Sample Cover Letter for Journal Manuscript Resubmissions

By Roy F. Baumeister

Dear Sir, Madame, or Other:
Enclosed is our latest version of Ms # 85-02-22-RRRRR, that is, the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper. Choke on it. We have again rewritten the entire manuscript from start to finish. We even changed the goddamn running head! Hopefully we have suffered enough by now to satisfy even you and your bloodthirsty reviewers.

I shall skip the usual point-by-point description of every single change we made in response to the critiques. After all, it is fairly clear that your reviewers are less interested in details of scientific procedure than in working out their personality problems and sexual frustrations by seeking some kind of demented glee in the sadistic and arbitrary exercise of tyrannical power over helpless authors like ourselves who happen to fall into their clutches. We do understand that, in view of the misanthropic psychopaths you have on your editorial board, you need to keep sending them papers, for if they weren’t reviewing manuscripts they’d probably be out mugging old ladies or clubbing baby seals to death. Still, from this batch of reviewers, C was clearly the most hostile, and we request that you not ask him or her to review this revision. Indeed, we have mailed letter bombs to four or five people we suspected of being reviewer C, so if you send the manuscript back to them the review process could be unduly delayed.

Some of the reviewers’ comments we couldn’t do anything about. For example, if (as review C suggested) several of my recent ancestors were indeed drawn from other species, it is too late to change that. Other suggestions were implemented, however, and the paper has improved and benefited. Thus, you suggested that we shorten the manuscript by 5 pages, and we were able to accomplish this very effectively by altering the margins and printing the paper in a different font with a smaller typeface. We agree with you that the paper is much better this way.

One perplexing problem was dealing with suggestions #13-28 by Reviewer B. As you may recall (that is, if you even bother reading the reviews before doing your decision letter), that reviewer listed 16 works that he/she felt we should cite in this paper. These were on a variety of different topics, none of which had any relevance to our work that we could see. Indeed, one was an essay on the Spanish-American War from a high school literary magazine. The only common thread was that all 16 were by the same author, presumably someone whom Reviewer B greatly admires and feels should be more widely cited. To handle this, we have modified the Introduction and added, after the review of relevant literature, a subsection entitled “Review of Irrelevant Literature” that discusses these articles and also duly addresses some of the more asinine suggestions in the other reviews.

We hope that you will be pleased with this revision and will finally recognize how urgently deserving of publication this work is. If not, then you are an unscrupulous, depraved monster with no shred of human decency. You ought to be in a cage. May whatever heritage you come from be the butt of the next round of ethnic jokes. If you do accept it, however, we wish to thank you for your patience and wisdom throughout this process and to express our appreciation of your scholarly insights. To repay you, we would be happy to review some manuscripts for you; please send us the next manuscript that any of these reviewers submits to your journal.

Assuming you accept this paper, we would also like to add a footnote acknowledging your help with this manuscript and to point out that we liked the paper much better the way we originally wrote it but you held the editorial shotgun to our heads and forced us to chop, reshuffle, restate, hedge, expand, shorten, and in general convert a meaty paper into stir-fried vegetables. We couldn’t, or wouldn’t, have done it without your input.

Sincerely,

Is This the Worst Academic Journal Ever?

Update: Since I first drafted this post, ABRJ has revamped it’s website. Not to worry, it’s still hilarious.

Spoiler alert: yes, probably.

We are all aware of the growth in open access ‘journals’ of dubious quality, but my attention was recently drawn to one of the worst examples I have ever seen. It is so bad, and unintentionally hilarious, that I couldn’t resist sharing it.

The American Based Research Journal (ABRJ) is, and I quote, an “Open-Access–Monthly–Online–Double Blind Peer Reviewed Journal”. This American based journal lists a UK contact address, which google earth shows to be a rather nondescript suburban lane on the outskirts of Manchester.

This is far from the first warning sign. The mere scope of the journal is baffling: “All areas of Accounting and Finance, Business, Management, HRM, Marketing Computer Science, Engineering, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences and Arts (Including Fine Arts) are covered”.

