Scientific Publishing Is a Joke

An XKCD comic—and its many remixes—perfectly captures the absurdity of academic research.

A scientist holds two beakers; computer-file icons obscure and explode from his head.

A real scientific advance, like a successful date, needs both preparation and serendipity. As a tired, single medical student, I used to feel lucky when I managed two good dates in a row. But career scientists must continually create this kind of magic. Universities judge their research faculty not so much by the quality of their discoveries as by the number of papers they’ve placed in scholarly journals, and how prestigious those journals happen to be. Scientists joke (and complain) that this relentless pressure to pad their résumés often leads to flawed or unoriginal publications. So when Randall Munroe, the creator of the long-running webcomic XKCD , laid out this problem in a perfect cartoon last week, it captured the attention of scientists—and inspired many to create versions specific to their own disciplines. Together, these became a global, interdisciplinary conversation about the nature of modern research practices.

The cartoon is, like most XKCD comics, a simple back-and-white line drawing with a nerdy punch line. It depicts a taxonomy of the 12 “Types of Scientific Paper,” presented in a grid. “The immune system is at it again,” one paper’s title reads. “My colleague is wrong and I can finally prove it,” declares another. The gag reveals how research literature, when stripped of its jargon, is just as susceptible to repetition, triviality, pandering, and pettiness as other forms of communication. The cartoon’s childlike simplicity, though, seemed to offer cover for scientists to critique and celebrate their work at the same time.

The concept was intuitive—and infinitely remixable. Within a couple of days, the sociologist Kieran Healy had created a version of the grid for his field; its entries included “This seems very weird and bad but it’s perfectly rational when you’re poor,” and “I take a SOCIOLOGICAL approach, unlike SOME people.” Epidemiologists got on board too—“We don’t really have a clue what we’re doing: but here are some models!” Statisticians , perhaps unsurprisingly, also geeked out: “A new robust variance estimator that nobody needs.” (I don’t get it either.) You couldn’t keep the biologists away from the fun (“New microscope!! Yours is now obsolete”), and—in their usual fashion—the science journalists soon followed (“Readers love animals”). A doctoral student cobbled together a website to help users generate their own versions. We reached Peak Meme with the creation of a meta-meme outlining a taxonomy of academic-paper memes. At that point, the writer and internet activist Cory Doctorow lauded the collective project of producing these jokes as “an act of wry, insightful auto-ethnography—self-criticism wrapped in humor that tells a story.”

Put another way: The joke was on target. “The meme hits the right nerve,” says Vinay Prasad, an associate epidemiology professor and a prominent critic of medical research . “Many papers serve no purpose, advance no agenda, may not be correct, make no sense, and are poorly read. But they are required for promotion.” The scholarly literature in many fields is riddled with extraneous work; indeed, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that this sorry outcome was more or less inevitable, given the incentives at play. Take a bunch of clever, ambitious people and tell them to get as many papers published as possible while still technically passing muster through peer review … and what do you think is going to happen? Of course the system gets gamed: The results from one experiment get sliced up into a dozen papers, statistics are massaged to produce more interesting results, and conclusions become exaggerated . The most prolific authors have found a way to publish more than one scientific paper a week. Those who can’t keep up might hire a paper mill to do (or fake) the work on their behalf.

In medicine, at least, the urgency of COVID-19 only made it easier to publish a lot of articles very quickly. The most prestigious journals— The New England Journal of Medicine , the Journal of the American Medical Association , and The Lancet —have traditionally reserved their limited space for large, expensive clinical trials. During the pandemic, though, they started rapidly accepting reports that described just a handful of patients. More than a few CVs were beefed up along the way. Scientists desperate to stay relevant began to shoehorn COVID-19 into otherwise unrelated research, says Saurabh Jha, an associate radiology professor and a deputy editor of the journal Academic Radiology .

A staggering 200,000 COVID-19 papers have already been published, of which just a tiny proportion will ever be read or put into practice. To be fair, it’s hard to know in advance which data will prove most useful during an unprecedented health crisis. But pandemic publishing has only served to exacerbate some well-established bad habits, Michael Johansen, a family-medicine physician and researcher who has criticized many studies as being of minimal value, told me. “COVID publications appear to be representative of the literature at large: a few really important papers and a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t or shouldn’t be read,” he said. Peer-reviewed results confirming that our vaccines really work, for example, could lead to millions of lives being saved. Data coming out of the United Kingdom’s nationwide RECOVERY trial have provided strong evidence for now-standard treatments such as dexamethasone. But that weird case report? Another modeling study trying to predict the unpredictable? They’re good for a news cycle, maybe, but not for real medical care. And some lousy studies have even undermined the treatment of COVID-19 patients ( hydroxychloroquine has entered the chat).

I should pause here to acknowledge that I’m a hypocrite. “Some thoughts on how everyone else is bad at research” is listed as one of the facetious article types in the original XKCD comic, yet here I am rehashing the same idea, with an internet-culture angle. Unfortunately, because The Atlantic isn’t included in scientific databases, publishing this piece will do nothing to advance my academic career. “Everyone recognizes it’s a hamster-in-a-wheel situation, and we are all hamsters,” says Anirban Maitra, a physician and scientific director at MD Anderson Cancer Center. (He created a version of the “12 Types” meme for my own beloved field: “A random pathology paper with the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’ in the title.”) Maitra has built a successful career by running in the publication wheel—his own bibliography now includes more than 300 publications —but he says he has no idea how to fix the system’s flaws. In fact, none of the scientists I talked with could think of a realistic solution. If science has become a punch line, then we haven’t yet figured out how to get rid of the setup.

