Friday Fun: Top 5 Audacious Publication Pranks

What do you get when you combine brilliant minds with publication opportunities? Usually, you get articles adding to the bank of world knowledge. But occasionally, you get some pretty epic pranks. Here’s our Friday round-up of five of the most brazen.

5Creative Acknowledgements

Who really reads the acknowledgements section of a paper, right? That’s why some wily academics have used it as the perfect place to hide their snarkiness.

This paper’s neuroscientist co-author acknowledges “the U.S. Immigration Service under the Bush administration, whose visa background security check forced her to spend two months (following an international conference) in a third country, free of routine obligations—it was during this time that the hypothesis presented herein was initially conjectured.”

This evolutionary biologist thanks “the National Science Foundation for regularly rejecting my (honest) grant applications for work on real organisms (cf. Szent-Gyorgyi, 1972), thus forcing me into theoretical work.” Find tons more here.

 4The Sokal Hoax

In 1996, a cultural studies journal called Social Text planned an issue on the “Science Wars” in which the sciences and humanities purportedly fight for epistemological dominance. The editors received a submission from NYU physics professor Alan Sokal and were, by all accounts, quite pleased to have a scientist represented in their issue. The article was accepted.

Sokal’s article discussed how “quantum gravity” would shake up the notion of scientific knowledge so that “absolute truth” would no longer be its objective. Sadly for the editors of Social Text, Sokal was mocking them. He released a follow-up revealing that the article was a parody of what he saw as the foolishly liberal thinking of the humanities, particularly by those who argue that all types of knowledge are socially constructed.

This one crosses over from the status of prank to kerfuffle, though, because the whole thing ended up on the front page of The New York Times. Sokal’s antagonists were not amused, and accused him of oversimplifying their ideas. The subsequent dialogue often didn’t follow rules of academic decorum, and copycat parody articles became commonplace (computer-generated gobbledegook articles are the latest twist). Many scholars in the humanities are still angry almost 20 years later.

 3Swearing as Research

Predatory publishers – those which claim to run peer-reviewed journals but actually just take your money for junk publications – are a menace. Australian computer scientist Dr Peter Vamplew thought so too. He was sick of getting spam from the predatory International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology. They seemed to desperately want him to submit something, so he did. And his paper was epic.

It consisted of the words “Get me off your f****** mailing list” expressed 863 times in the form of text, flow charts, and graphs. The result? Accepted, subject to a $150 publication fee. The acceptance letter aptly stated that a (probably fictitious) reviewer found the paper to be an “excellent” fit for the journal.


2Writing about Writer’s Block

This article is genius.



1The Feline Physicist

Back in the 1970s, physicist Dr. J. H. Hetherington wanted to use the royal “we” in his sole-authored article for the journal Physical Review Letters. Unfortunately, he had heard that the journal frowned on the use of “we” unless referring to multiple authors. Rather than edit, he decided to retroactively co-author. With his cat.

The flaw in this plan was that the cat’s name, Chester, didn’t look particularly legit without initials – so Hetherington came up with the impressively pompous title Felis Domesticus Chester, sired by Willard. “F.D.C. Willard” went on to co-author multiple papers with Dr. Hetherington, but was spectacularly unmasked when his foolish human passed around “signed” (paw-printed) copies of articles to friends and colleagues. (Hetherington’s wife is rumoured to have joked that she routinely slept with both authors, which probably didn’t help.)

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2 thoughts on “Friday Fun: Top 5 Audacious Publication Pranks

  1. A follow up 2014 meta-analyis of self-assessment of “writer’s block” may be found by following this doi


    Found whilst reading thesislink whilst self-assessing writer’s block

    Writer’s block can also be modelled using the “Heaviside” function.

    But that is another story

  2. “This meta-analysis independently analyzed effect sizes for ‘self-treatments’ and ‘group-treatments’ using number of words in the body of the publication as indication of a failure to treat writer’s block.” Brilliant.

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