In case that isn’t broad enough, the page provides a long list of specific topics, ranging from “Fundamentals of Income Tax” to “Fashion Designers” and “Fashion Trends”.⁠ The latter two are inexplicably linked to some dodgy looking .biz fashion website which, at the time of writing, hosts a fascinating article entitled “What To Wear With Peasant Top This Summer”.

ABrj-final-logo

The logo the Journal chose to convey this broad scope? A DNA double helix.

As for its peer review policy, the website explains:

We adopt double blind peer review policy in which both authors and reviewers are kept anonymous to each other so as to maintain the high technical and quality standards as required by the researchers’ community these days.

Researchers these days are so picky, with their newfangled double blind studies and whatnot.

The ‘journal’ regularly spams scholars asking them to submit, but at the very least the emails are (unintentionally) funny. Jeffrey Beall has archived it online for posterity. Showing that the sender never learnt how to do a mail merge, the email starts:

Dear Dear Author, We are really impressed after reading your research work: ‘Research Article’

It continues:

Our journal American Based Researche [sic] Journal… with good reputation and published by USA PhD Doctors Collaboration and referred from them, which focuses on business, management,… and relevant subjects.

Online publication costs only $150, and the reader is exhorted to submit  “articles for publish from students, Research scholars and professors for Calls for Papers-Sep-25-2014 publications”.

Here comes my favorite bit. The email is signed:

Best wishes
Editor
Dr. Merry Jeans
New York, USA

No matter how many times I’ve read it, I still chuckle a little at Merry Jeans, possibly the funniest fake name ever concocted. Or is it? The editorial board of ABRJ features other gems, including “Dr. belly Joseph”, “Dr. Jazzy Rolph”, and “Prof. William” (no surname), while reviewers include a “Dr. Phineas drown”. At some point I stopped even bothering to google these names to confirm my strong suspicion that none of them really exist.

This journal is so obviously bullshit, but I had to know who was behind it. I dug around a bit and found that ABRJ’s web address is registered to one Abid Ali from ‘Zoom SEO Services’, based in Lahore, Pakistan. A couple of searches later and I found myself on his personal blog site, which consists of one rather telling page.

Ali is/was in fact a student of the Virtual University of Pakistan (incidentally a real bricks and mortar university, not actually a virtual one). He gloats that his blog had previously been shut down because he had been posting completed university assignments. To his apparent joy and amusement, he reregistered the name when it became available again, only to make this one announcement.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that the worst of all the awful fake open access journals that I’ve seen to date comes from the bedroom of some cheating student in Pakistan – half the battle in the internet age is that pretty much anyone with a computer can throw together a sham journal and, apparently, make some cash.

As Derek Lowe puts it: “It’s a long way down, that’s for sure, and the bottom is nowhere to be seen.”⁠

This Post is Intentionally Left Blank

The PDF version of this paper is available on Figshare.
Authors: 
@AcademiaObscura, @fxcoudert, @astonsplat, @McDawg, @DevilleSy

Abstract

Common in all areas of publishing, the phrase “This Page is Intentionally Left Blank” has been found in peer-reviewed academic articles costing $30 to access. To the best of our knowledge, this paper represents the first known review of Intentionally Blank Pages (IBPs). We looked at the variations in samples from the existing literature, and quantified the amount of blankness on such pages using a new metric, the “Blankness Defect Rate” (BDR). After showing that most blank pages are defective, we suggest a number of alternatives, factually correct or less ambiguous. Finally, we offer some possible explanations for this phenomenon, including “editor’s block”, a creative impairment similar to the well-known “writer’s block”, and identify avenues for future research on this critical topic.

* * *

pipe

Figure 1: Comparison of self-referentialism in surrealist art and academic literature.

1. Context

The phrase “This Page is Intentionally Left Blank” is ubiquitous in the world of printed text, appearing most notably in instruction manuals and exam papers. It is generally accepted that its purpose is to indicate that the page on which it appears is purposely bereft of content. Yet the very inclusion of this phrase nullifies its intent: the page is no longer blank. Indeed, it is now intentionally not blank. By virtue of self-reference, the phrase denies its own existence, despite the fact that we know it is there. This is, essentially, a rather banal, academic version of René Magritte’s surrealist work, The Treachery of Images (Figure 1).