While the XKCD comic can be read as critical of the scientific enterprise, part of its viral appeal is that it also conveys the joy that scientists feel in nerding out about their favorite topics. (“Hey, I found a trove of old records! They don’t turn out to be particularly useful, but still, cool!”) Publication metrics have become a sad stand-in for quality in academia, but maybe there’s a lesson in the fact that even a webcomic can arouse so much passion and collaboration across the scientific community. Surely there’s a better way to cultivate knowledge than today’s endless grid of black-and-white papers.

Peer Review

Peer Review

Your manuscript "Don't Pay $25 to Access Any of the Articles in this Journal: A Review of Preprint Repositories and Author Willingness to Email PDF Copies for Free" has also been rejected, but nice try.

The Scholarly Kitchen

What’s Hot and Cooking In Scholarly Publishing

XKCD on the Types of Scientific Papers — What Would You Add to this List?

No video this week, instead, I wanted to share a recent comic from the always thought-provoking and funny Randall Munroe. Here, he takes on the unspoken themes behind many scientific papers.

XKCD Comic

I’m sure many of those hit home, and was thinking about a few I could add from the many bibliometric and other analyses I read these days (“This phenomenon in a small number of journals is correlative with too many confounding factors to really understand, and I will grudgingly mention that, but I’m still going to strongly suggest it is causative, because I really want it to be” or “Here’s some ideas I have about how the world should work”).

What about you — what are the standard papers in your field?

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

23 Thoughts on "XKCD on the Types of Scientific Papers — What Would You Add to this List?"

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This light travelled a loooooooooong way through the universe before it it hit our shiny new sensor, you’ll be AMAZED at what it means.

  • By David Smith
  • Apr 30, 2021, 5:38 AM

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Papers that contain semicolons or witty remarks in their titles, or are submitted just before midnight on Wednesday’s in mid-summer get more citations! We don’t know why, but that won’t stop me from speculating!

  • By Phil Davis
  • Apr 30, 2021, 7:19 AM

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GPs should know more about this…

  • By Dr Gerry Morrow
  • Apr 30, 2021, 7:48 AM

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We don’t know and have not figured out how to know what we don’t know

  • By Harvey Kane
  • Apr 30, 2021, 7:52 AM

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We compared dozens and dozens of variables, and a few of them seem to be vaguely correlated.

  • By Dave Jago
  • Apr 30, 2021, 8:39 AM

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I changed one variable in the experiment by a factor of 0.000000001 percent and got a new result which varies from the original result by 0.0000000000000000002 percent.

  • By Paul Cooper
  • Apr 30, 2021, 8:42 AM

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My boss told me I had to publish more

  • By Mrs. Bobcat
  • Apr 30, 2021, 9:26 AM

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  • By David Crotty

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Undomesticated Hominid You Engender my Cardiovascular Musculature to Erupt in Song

  • By Marianne Calilhanna
  • Apr 30, 2021, 9:53 AM

Pretty sure that one was previously published by the Troggs.

  • Apr 30, 2021, 10:03 AM

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People are messing up the planet, and here’s how

  • By Conservation Journal Editor
  • Apr 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

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Climate change will likely accelerate/exacerbate problems we’ve had for years

We know how to solve the problem, but people won’t change because money

  • By Another Conservation Journal Editor
  • Apr 30, 2021, 10:31 AM

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Here Are 4,317 Words to Say the Revised Standard Now Establishes Three Tests Instead of One as Best Practice

  • By M Coates
  • Apr 30, 2021, 10:12 AM

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New trial on overdone topic reveals previous outcomes remain constant.

  • By Lyn Reynolds
  • Apr 30, 2021, 10:51 AM

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Here’s something we did at our place that worked out good.

  • By Patricia Brown
  • Apr 30, 2021, 11:40 AM

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Hey! I see you have published lots of articles on X, so here is another one saying much the same thing …

  • By pippa smart
  • Apr 30, 2021, 12:45 PM

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Opportunistic paper about COVID-19 using my favorite theoretical approach

  • By Pedro Pury
  • Apr 30, 2021, 2:21 PM

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When a person who is already sick gets something else they do worse than if they had not already been sick with something else. Let’s check this on every single condition known.

  • By Glenn Collins
  • Apr 30, 2021, 9:56 PM

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I added an nth confounding variable. There’s still an opportunity for further research.

  • By Mary Snyder
  • May 1, 2021, 12:53 PM

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Here’s how covid-19 might affect my research area.

Here’s what my research area can do about covid-19.

Competing interest: guilty of both!

  • By Leonardo Ferreira Fontenelle
  • May 2, 2021, 2:00 PM

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Global decline and die off of houseplants left unwatered for months in empty offices: unintended consequences of a global pandemic.

File under climate change (indoor category) or COVID?

  • By Chris Mebane
  • May 5, 2021, 11:54 AM

It’s a meme. Here’s a redo from ecology. How ’bout them Creative Commons?

