Sunday, 28 October 2012

It truly is an excellent paper

A few days ago I received the following email (details redacted to protect the guilty):
This is from the editorial board office of Journal of [Totally Unrelated to My Research (TUMR). TUMR] is a peer-reviewed international research journal, devoted to supporting a global exchange of knowledge of [TUMR].
We found a paper you had published in “Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)”.
Title: An architecture for modelling emergence in CA-like systems
Author(s): Stepney Susan
It truly is an excellent paper that relates quite nicely to our journal.
To promote the communications of [TUMR] and broaden our journal’s global perspective, we cordially invite you to submit new research manuscripts to our journal before Nov. 29, 2012.
You can enjoy a registration discount if your paper is accepted.
The paper in question does exist. It is totally unrelated to the remit of the journal, however.

There are two big red flags in the email that there is something phishy.

First, no-one in the know says a paper has been
published in “Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)”
That rather unwieldy title is used only on the LNCS publisher Springer's website, from where I suspect it was copied verbatim.

Second, the claim that the paper "relates quite nicely to our journal" is not true, as could be spotted by glancing at the paper's content for a split second.

No-one did glance at it, however. This is just computer generated spam. I know what journal TUMR really is, so I can guess a crude bit of keyword matching glommed on to the word "architecture" or "engineering" in the abstract. These terms are used in the paper in a completely different context from that of TUMR.  Clearly the paper was found by a mindless web trawl.

The key phrase that flags what is really going on here is near the end of the email: "registration discount". TUMR is an Open Access journal, which means you have to pay to publish.  They are trying to flatter me into thinking that they like my work, in order to convince me that I should pay to publish in their journal.  Since they have clearly never even read my work, however, the result is not my feeling sufficiently flattered to publish, but sufficiently aggravated to blog. 

This approach is a distant cousin of the classic perfect prediction scam.  Spam a large population with a range of information (the classic example is stock market predictions).  It will be false for most targets, who will just bin it.  But, by chance alone, it will be true for some, who, not realising the extent of the scam, and the vast number of false hits, will be convinced by the truth of the claim in their case.  Here it is true for those few targets who will, by chance alone, have "an excellent paper that relates quite nicely to our journal".  The implication is that you have been carefully selected.  The actuality is somewhat different.

This is the first time I've seen the scam used in this way.  But I'm sure it won't be the last...

1 comment:

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