The US Code of Regulations (1984) actually mandates that blank pages in certain books and pamphlets must be marked as such.1 As such, they are especially common in technical works. This has lead to a large number of people attempting to solve the philosophical conundrum such non-blank blank pages create, often through online fora and crowdsourcing platforms. The Office of the General Counsel at the US General Accounting Office, acutely aware of the distress caused, purported in 2001 to have resolved the conundrum in its Principles of Federal Appropriations Law (Second Edition, Volume IV).2 Text on page ii, which is otherwise blank, reads “This page is intended to be blank. Please do not read it.” However, this appears to have only further entrenched the philosophical contradictions, and the subsequent Third Edition contained no such text on its blank page.

It was recently discovered via social media that a number of peer-reviewed academic ‘articles’, costing $30 to access, consist solely of one blank page (Figure 2).3 In order to determine what value was being added to these pages by the peer review process that they have undergone, we set out to investigate their blankness. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first systematic study of intentionally blank pages (IBP) in the academic literature.

screenshot

Figure 2: screenshot of the ScienceDirect checkout page, accessed via an institutional login from SciencesPo, showing the cost of an IBP taken from Verified Synthesis of Zeolitic Materials (2001).

2. Methodology

A total of 56 individual IBPs were found on the online ScienceDirect platform, 24 of which were immediately available for purchase and study. These appear to be a cross-disciplinary selection, so it is felt that this will give a good indication of the treatment of IBPs over a wide range of subjects. It is notable that these IBPs are largely from books. It appears that journals generally do not leave blank pages, intentionally.

blankblankblank

Figure 3: Variability in font family, size and resolution of the text on intentionally blank pages.

3. Analysis

Out of 24 PDFs, only one was truly blank. This was checked by rendering of its contents at high resolution (600 dpi) followed by a search for non-white pixels. The remainder were manually examined, showing some variety in their style (Figure 3). One used a sans-serif font, although the majority (22 out of 24) used a rasterized sans serif font in varying sizes and positioning.

3.1. Blankness

Despite their claim to have been ‘intentionally left blank’, our analysis shows that almost none of the IBPs have, in actual fact, been left blank: all but one of them contain the text “This Page is Intentionally Left Blank”. The exception is an IBP from Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001). The reason for the omission of the informative text on this page remains wholly unclear.

The prevalence of text on these ‘blank pages’ will either disappoint readers that have paid $30 for a product that was falsely advertised, or raise existential questions such as, “what is a blank page?” and “why did I choose a career in academia?”

histogram

Figure 4: Histogram of disclaimer text width on IBPs. The data point corresponding to the single perfectly blank page in our sample is highlighted in orange.

The amount of blankness varies, which can be quantified using a factor we have named the “blankness defect rate” (BDR). The BDR can be defined as the amount of space on the page that is in fact not blank, primarily caused by the presence of text. Automated determination of the BDR was undertaken using custom Mathematica scripts. The primary factor affecting the BDR was the size of the informative text (Figure 4), with larger text leading to a higher BDR. The font used may also affect the BDR, whereby fonts with serifs cause higher BDRs, due to their occupying more space. Additional interference effects may also be present.

The average BDR of the sampled IBPs is 0.163% (±0.04%), while the average amount of non-blank space (i.e. ink) is 0.830 cm2 (±0.204).

3.2. File Size

The total size of the 24 IBPs is 237 kB, averaging almost 10kb per page. Individual IBPs varied from 7 kB to an impressive 19 kB, as can be seen in Appendix 1. By contrast, our control has a size of merely 365 bytes. Even the peer-reviewed genuinely blank IBP was 8.2 kB in size. To put this into perspective, only 144 average IBPs provided by journals can be stored on one standard floppy disk; our control allows for the storage of 3945 IBPs. Printing these would certainly provide enough blank pages for most practical purposes.

Figure 5: Chart showing text alignment across the sampled IBPs.

Figure 5: Chart showing text alignment across the sampled IBPs.

3.3. Positioning of Text

Visual observation shows that most pages have their text placed centrally, both horizontally and vertically. There is some variation, however, most commonly horizontal displacement of the text to the right and downwards vertical displacement. This distribution can be seen in Figure 5.