  • May 5, 2021, 11:57 AM

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

This means that you are free to copy and reuse any of my drawings (noncommercially) as long as you tell people where they’re from.

That is, you don’t need my permission to post these pictures on your website (and hotlinking with is fine); just include a link back to this page. Or you can make Livejournal icons from them, but — if possible — put in the comment field. You can use them freely (with some kind of link) in not-for-profit publications, and I’m also okay with people reprinting occasional comics (with clear attribution) in publications like books, blogs, newsletters, and presentations. If you’re not sure whether your use is noncommercial, feel free to email me and ask (if you’re not sure, it’s probably okay).

  • May 8, 2021, 4:07 PM

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Open Access

Ten simple rules for drawing scientific comics

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliations Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington, United States of America, Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Oregon Health & Sciences University, Portland, Oregon, United States of America

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Affiliation Engineering Photonics, Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom

Affiliations Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States of America, Institute for Advanced Study, Technische Universität München, Garching, Germany

  • Jason E. McDermott, 
  • Matthew Partridge, 
  • Yana Bromberg


Published: January 4, 2018

  • Reader Comments

Fig 1

Citation: McDermott JE, Partridge M, Bromberg Y (2018) Ten simple rules for drawing scientific comics. PLoS Comput Biol 14(1): e1005845.

Editor: Scott Markel, Dassault Systemes BIOVIA, UNITED STATES

Copyright: © 2018 McDermott et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: NSF CAREER Award 1553289; the funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Institutions around the world are in a constant struggle to improve science communication. From calls for journal papers to be simpler and more accessible to encouraging scientists to take a more active role through community engagement, there is a drive to demystify and improve public understanding of and engagement with science [ 1 – 3 ]. This drive for engagement is crucial to both helping recruit the next generation of scientist and highlighting the impact and role science has in public life. It also has a role in peer-to-peer communication and wider dissemination of ideas throughout the community. Technology has greatly helped expand the range of teaching styles that a lecturer can call on to reach more people in new ways. Social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr have expanded the reach of science communication within and across scientific disciplines and to the lay public [ 1 , 3 ]. These new communication channels seem to support endless innovations in the development of videos, interactive quizzes, and instant feedback. Yet they are also providing a platform for a renaissance of one of the simplest and most effective methods for communicating ideas—comics. There are few scientists who haven’t heard of Randall Munroe, the artist behind the web comic “xkcd” [ 4 ], which features amazing graphic explanations on everything from climate change [ 5 ] to data storage [ 6 ]. These comics are widely appealing to a diverse audience and are posted on walls in laboratories and pubs alike. The ideas that they explain are complicated, but by simplifying them down to the core messages and by providing simple visual analogies, the comics educate and engage the groups that other media cannot always reach.

A comic is generally an illustration that employs metaphor and/or storytelling to clearly communicate an idea to a broad audience. Comics often employ humor, but their narratives can be exclusively informational in nature or can deal with nonhumorous topics. Comics can take multiple forms, from the single panel one-liner, to multiple panels, to graphic novels that span multiple pages. There are a number of science- and academic-oriented comics in circulation, including xkcd, PHD [ 7 ], and the authors’ own Errant Science [ 8 ] and RedPen/BlackPen [ 9 ].

An effective comic can communicate difficult ideas efficiently, illuminate obscure concepts, and create a metaphor that can be much more memorable than a straightforward description of the concept itself. Comics can be used to punctuate presentations or journal publications [ 10 – 12 ] to increase impact. In public health education, comics have long been recognized as an effective tool for reaching lots of different populations for education on subjects like cancer [ 13 ], fitness [ 14 ], and diabetes [ 15 ], to name only a few. A recent trend is for scientists and artists (and scientist-artists) to capture the content of talks at conferences, or indeed entire meetings [ 16 ], as graphical notes [ 17 ]. A vibrant and growing scientific community on social media makes this a particularly effective method for expanding the intended audience; i.e., particularly engaging comics are “virally” spread within very short time frames. Science comics have also been included in research studies to enhance the story and facilitate understanding by a broader audience [ 10 – 12 ]. Certain journals have a “cartoon” category for submission so that the comic will appear in a citable form in publication [ 18 ]. Broadly, all of these avenues represent different ways of promoting work to others.

Here, we focus on three key opportunities provided by comics. First, presenting ideas visually is an effective entry point to complex ideas. Second, using metaphor makes information memorable in ways that literal descriptions do not. Third, though not all topics and situations are suited to the use of humor, employing humor can engage nonexperts and experts alike. It both reduces the levels of intimidation associated with presenting scientific results to a wide audience and breaks down the barriers to understanding that often come with new science.

Here, we set out several guidelines that we hope will convince more scientists that drawing your own comics is simpler than you think. We start with breaking the biggest deterrent of all.

Rule 1: You don’t have to be good at art

Comics are not about art. They are about conveying a message in graphic form. Graphs and plots are for accurately conveying data, diagrams are for accurately depicting a system or setup, and comics are there to help people understand an idea. Some of the best cartoonists and comic artists cannot draw much better than wobbly lines forming strange shapes (Figs 1 – 10 ). The trick is to find the shapes that best convey the point you are trying to make. For example, you can convey the sense of scale within a system with a single circle and a dot. Use the dot to represent your smallest scale and then draw a proportionally scaled circle to represent the larger scale. This very basic comic conveys a sense of scale better than writing “small” and “twenty times bigger” ( Fig 1 ). As is explored further, it’s not about the smoothness of the lines or the accuracy of the circles, and if you can make a crude shape on paper, you can do what we set out in these rules. Anyone can create a comic, and often the biggest barrier is just getting over the idea that you can’t. With practice, you’ll get better at communicating ideas this way.


