Fishy birds, birdy fish, poisonous fungi, and pizza: Our “scientific breakthroughs” published in predatory journal

Did you see Dan Baldassarre’s wonderful paper entitled “What’s the Deal with Birds?” published on April 1 (!) last year? If not, you’re in for a treat. Dan did something that I had been thinking of for quite a while, namely to reply to one of the countless requests for manuscripts that he, I, and probably most scientists who have ever published anything, receive from predatory journals. He decided to write up some crap, submit it, and try to get it published, to prove a point. You can retroactively follow the whole saga in his Twitter thread, and very well-deserved, the story received quite a bit of attention. And what’s not to like? Dan concluded that birds are weird, and a partial result was that penguins look like fish (weird).

Figure 1 from Baldassarre (2020).

Well, like I said, I had been planning on doing something similar for quite a while and discussed it with my friend Danny Haelewaters. Since I am an ornithologist who, at the time, worked on fish, and since Danny is a mycologist, we thought that Dan Baldassarre’s initial explorations were noteworthy, but felt that they could be expanded and go deeper. Thus, we embarked on a truly interdisciplinary collaboration that made use of cutting-edge methodology, and we could expand Dan Baldassarres’s observation quite dramatically:

As the attentive reader will have seen, we can draw several conclusions from our study. As a side result, it turns out that barn swallows and flying fish are sister lineages (quite the taxonomic earthquake!). For the main result, we predict that penguins will re-evolve flight as poisonous fungi colonize the Antarctic, if the temperature rises, and this decreased fishiness will increase the chances of you ordering a penguin pizza in the future! Didn’t quite catch that? Well, read our ground-breaking paper, and as a bonus you might pick one or two hints at the publishing industry (and other things)!

Writing this paper was fun and quick, and it has been accepted for publication in multiple journals. However, we were less successful than Dan Baldassarre at haggling to get it published without paying the ridiculous publication fees that makes up the core of the business model for predatory journals. So, it has taken until now to finally get this paper published, but along the way, we have received some golden nuggets, such as this “peer review report” from the Journal of Ecosystems and Ecography:

Our paper is now out in the Oceanography & Fisheries Open Access Journal, published by predatory Juniper Publishers. So what—and why? I am sure that some of you will think this is just rubbish, and that’s fine. Some might even find it NOT funny, or perhaps even vulgar. Well, I think that our paper very clearly demonstrates the total lack of review and the sole interest of profiting on authors that the predatory journal industry rests upon.* We further intend to deal with this in a more formal and serious manner, using our fishy bird paper as an example. Keep your eyes open for that!

Reference: Stervander M & Haelewaters D. 2020. Fishiness of piscine birds linked to absence of poisonous fungi but not pizza. Oceanography & Fisheries Open Access Journal 12(5): 555850. DOI: 10.19080/OFOAJ.2020.12.555850.


Update 1: We do not regret the least that our reference no. 4 is no longer available on its original platform.

Update 2: *Does this work? What have other attempts looked like? Zen Faulkes have collected and curated “sting papers” such as ours in an online volume, Stinging the Predators—A collection of papers that should never have been published. This collection comprises 340 pages worth of sting papers and analysis. We are, of course, happy that our paper has been included as no. 33 in version 17 of this freely available resource!

Update 3: Sam Perrin has written a blog post at Ecology for the Masses, where he broke down our paper “for the benefit of those outside the scientific community who may not understand complex jargon like ‘pizza toppingness’ and ‘random selection by dart'”. We’re talking serious #SciComm here! Also (as can be seen in the comments below), Jerry Coyne has written a blog post about our paper, commenting more generally on hoax/sting papers and predatory journals.

10 thoughts on “Fishy birds, birdy fish, poisonous fungi, and pizza: Our “scientific breakthroughs” published in predatory journal

  1. I ran across your paper because I was notified by ResearchGate that it cited a paper of mine. Thinking the title of the citing article was odd, I took a look — and found you had not actually citated (although the paper is terrific otherwise!) What bothers me about this is that ResearchGate thinks I was cited. Does this mean that they’ve been scammed into tabulating unreal citations? Are all citation totals on that site bogus — or in danger of becoming so?