The pages are all designed to be viewed in portrait mode, with no line-breaks being used. What is intended to occur if pages are purchased for use in landscape orientation is unclear, but the text will be misaligned in such situations, causing readers to have to turn either their heads or their reading material in order to confirm that the page is indeed blank.

Being the only truly blank IBP sampled, the IBP from Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001) has no predetermined orientation or alignment. In fact, it may be rotated and/or reversed at will, maintaining its original character at all times.

3.4. Cost

The publisher-provided IBPs furnish 31 characters to the reader for $30 (Figure 2), a cost of approximately $1.33 per character. Our control was created in a matter of minutes, for free, using a simple text editor. Considering the current pressure on research funding, and to ensure no unnecessary spending of taxpayer money is undertaken, we recommend the use of our control IBP in future. We have therefore placed it under the Creative Commons CC0 license, and made it available online (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.12593).

At $30 per PDF, anecdotally a common price point for ‘scientific’ papers, readers pay an average of $33.58 per square centimetre of ink (cm–2). There is some variability in this price, owing to variations in the BDR. The most expensive blank page costs $46.35/cm(page 16 of Joe Grand’s Best of Hardware: Wireless and Game Console Hacking); the least expensive is a mere $23.21/cm2 (We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to say “the cheapest”).

Given that the publisher’s cost are partly linked to the size of files hosted on their web servers, a further perspective to consider is the price per MB. These PDF copies of the sample IBPs are sold at $3,331.85 per MB (± $640.97). We note that publishers could substantially increase profit margins by selling truly blank IBPs. Our defect-free IBP, fully compliant with PDF 1.1 and later standards, is a mere 365 bytes (0.000365 MB). If sold at the same nominal price of $30, that would represent $86,184 per MB. Alternatively, if sold at the same price per MB as the sampled IBPs, a true IBP need cost only $1.16. This would greatly alleviate the heavy financial burden borne by academic institutions that frequently require blank pages.

4. Possible explanations

One possible explanation for the inclusion of text in the IBPs is that the stock phrase used in the majority of the sampled papers is, in fact, intended as a kōan, i.e. a statement used in Zen practice to provoke the “great doubt” and test a student’s progress. If this were to be true, the absence of any philosophy or religious texts from the sample is surprising. Such a hypothesis would suggest that the readers of publications such as Frontiers in Dusty Plasmas and Asymptotic Methods in Probability and Statistics are well ahead on the Zen-curve, an unlikely conclusion.

Our preferred hypothesis is that the blank PDFs provided by journals have a higher file size and cost due to their ‘added value’. This value has been added through a rigorous process of peer-review and professional copyediting, and usually takes the form of the added text. By contrast, our control IBP lacks this additional text and has not been peer-reviewed according to normal procedures. The publisher supplied pages are therefore less confusing to most readers, who would otherwise be left to infer for themselves that the pages are, in fact, blank. We are considering the addition of similar text to all blank pages in our possession, and printers.

There is nevertheless an alternative, intriguing explanation. As all writers are well aware, the writer’s block is well-established phenomenon among both professional and amateur writers. Could this be the first reported case of editor’s block? The presence of blank pages in multiple domains may imply that several editors have fallen to this creative impairment. Indeed, given the volume of published academic texts, it is unlikely that just one editor would be responsible for this series of blank pages. Unfortunately, it is not a standard practice to report the name of the editor associated with each IBP and it is therefore impossible to draw a firm conclusion. We hope that this work might instigate interest from social and behavioural specialists to further investigate this intriguing possibility.

5. Alternatives

Our analysis suggests the intentionally blank pages are flawed in a number of ways. Here we suggest some alternatives, the use of which will vary depending on the desired outcome.

Where the intention is to reassure the reader that they have come to the end of the current text, some syntactically meaningless symbols at the end of said text can indicate that it was not left blank accidentally. ‘Dingbats’ (❈♥❉♦♣ etc.) have been successfully used for this purpose. We propose that the dingbats method may now be modernised through the use of ‘emojis’. Emojis may provide a novel method of conveying to the reader that the text has ended (e.g.  – finish).