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While a piece of paper and a pencil are enough to get started drawing, there are also numerous websites that provide comic drawing software free [ 19 ] as well as guides on some of the finer details behind producing full comics [ 20 ].

Rule 2: Comics should be simple

The use of comics should make a complicated idea simpler and easier to understand—not harder! Figure out which of your components or steps can be removed or combined in your comic. Comics are like figures in papers; they are best when each conveys one message. Complicated multithreaded comics can look like a “ridiculogram"—a graph with six axes or a Venn diagram with six categories, one of them shaped like a banana (see Fig 4 from [ 21 ]). These are graphical strategies that are fun to look at but cannot be easily interpreted ( Fig 2 ). As with the previous example, the comic works best when conveying a simple message, in that case indicating the scale of the system.


Rule 3: Make it right, not perfect

Check the science. If your comic has scientific ideas in it, take the time to make sure you have the details right. If it’s mainly just a funny-joke comic, it doesn’t need to be absolutely right. For example, you can add footnotes to comics to point out scientific inaccuracies. But if it’s a comic that is meant to really illustrate a scientific concept for the purpose of education, then it should be as factually correct as you can make it. Including incorrect information in something that is intended to educate is misleading and can lead to misconceptions for those you are trying to reach who may not have a scientific background. In the example of the dot and the circle, no one is going to run a volume analysis on your comic ( Fig 3 ). But they will expect it to be within a by-eye–visible order of magnitude of what you are trying to convey.


Rule 4: Characters can improve engagement

Create characters with personality that can guide the reader—what your character wears, how tall they are, what they are carrying. If your subjects are inanimate objects, then add personality by including a face. Humans see a face and easily recognize humanity in objects. The famous example is when you hold a pencil, tell everyone that you have named it Steve and then immediately break it [ 22 ]. People will tend to feel empathy for the pencil. Simply naming your shapes can be enough to help people engage with the comic and understand and remember the message it conveys. Personification allows the expression of emotions and interactions between players in your comic that let a story be told (see Rule 6 ). In the dot and circle example, this can be as simple as giving one of the objects hand-like shapes ( Fig 4 ). Or in a more real-world setting, adding something as simple as googly eyes to equipment can produce the same result.


Rule 5: Don’t punch down

Comics have a way of going viral ( Fig 5 ), and it’s a good idea to reflect on the possible consequences of everyone in the world reading your comic. (No, not literally everyone in the world.) Don’t punch down: making mean fun of those less powerful or privileged than you is bad form, and you should evaluate with every comic you produce. Maintaining a spirit of fun, self-effacing humor and/or commiseration can often express similar ideas without putting anyone down. Be careful with work-inspired comic ideas. Complaining about your workplace using specific details is simply not a good idea. If you do, try not to make any situation or anyone in the comic identifiable—unless you’ve asked them first or they’re a public figure. It shouldn’t need to be said, but avoid jokes that are sexist, racist, ableist, or most other “ists.” (Marxist jokes may be back on the table.) You should really avoid those in real life as well. If you do get criticized for a comic you’ve posted, take a deep breath, let it out, find a trusted and honest friend or colleague, and ask their opinion. Don’t be afraid to pull the comic. There are rare cases in which any communication, especially those involving social media, has grown to have serious implications for the author [ 23 ] and, potentially, the institution they are associated with.


Rule 6: Tell a story

A good comic, like a good scientific manuscript, tells a story. Like a story, a comic has a beginning (the setup), a middle (the conflict), and a resolution (the punchline). A single-panel comic compresses all these into a single illustration, but it may lay out all the elements of the story in the panel ( Fig 6 ). If illustrating a process or mechanism, start with Rule 4 and personify the elements. Then, think about the story your comic is telling—the steps of the process—and how this might be made more memorable by using your characters. What would the enzyme in your comic say if it could talk? You’ve just given the enzyme that ability! All stories have conflict. This can be in the form of an actual villain, a conflict of ideas, an unseen context to the story, or a joke that the reader is likely to understand. It is important that the language you use to help tell this story be simple and legible. Ideally, it should be tested on nonnative speakers. The impact of the comic can be highly reduced if readers don’t understand the dialogue.


Rule 7: Draw on what you know and find your own voice

As with many other things, the adage “write what you know” applies to comics as well, but don’t feel limited to only what you’re an expert in. Draw from your own experience (paying attention to Rule 5, of course), and if you are comfortable taking on difficult problems or ideas, then go ahead. Personal stories that come from your own experience and emotions can be incredibly powerful [ 24 ]. Your comics might be topical, but that’s ok—science is topical. And by bringing something that you care about and understand to a wider audience, you might just communicate outside your subspecialty. Paying attention to concepts you find important, issues that are relevant to you, and interactions you have daily can be a treasure trove of ideas if you pay attention. If you have a comic or an idea for a comic, try bouncing it off a trusted friend or colleague ( Fig 7 ); then, take their feedback and use it to improve your ideas iteratively. It may take time to find what subjects you like to focus on and how you like to represent ideas, and that’s ok. Art, like science, is a continually evolving process, and it is important to find your own voice.


