Prostaglandins and genetics

In 1969, the science journal Nature published a letter from a researcher (V R Pickles) with the title "Prostaglandins - an experiment".  Although the writer was involved with medical research, his letter had nothing to do with that area of his work.  He was interested in the number of reprint requests that would be sent to him, once the title of the letter had appeared in issues of current content services.  (For those readers who don't remember 1969, in those days there was no internet or email.  When an article was published, its title would be collected and circulated by a number of hard-copy abstracting services and journals which printed the contents pages of journals.  Some even used computers to index the papers.  If you wanted to read an article of interest, then you wrote a letter to the author and hoped that he or she would respond.  Many researchers had their own preprinted postcards to send to authors.  I never went to such lengths, but worked in departments which had departmental cards.)  In the letter, Dr Pickles had asked that anyone who actually read the letter in the journal Nature should not send for a reprint.  At the time, prostaglandin research was flourishing all over the world.

The letter in Nature led to 615 reprint requests within the following two months.  He wrote:  I am writing not about prostaglandins but about requests for reprints of a Nature article1 about them. In the first two months after this was published, I received 615 reprint requests of which 53 per cent came from the USA or Canada. Thirty-eight per cent of these, and 16 per cent of those from other countries, bore the name of the sender only in typewritten or rubber-stamped form. Of the handwritten names, internal evidence suggested that many were not personal signatures.  

(Despite the request in Nature it was clear that there were some requests for a reprint, entering into the spirit of the joke.  One came from a Dr Sidney Arbour-Bridge.)

 Fast forward to this year. A few years ago, Tim Paulden, one of my PhD students, and I co-authored a series of papers about genetic algorithms, a metaheuristic approach to global optimization.  Last week, the email below arrived.

This is from the Editorial Board Office of the journal of Frontiers in Pathology and Genetics (FPG). It’s my honor to contact you.
We searched a good paper of yours
Title: The Dandelion code: A new coding of spanning trees for genetic algorithms
Authors: Smith David K.
This is an excellent paper in the related area of Pathology and Genetics. Considering your research in related areas, we cordially invite you to submit a new paper to the journal of Frontiers in Pathology and Genetics (FPG). If accepted, your paper will be published for free.
If you are interested in it, please submit your manuscript online before Dec. 6, 2012:
Do you suppose that anyone in the editorial board office has actually read the paper, in order to call it "a good paper of yours"?  Has a person actually read the title of our paper?  Did any person notice that the paper was not published in a medical journal?  No, no, and no!  
You would think that the advent of the internet and search engines would have eliminated such gross errors, and that search algorithms used by the editorial office would have  filters to prevent silly errors.  It seems not.  Meanwhile, I await the free gifts from drug companies who may want to send me samples to help my genetics research.  (And in the spirit of V R Pickles, I will give this blog posting some appropriate labels.)


  1. I've received at least one solicitation inviting me, as a "renowned scholar" (certainly news to my former colleagues) in , to submit papers to . One might think that journals would be sufficiently protective of their reputations to do somewhat careful targeting of such solicitations, but apparently there is money to be made in publishing new journals, and new journals need papers.


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