Otherwise, the traditional blank page paradigm may be maintained with some alteration to the current standard phrase. “There are only eight words on this page” provides a neat solution, or the text may be more comprehensively reformulated thus:

The page on which this statement has been printed has been intentionally left devoid of substantive content, such that the present statement is the only text printed thereon.

If using typesetting software, such as LaTeX, it may also be possible to automatically state exactly how much blank space is present on a page. This would render a message such as “This Page Intentionally Left 99.855% Blank”. A proof of concept was developed (see additional resources), by calculating the BDR in an iterative manner, meaning that this could (in theory) be applied to all intentionally blank pages. This method both eliminates the usual existential questions posed by self-reference, and is satisfyingly accurate.

If the primary intention is indeed to provide the reader with a blank page, all text should be omitted. Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001) and the control page from this study provides an example that may be replicated in other contexts.

It should be noted that a number of interesting alternatives are found outside the traditional scientific literature. Andy Griffiths’ book, Just Stupid!, begins with a cartoon snail saying: “This page would be blank if I were not here telling you that this page would be blank if I were not here telling you that…” on an endless loop. Don Novello’s, The Lazlo Letters (1977), ends with several pages marked “FREE PAPER!” Iranian novelist Reza Amirkhani’s book, Man-e-oo (‘His Ego’), reportedly contains an entire chapter consisting of blank pages. However, we have been unable to verify whether the pages remain blank when translated into English from the original Persian.

6.Directions for Future Research

In light of the significance of these new findings, we suggest that this paper represents the dawning of brave new era beginning in the field of bibliometrics. In addition to their prevalence in English, we suspect that IBPs are found in other languages. Whether these are present in the scientific literature is unknown, since the scientific community largely uses English as a lingua Franca. Regardless, further investigation may reveal further insights and as such, should be examined in much more detail.

Personal communication from ScienceDirect indicates their intention to remove these pages. This would hamper future efforts to analyse IBPs. However, blankness itself may be an interesting topic of further study, and prevalence of blankness in other areas remains unclear at this juncture. Further avenues of research that may prove fruitful include the blankness of: the digital world, such as websites and tweets; the physical world, such as walls and signs; and other aspects of academic publishing, such as footnotes,4 and even entire academic articles.

7. Conclusion

We recommend the use of our blank control page for situations where a truly blank page is desired, or where a landscape orientation is required, since publishers have not allowed for their blank pages to be used in such situations. Alternatively, the blank page from Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001) provides a peer-reviewed alternative for high-quality applications. Where there is a need to maintain the functionality of the additional text, any of the options proposed in this paper are appropriate. Indeed, different options are suitable for different applications, depending particularly on the need for brevity, accuracy, and humour in each unique case.

* * *

Afterword

It has subsequently come to our attention that ScienceDirect has taken the drastic step of removing all IBPs from its search results. In response to this development, we have taken the decision make these papers publicly available to ensure that these important contributions to science are not lost to future generations of researchers.

While we are aware that this action is in violation of copyright laws, we urge ScienceDirect, and the publishers of the IBPs, not to seek legal redress.

Additional Resources

  1. The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America (1984), Section 47, §61.93.
  2. Here: http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/d01179sp.pdf
  3. Tweet dated 13 Oct 2014, @fxcoudert: https://twitter.com/fxcoudert/status/521675319322112000
  4. This footnote is intentionally left blank.

5 Super Specific Academic Journals

Academia is known for its ever-increasing specificity and specialisation, and, in the internet era, quantity. There are approximately 47,845 academic periodicals currently in circulation, churning out research papers on a mind-bogglingly wide range of subjects.1 Inevitably there are some rather odd publications out there. Here we present our top five.

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1.  American Journal of Potato Research (AJPR)

TAJPRhere are about 196 countries in the world, depending on how you count them. The best estimate we have of the number of known plant species is around 400,000,2 though we probably really don’t have the foggiest. 20,000 of these are edible,3 yet somehow we humans have managed to whittle this down to just 20 species that provide 90% of our food.4 Apply this tendency to academic publishing and you get the American Journal of Potato Research.