Rule 8: Use your imagination

Readers expect comics to be imaginative and to depict ideas in new, fresh ways. A great way to communicate complex or esoteric concepts is to use analogies. Analogies allow the reader to make a connection between something that they can relate to and abstract concepts that may be complex and hard to grasp. An added benefit of analogies is that they often allow for simple variations to make a subject humorous. For example, you can equip a car with multiple “accessories” to depict the process of peer review [ 18 ] or transform a dot and circle into an acorn and a squash ( Fig 8 ). However, be careful with analogies because they can sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions about a topic.


Rule 9: Sketch and draft

One of the most important aspects of an effective comic is clear communication. Storyboard ideas with quick sketches. Lay out the important bits of the comic: where you want the characters, how you want the panels arranged, and where the text will go. This last point, where the text will go, is actually really important and sometimes difficult to do. Experiment with it if it doesn’t seem right the first time. Choose your words. Just like a joke given by a standup comedienne, the difference between a great joke and a dud can sometimes be the specific way that you deliver it and the words that you use. You usually won’t give a talk at a conference off-the-cuff, so don’t do it here either! Test ideas out on others first. Write down a few ideas if you are having trouble. Sometimes the first thing that pops into your head is the best. Other times, an idea needs coaxing and refinement to really shine ( Fig 9 ). You’ll learn to recognize the difference between the two.


Rule 10: Practice, practice, practice and have fun

No one becomes great at something instantly. Give yourself time and practice often. Sketch at conferences (see [ 17 ]), doodle during down time, and carry a notebook for ideas. Learn from others. Read some comics. There are some great ones out there and new ones popping up all the time. Find some that resonate with you and draw inspiration from them. Remember, if you have an idea, you can start without needing to do any drawing at all [ 19 ]. Use social media like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram to reach your audience. Start an account for your comic and it will start to take on a life of its own! Most of all, have fun ( Fig 10 ). Let’s make that a rule.


If you are still reading, take out a piece of paper and draw a circle. Now give it some eyes and a mouth. Now have it thinking or saying something about science. Did it work? Congratulations! You are now a science comic artist!


The authors would like to thank Philip Bourne for looking the other… ummm… helping get this kind of paper published. YB is super thankful for the NSF CAREER Award 1553289 that encourages her thinking outside the box to bring more science to more people. JEM is employed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, WA. PNNL is a multi-program national laboratory operated by Battelle for the DOE under contract DE-AC05-76RLO 1830. MP wishes to acknowledge Michelle Reeve for cartoon consultation. The authors also thank the vibrant science/art Twitter community for providing an environment to support their work.

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  • 19. Kessler, S. 6 Free Sites for Creating Your Own Comics. 2010; Available from: . Accessed on 20 September 2017.
  • 20. How to Make a Comic Book. Available from: . Accessed on 20 September 2017.
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Science journal retracts peer-reviewed article containing AI generated ‘nonsensical’ images

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An open access scientific journal, Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology , was openly criticized and mocked by researchers on social media this week after they observed the publication had recently put up an article including imagery with gibberish descriptions and diagrams of anatomically incorrect mammalian testicles and sperm cells, which bore signs of being created by an AI image generator.

We thank the readers for their scrutiny of our articles: when we get it wrong, the crowdsourcing dynamic of open science means that community feedback helps us to quickly correct the record. — Frontiers (@FrontiersIn) February 15, 2024

The publication has since responded to one of its critics on the social network X, posting from its verified account: “We thank the readers for their scrutiny of our articles: when we get it wrong, the crowdsourcing dynamic of open science means that community feedback helps us to quickly correct the record.” It has also removed the article , entitled “ Cellular functions of spermatogonial stem cells in relation to JAK/STAT signaling pathway ” from its website and issued a retraction notice, stating:

“Following publication, concerns were raised regarding the nature of its AI-generated figures. The article does not meet the standards of editorial and scientific rigor for Frontiers in Cell and Development Biology; therefore, the article has been retracted.

This retraction was approved by the Chief Executive Editor of Frontiers. Frontiers would like to thank the concerned readers who contacted us regarding the published article. “

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Misspelled words and anatomically incorrect illustrations

However, VentureBeat has obtained a copy and republished the original article below in the interest of maintaining the public record of it.

As you can observe in it, it contains several graphics and illustrations rendered in a seemingly clear and colorful scientific style, but zooming in, there are many misspelled words and misshapen letters, such as “protemns” instead of “proteins,” for example, and a word spelled “zxpens.”

peer review xkcd

Perhaps most problematic is the image of “rat” (spelled correctly) which appears first in the paper, and shows a massive growth in its groin region.

peer review xkcd

Blasted on X

Shortly after the paper’s publication on Feb. 13, 2024, researchers took to X to call it out and question how it made it through peer review.

