truly, anyone who actually read this would figure out that something’s not right. It gets even better, as the whole paper is riddled with references and absurdities:

“We introduce the Magnetic Oddities Radiation TherapY (MORTY) which has never been explored by the scientific community,” the study continues.

“Briefly, a dinglebop was smoothened by the help of schleem. The obtained product was then subjected to ultrasonication, and repurposed for later batches.”

Of course, none of this means anything. It’s just seemingly scientific words and Rick & Morty jokes, but it passed through — at least in some journals. There was still some good news: three of the journals rejected the paper right from the get-go.

“The article’s language is very confusing and many words doesn’t make any sense to me, for instance, dinglebop, schleem, schwitinization,” one reviewer said.

“Is this a joke?” Another asked. “Intergalactic parasites?”

In other words, they passed the test. But three published the paper as it was presented, and the rest bargained for fees ranging from $75 to $650.

This is extremely concerning. In a world struggling to deal with the lies and manipulation fashionably branded as “fake news,” scientific publishing is held as the highest standard of truth and integrity. It’s not flawless, as no system involving humans can ever truly be, but it’s as good as good as possible. Predatory journals pose a big threat to the integrity and reliability of science, and unfortunately, some academics still fall into this trap.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. In 2013, Serbian researchers published a fake paper quoting the likes of Michael Jackson and porn actor Ron Jeremy, as well as the Disney character Goofy. The move was hailed by the scientific community, but little has changed since. A similar stunt was pulled in 2017 by a different team, who filled their papers with meaningless Star Wars references. Yet somehow, predatory journals keep coming back, much like unwanted weeds.

There is no simple solution, no magical chemical that will vanquish these weeds, so it’s important that scientists and, of course, everyone who reads about science stay as vigilant as possible. Simply put, it’s more important than ever for us to stay on our guard and keep an eye out for real, useful science. Otherwise, intergalactic parasites will be the least of our fears.

“Acknowledgements: The authors are grateful to Prof. Rick Sanchez, Prof. King Flippy Nips for their continuous guidance for the study. We also express a sense of gratitude to Prof. Chuck Lorre for saying us that “Your Light was on”” Farrooq’s study ends.

UPDATED FOR CORRECTION: an earlier version of this article stated Morty is Rick’s nephew — he is, in fact, Rick’s grandson. 

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