Highlights:

Sad Potato

  • In addition to the usual full-length articles, AJPR welcomes “short communications concisely describing poignant and timely research”. Poignant?! As in “evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret“?! How exactly one writes about potatoes with a keen sense of sadness or regret is beyond me.
  • Discovering that you too could become an Honorary Life Member of the Potato Association of America. Something to aim for.
  • Feeling genuinely sorry for the lack of love the Potato Journal is getting on social media: 85 likes on Facebook and 50 followers on Twitter. Can we help them out a bit?

2. Rangifer: Research, Management and Husbandry of Reindeer and Other Northern Ungulates

Proudly billing itself as “the world’s only scientific journal dealing exclusively with biology and management of arctic and northern ungulates, reindeer and caribou in particular” one has to wonder if we haven’t stumbled upon a topic so specific that one volume would suffice. Yet Rangifer is still going strong after 34 volumes.

Highlights:

  • Description of an “enigmatic group of arctic island caribou” (PDF).
  • Reindeer. Lots and lots of Reindeer.

3. Journal of Near-Death Studies (JNDS)

jndsExploring near-death experiences, empirical effects and theoretical implications, out-of-body experiences, deathbed visions, after-death communication and the implications for an understanding of human consciousness. Despite the niche subject matter, the JNDS says it is “committed to an unbiased exploration of these issues and specifically welcome a variety of theoretical perspective and interpretations that are grounded in empirical observation or research”.

Highlights:

  • Realising that all of that sounds quite a lot more interesting than your own research.

4. Answers Research Journal (ARJ)

In contrast to JNDS’ commitment to allowing challenges to its niche, the ARJ is perhaps the only journal in the world that openly declares that it will only publish articles that accord with a pre-established hypothesis. The Journal, titled as if to deliberately obfuscate the content, publishes:

research that demonstrates the validity of the young-earth model, the global Flood, the non-evolutionary origin of “created kinds,” and other evidences that are consistent with the biblical account of origins

Still, at least they are telling you up front what you need to say to get published.

Highlights:

  • The series of articles attempting to estimate the number of various species types aboard Noah’s Ark: Crocodiles & Turtles, Snakes, Amphibians, Frogs, Mammals, Dinosaurs5… We’re going to need a bigger boat.
  • Lots of sentences consisting of 50% science followed by 50% amusing nonsense. E.g., on the genus Acrochordus: “because of its fully aquatic existence and capability of osmoregulating in hypotonic and hypertonic aquatic environments, it is potentially capable of surviving Flood conditions and are not included on the Ark“.
  • Extensive author guidance on how to reference the Bible. E.g.: “Lowercase for divine dwelling places, including heaven, hell, and paradise.”6 

5. Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine (JNRBM)

Lovingly called “the world’s most boring journal” by the Washington Post, the JNRBM actually serves a very important purpose:

You might imagine that JNRBM is a place where losers gather to celebrate their failures, kind of like Best Buy or Division III football. But JNRBM meets two important needs in science reporting: the need to combat the positive spin known as publication bias and the need to make other scientists feel better about themselves.

Realising the growing tendency for scientists to publish only positive results, JNRBM instead encourages the “publication and discussion of unexpected, controversial, provocative and/or negative results”. The Journal is also pushing the envelope in the other ways, recently implementing an open peer review policy, whereby reviewers sign their reviews and their reports, and authors’ responses, are made available. This Journal may just be a taste of things to come.

Highlights:

  • Lots of failed hypotheses, obviously.
  • ‘The female menstrual cycle does not influence testosterone concentrations in male partners’ (PDF).
  • ‘False rumours of disease outbreaks caused by infectious myonecrosis virus (IMNV) in the whiteleg shrimp in Asia’ (PDF).

Anybody managing to publish in all 5 of these journals will be handsomely rewarded.

 

  1. Calculation from http://pages.cmns.sfu.ca/heather-morrison/appendix-c-how-many-active-scholarly-peer-reviewed-journals/
  2. According to Botanic Gardens Conservation: http://www.bgci.org/ourwork/1521/
  3. According to Plants for a Future: http://www.pfaf.org/user/default.aspx
  4. Ibid.
  5. just kidding, the dinosaurs didn’t make it to the boat on time.
  6. The full guide is available here: https://legacy-cdn-assets.answersingenesis.org/assets/pdf/arj/instructions-to-authors.pdf