Someone used DALL-E to create gobbledygook scientific figures and submitted them to Frontiers Journal. And guess what? The editor published it. LOL — Veera Rajagopal  (@doctorveera) February 15, 2024
It’s finally happened. A peer-reviewed journal article with what appear to be nonsensical AI generated images. This is dangerous. — ?Kareem Carr | Statistician ? (@kareem_carr) February 15, 2024

The paper is authored by Xinyu Guo and Dingjun Hao of the Department of Spine Surgery, Hong Hui Hospital at Xi’an Jiaotong University; as well as Liang Dong of the Department of Spine Surgery, Xi’an Honghui Hospital in Xi’an, China.

It was reviewed by Binsila B. Krishnan of the National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology (ICAR) in India and Jingbo Dai of Northwestern Medicine in the United States. It was edited by Arumugam Kumaresan at the National Dairy Research Institute (ICAR) in India.

VentureBeat reached out to all the authors and editors of the paper, as well as Amanda Gay Fisher, the journal’s Field Chief Editor, and a professor of biochemistry at the prestigious Oxford University in the U.K., to ask further questions about how the article was published, and will update when we hear back.

Troubling wider implications for AI’s impact on science, research, and medicine

AI has been touted as a valuable tool for advancing scientific research and discovery by some of its makers, including Google with its AlphaFold protein structure predictor and materials science AI GNoME, recently covered positively by the press (including VentureBeat) for discovering 2 million new materials .

However, those tools are focused on the research side. When it comes to publishing that research, it is clear that AI image generators could pose a major threat to scientific accuracy, especially if researchers are using them indiscriminately, to cut corners and publish faster, or because they are malicious or simply don’t care.

The move to use AI to create scientific illustrations or diagrams is troubling because it undermines the accuracy and trust among the scientific community and wider public that the work going into important fields that impact our lives and health — such as medicine and biology — is accurate, safe and screened.

Yet it may also be the product of the wider “publish or perish” climate that has arisen in science over the last several decades, in which researchers have attested they feel the need to rush out papers of little value to show they are contributing something, anything , to their field, and bolster the number of citations attributed to them by others, padding their resumes for future jobs.

But also, let’s be honest — some of these researchers on this paperwork in spine surgery at a human hospital: would you trust them to operate on your spine or help with your back health?

With more than 114,000 citations to its name, the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology has now had its integrity called into question by this lapse: how many more papers published by it have AI-illustrated diagrams that have slipped through the review process?

Intriguingly, Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology is part of the wider Frontiers company of more than 230 different scientific publications founded in 2007 by neuroscientists Kamila Markram and Henry Markram , the former of whom is still listed as CEO.

The company says its “vision [is] to make science open, peer-review rigorous, transparent, and efficient and harness the power of technology to truly serve researchers’ needs,” and in fact, some of the tech it uses is AI for peer review.

As Frontiers proclaimed in a 2020 press release :

“ In an industry first, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being deployed to help review research papers and assist in the peer-review process. The state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence Review Assistant (AIRA), developed by open-access publisher Frontiers, helps editors, reviewers and authors evaluate the quality of manuscripts. AIRA reads each paper and can currently make up to 20 recommendations in just seconds, including the assessment of language quality, the integrity of the figures, the detection of plagiarism, as well as identifying potential conflicts of interest. “

The company’s website notes that AIRA debuted in 2018 as “ The next generation of peer review in which AI and machine learning enable more rigorous quality control and efficiency in the peer review .”

And just last summer, an article and video featuring Mirjam Eckert , chief publishing officer at Frontiers , stated:

“ At Frontiers, we apply AI to help build that trust. Our Artificial Intelligence Review Assistant (AIRA) verifies that scientific knowledge is accurately and honestly presented even before our people decide whether to review, endorse, or publish the research paper that contains it.

AIRA reads every research manuscript we receive and makes up to 20 checks a second. These checks cover, among other things, language quality, the integrity of figures and images, plagiarism, and conflicts of interest. The results give editors and reviewers another perspective as they decide whether to put a research paper through our rigorous and transparent peer review. “

Frontiers has also received favorably coverage of its AI article review assistant AIRA in such notable publications as The New York Times and Financial Times .

Clearly, the tool wasn’t able to effectively catch these nonsensical images in the article, leading to its retraction (if it was used at all in this case). But it also raises questions about the ability of such AI tools to detect, flag, and ultimately stop the publication of inaccurate scientific information — and the growing prevalence of its use at Frontiers and elsewhere across the publishing ecosystem. Perhaps that is the danger of being on the “frontier” of a new technology movement such as AI — the risk of it going wrong is higher than with the “tried and true,” human-only or analog approach.

VentureBeat also relies on AI tools for image generation and some text, but all articles are reviewed by human journalists prior to publication. AI was not used by VentureBeat in the writing, reporting, illustrating or publishing of this article.

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.


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‘I’m always thinking of really terrible ways to do things’: a talk with XKCD’s creator

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Say the name Randall Munroe to your average internet literate, and they might not recognize it. But they’ll certainly recognize the hundreds upon hundreds of stick figures he’s drawn over the 14 years he’s been producing the often funny, sometimes heartfelt, frequently experimental webcomic xkcd .

XKCD has formed, if not the backbone, then at least some of the ribs of internet culture. It’s inspired the chessboard roller coaster picture and a method for creating easy-to-remember secure passwords , and Munroe won a Hugo award for a comic in the form of 3,099 individual images uploaded sequentially over the course of four months .

