*** Warning: the first paragraph may contain some information that is not entirely scientifically valid ***
Research published in the American Research Journal of Biosciences reveals something strange happens when humans encounter maximum celerity – or Warp 10. Within 96 hours, the test subjects develop allergies to water and show signs of mutation, though it doesn’t affect their fertility or viability of offspring. Ultimately, Lewis Zimmerman, study author, concludes maximum celerity provokes “strikingly rapid developmental changes in morphology even in mammalian systems”.
Except, wait a minute.
That’s basically the plot of a Star Trek episode. (Star Trek: Voyager "Threshold", to be precise.) The season two episode, first aired in 1996, follows Starfleet Lieutenant Tom Paris as he successfully breaks the transwarp barrier to reach Warp 10 in a shuttlecraft specially rigged for the occasion.
Unfortunately for Paris, the feat sets off a rapid evolutionary process that turns him into an amphibian-like being. When informed of this new development, Paris escapes in a shuttle soaring at speeds of Warp 10 and forces an abducted Captain Janeway to come along for the ride. They are found by the rest of the crew just a few days later, at which point they have fully evolved into slimy brown lizards surrounded by their (presumably) cold-blooded progeny.
But the real story here is how this – clearly fake – study came to be published in a “science” journal and accepted by a further three. While it is undeniably hilarious, it is clearly concerning and reveals serious flaws in the paper selection process, specifically that of predatory journals.
Predatory journals (like the American Research Journal of Biosciences) exist to make money from less-established scientists who pay to have their work published and seen, but don’t provide a thorough scientific review of the studies they receive. By doing so, they undermine the authority of legitimate journals, which is especially worrying at a time when politicians are happy to dismiss science whenever it's convenient.
“Zimmerman” – in reality, a biologist with 30 years’ experience – paid $50 to have his dodgy paper published in the journal. He submitted it to a further nine journals suspected of being predatory.
The study author had been inspired by a similar stunt pulled last year. The 2017 falsified paper “studied” a species of microscopic but intelligent life forms called “midi-chlorians” that live only in the Star Wars universe. Zimmerman (a pen name) chose to base his paper on his favorite sci-fi franchise: Star Trek.
Predatory journals “are essentially counterfeit journals, mimicking the look and feel of legitimate online journals, but with the singular goal of making easy money," Jeffrey Beall, a research librarian at the University of Colorado, told Space.com.
Beall used to keep an online list of such journals but it’s since been taken down. An archived version can be found here.