A Super, Surreptitious, Science Slice of Surprising Stuff!

A journal has unknowingly served up something remarkably new.

Posted Dec 14, 2018

Many Psychology Today readers might be familiar with the "Sokal hoax," when in 1996 physicist Alan Sokal scammed Social Text — a trendy academic journal — into publishing a piece of utterly unscientific gobbledygook, his way of protesting the lax standards and ignorant anti-scientific mindset of too many self-styled post-modernists. One of his supposed conclusions: "physical ‘reality,’ no less than social ‘reality,’ is at bottom a social and linguistic construct.” A similar set of surprises was revealed this year as well, when three scholars wrote fake papers with absurd conclusions, appearing once again in journals with sadly limited editorial wisdom

Something equally if not more extraordinary has been publicly available for nearly a year now, incorporated into an article published not in a shoddy journal, but in Scientific Reports, which is in the Nature Research family of journals. Only this time it's not a hoax. And I certainly don't blame the journal's editors, because the sneaky inclusion is very well hidden. Moreover, the research described is absolutely solid, serious, useful and important. Click here and the article will download, for free, to your desktop. If you're intimidated, don't worry. Unless you're really interested in how "Methylation-based enrichment facilitates low-cost, noninvasive genomic scale sequencing of populations from feces," just scroll to the illustration, and zoom in - and keep zooming - on the bit of poop alongside the baboon in the upper left. 

Prepare to be greatly amused ... or outraged. Either way, I'm writing this because I trust that Psychology Today readers are big boys and girls, entitled to be maximally informed and to own their personal reactions. (I also hope that the eagle-eyed and occasionally skittish Psychology Today editors will agree to permit this notification to persist, if only for the sake of  their readers.)

I debated whether it was ethical for me to "out" this particular bit of samizdat inventiveness, or to allow it to linger as an underground cult classic within a narrow community. But since it has been making the rounds among my scientific colleagues and is no longer a secret, here it is.

Where did the idea come from? I dunno. Who did it? Maybe elves. And how did it get past the equally eagle-eyed editors? Beats me. Make of it what you will. 

Correction: This post originally described the research paper in question as being published in the journal Nature. It was published in Scientific Reports, an online, open-access journal in the Nature Research family of journals.