Munroe’s books are reflective of the same inventiveness. Thing Explainer offered explanations of complicated scientific ideas using only the 1,000 most frequently used words in the English language. What If? gave realistic answers to absurd questions, like “what would happen if one tried to funnel Niagara Falls through a straw?” His latest, How To , is the exact opposite: absurdly bad advice for mundane problems, like how many pounds of rocket thrust it would take to literally move your house, instead of, you know, moving your belongings to another house.

Polygon sat down with Munroe to talk about stick figures, science, and the internet — and wound up touching on ’90s kids, astronaut Chris Hadfield, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Polygon: Where did the idea for How To come from? It has some similarities with your previous books, but it also has its own very specific hook.

Randall Munroe: Well, I’m always thinking of really terrible ways to do things. It’s not like I try to think of terrible ways to do things. It’s just that when I’m trying to figure out how to do something, I just think of a bunch of different ways and see which ones seem like they might be good ideas. But what’s really fun is that sometimes the ones that are pretty clearly bad ideas, it’s still a little bit interesting trying to figure out why exactly they’re bad. Sometimes it’s really entertaining just to imagine trying to carry out an idea.

A lot of the time I’ll learn something really cool in the process of figuring out whether an idea would work or not. So even if it doesn’t work for the thing I’m actually trying to use it for, I might learn to use a tool or learn about some cool stuff that will help me with an idea later on. And all that aside, even if it’s not useful for anything and the idea does turn out to be bad, it can just be fun.

Did you have a favorite how-to method that you discovered or investigated for the book?

I think that my very favorite thing that I discovered was when I was trying to do the chapter on how to make an emergency landing, which is one of the cases where I got to reach out to some really cool people and get them to give me their advice on how to do things. I got to reach out to Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station and an accomplished test pilot.

A stick figure comic from How To?. Flight officials ask the passengers on a plane if any of them know how to land an aircraft. One shrugs, saying “I guess I’ll never know until I try.”

I spent a long time trying to come up with a list of the weirdest things that could happen to you while you were flying, where you would need to land. Like, What if you get your sleeve closed in the cockpit door and you have to throw stuff at the controls? Or, What if you’re on the outside of the plane? Can you land by crawling around and pulling on the right flaps?

I figured I was just going to ask him about these progressively weirder situations until finally he just hung up on me. But the joke was on me, because he just answered every question I asked with no hesitation. In some cases it was, No, there’s nothing you could do there;you would crash. But in a lot of cases, he was like, Oh sure, I just do this, pull this flap, climb out of the seat, do this, and then you can bring it down to land. People have done that before, there was an incident , and so-and-so ...

And he laid out everything in such a matter-of-fact way that — I was gonna write that as a regular chapter where I gave my thoughts on all this, but I wasn’t expecting him to not only have thoughts on it but have them all immediately. His answers were so punchy that I just printed that as an interview and illustrated it. In retrospect, my idea of trying to stump a test pilot by throwing surprise situations at him all of a sudden might’ve had some flaws.

A stick figure portrait of astronaut Col. Chris Hadfield from the book How To. He is holding a space suit helmet with the Canadian flag on it. In the background is a rocket ready to launch, and two clouds.

Hm, yeah, that might be the entire job.

Exactly. And it might be that there are some situations in there where what he said wasn’t the optimal thing that you could do. But what he says is, This is the thing that would be the first instinct of one of the world’s foremost test pilots. So, it’s probably a pretty good place to start.

When I said that there are some similarities between How To and your other books, I meant that there’s a streak of explaining complicated things in layman’s terms to a broad audience. Do you see that as a theme in your work, that you seek to put into the world?

Yeah. I don’t know if it’s necessarily that I see it as a calling or a mission that I want to do. But it feels more like: When I was a little kid and I learned cool facts, I would try to tell people about them. And I noticed pretty quickly that a lot of time, people looked bored or would walk away, and I would have to chase after them telling them my cool facts. And so I’ve tried to, like — I’ll learn about something that I think is cool and I want to show other people why I thought it was cool.

A lot of the time, that means figuring out how to fill them in on all the context for it. Like, it might be a cool programming idea, but people who don’t know that programming language don’t know why it’s a neat thing. A lot of the time I’ll just find a really neat research paper, and then I want to summarize it for someone and to tell them why I thought it was so funny or so interesting. And then to do that, I have to explain what the research is about, so I just try to figure out ways to do that quickly, where people won’t get bored and wander away.

An optimal cool fact delivery system.

Yeah, exactly. And that’s good because I think it’s really good in general when you’re trying to communicate about science to understand that it’s not that people aren’t interested in science, or that they aren’t smart, or anything — it’s just, people have their own lives. They have stuff going on. Your fact really has to be cool and you have to figure out a way to get it to them quickly, or they are rightfully going to turn to one of the other 10 million things trying to get their attention. And that’s fair; you aren’t entitled to people’s attention. You have to make it interesting for them.

Do you come from a scientific background?

I did an undergraduate physics degree and then I worked for a little bit on a couple of different things at NASA [Langley] Research Center; I built robots there and stuff. But then I pretty quickly went into internet cartoons full time. People always mention it in my biography, but it was — I was not there for all that long. It wasn’t like I had a long career as a robot assistant and then finally found a second career.