    • Hi Erica,

      Your instincts were quite right thinking that the title was odd, but I am pleased to hear you find the paper terrific! And possibly, you might find the paper even more terrific, because I think that ResearchGate might be right and you wrong about the citation. In the Discussion, we write “With the advances of bird migration phenology due to climate change [41,42], we may also expect shifts in the distribution of poisonous mushrooms, even though phenological changes can be geographically asymmetric and responses in distribution changes vary between taxa [43,44].” Here, reference 43 is the 2019 study in Ecological Indicators, Phenology of the avian spring migratory passage in Europe and North America: Asymmetric advancement in time and increase in duration, that Aleksi Lehikoinen led, and to which I believe both you (or another scientist with the same name as you?) and I contributed!


  2. Oh, you’re right. Now I’m concerned that I couldn’t find it! I did recognize the relevant passage that cited the paper, and looked for the full reference. Must be losing my mind….

    Thanks for response, and hope all is going well for you in these extraordinary times.

    • Ha ha, no worries! I personally hate numbered citations, as (1) I also tend to get lost, and (2) I don’t like that you can get an idea of which paper (or first author) it is without referring to the reference list.

      I’m doing my best to keep up despite all the craziness of the world, thanks! I hope you are doing well too, despite it all.

  3. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for the hoax and this exposé, which my friend Martim Melo brought to my attention. If there was a god, I’d say you were doing his work.

    Do you happen to have the reviewers’ report? I’m writing a piece on my website about the paper and the report seems to have disappeared from your website. If you could send it to me I’d appreciate it.

    Also, I have figure 1 from Baldassini, which has also disappeared from your blog post, and can send it to you if you want.

    Jerry Coyne

    • Hi Jerry,

      I’m glad Martim forwarded our paper, and that you appreciate it! One could perhaps argue that it may be a little dubious whether a comment from you about doing (a) god’s work is a compliment, ha ha, but that’s the way I’ll read it. As for the reviewer’s report, the esteemed Oceanography & Fisheries Open Access Journal from Juniper Publishers did not deliver a peer review report to us before accepting our manuscript (but I guess it was perhaps just that convincing…), even though the journal is described as a “peer reviewed, premium quality journal” and they boast about their “swift peer review”. However, we did submit to other predatory journals previous to OFOAJ and Journal of Ecosystems and Ecography, published by OMICS International, delivered the “review report” featured in this post. I honestly find it not only hilarious, but also rather intriguing as to how one should interpret some of the wording…

      It is frustrating and confusing the the images appear to have disappeared from the post! This has happened to me as well, and I have tried to figure out whether a particular browser is the problem etc. But eventually, they display again, irrespective of browser and even with cleared cache. So I don’t know what’s going on, and can only hope that they will appear next time you have a look! If not, here are the “review comments” for you:

      1. The paper is well written and discussed about the innovative work about the species.
      2. And also discussed about the traditionally bird-like morphology and inter-class taxonomic relationship.
      3. The new thing has been discussed like some birds are more morphological similar to fish than others.
      4. The paper can be published in your journal.

      I look forward to reading your blog post!


      • Hi Martin,

        The images don’t load because they’re being loaded from their http:// URL from a blog post served over HTTPS (they load fine if you use their https:// URLs). Hopefully a straightforward fix for you!


        • Thank you, Adam!

          That is, indeed the problem, and it turns out this goes for much more than this post. So far a little less straightforward fixing than I hoped for, but I hope I’ll get there.

          Martin (and sorry for WordPress putting my face on your name too)

    • Thank you. And, ah, what an honour! Thanks for that lovely post (and the defense for carrying out these hoaxes; since some argue against it).

      All the best,

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