A chart depicting the alternate orders Asimov could have put the three laws of robotics in, and the dire, or at least frustrating, situations that would result.

I relate to the idea of trying to very efficiently tell people about a cool thing. A lot of the focus of my job is distilling Marvel and DC Comics universes down to people who are not really well-versed in them. I am, naturally, of the opinion that there are a lot of cool things in there.

For sure! Quick question that I’ve always been curious about and don’t know the answer to: Of people who have seen at least one Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, what’s the median [total] number of [Marvel Cinematic] movies they’ve seen? Have most people who have seen one of them seen a lot of them? Or are there a lot of people who have just seen one of them but are not that into it?

Because every event or thing connected to the movie — every review or every comment thread — it’s disproportionally people who are really into it. But I wonder if it’s one of those things where those people are just a tiny slice of it, and the vast majority of people have seen fewer than four of them but still like them, you know.

Yeah, that’s a question where the answer is absolutely beyond the horizon of what anybody who is a journalist who covers that can see, which makes it a very interesting one.

I’ve always been curious. I don’t know an easy way to find it out. But I wonder about that sometimes whenever people talk about the Marvel movies. Because I’ve seen like five or six of the MCU movies, and I feel like every review or every comment I’ve ever read about them either presumes you haven’t seen any of them, or presumes you’ve seen all of them. And so I wonder if I’m a huge outlier.

A stick figure comic pointing out that it’s much easier to think of a movie you hate that everyone else likes, than it is to think of a movie you like that everyone else hates, from the webcomic xkcd.

But I don’t mean to take away from...

No, I think the completionist instinct runs very strong in nerd media. But! There’s a lot of comics philosophy out there about how the job of cartooning is about minimalism, which is kind of a fancy way of saying, “OK, you draw a stick figure comic.” And maybe that might start as I’m not Alex Ross, I’m not a monthly comic book artist; this is just the way I’m communicating my ideas. But at some point it becomes a very deliberate choice. I’m curious if you have ever felt like you were restricted by that form or wanted to break out of it?

I feel like there are a few places where I did where I might’ve felt like that and then did kind of expand out of it. One of them was when I discovered I guess what we call infographics, which I didn’t invent, but I didn’t really know. I was just like, I really like making these elaborate maps of things — but not always maps, just charts.

I would do these big data visualization-type projects, and I discovered that I could just do those and put them up on my comic in place of my regular comic, and people seem to like them. That was really cool for me, and that became one of my favorite parts of it.

Movie scientists do interesting-looking experiments and come to a swift and specific conclusion, while regular scientists perform a relatively mundane test and come to an obscure result. All the stick figure scientists are wearing lab coats and safety gog

Similarly in the big chart genre, doing Thing Explainer was fun because it actually felt like going back to when I was a little kid and trying to come up with inventions. I would draw these elaborate diagrams of, like, my castle fortress with its booby traps, or the hover vehicle I wanted to build, or whatever. With Thing Explainer , I got to draw up blueprints of a bunch of stuff and go back to some of my — like, I took some technical drawing classes — but also just to those childhood drawings.

One stupid joke that I’ve always been a sucker for — and I now and then think of a of a new joke you could do with it, but I can’t do because of the constraints of my medium — is jokes involving people who tear away a suit and have a different suit under it, a different outfit. That’s just one of those silly sight gags that I’ve always been a sucker for, and I don’t know why. Now and then I’ll think of a new way that you could use a series of tearaway suits, and I can’t do those jokes because I draw stick figures and you can at most put one set of clothes on them. And even then it’s a little bit weird.

I think the initial instinct for folks who maybe have not gotten into comics hard enough to get the craft of the rhythm and panel placement — all of these things go into a comic; it’s not necessarily that you can draw the perfect eye, or whatever. What do you feel like you have like learned or improved about your craft? Is there, are there things that you’re like, I am so much better at drawing stick figures doing this than I used to be?

Honestly, all the examples I think of are things that are exactly the opposite, where I’ve been drawing them forever and I still can’t get it right. I’m sure there are things that have gotten easier and those things I don’t remember them because, you know, [remembering that stuff is hard]. But like, I keep having to do comics about airplanes or illustrations about them, and there’s something about the geometry of them that I’ve just never been able to draw.

So anytime I include an airplane, and especially one of those airliners with the wings that are sort of swept back — every time I draw one of those, it meant that I tried it 20 times and that one was, like, the best I could do. But yeah, there are a few things that I learned early on about how you have to put everything explaining a joke or explaining a comic into the comic itself.

When I started out, I thought, Oh, I’ll put up these news posts , like I see a lot of people do. And then sometimes I’ll do a comic and I can put out a thing there explaining, This is why this joke worked or This is based on this cool study you should read about . But I would find that that would really quickly turn into, like, Oh, you know, this comic doesn’t really make sense, but I can explain it in the news post so it’ll make more sense to people.

I had to learn and remember that nobody — to a close approximation — nobody reads anything except for the comic. So you have to put it there; with 99% of your readers, that’s the only shot you get at getting a thing across. I had to learn to give up on my urge to explain things to people, especially if I’m like, Oh, people didn’t understand this. Well, I’ll reach out to them and change all their minds individually. It’s like, Nope, you had your chance; you got to just do it better next time.

A stick figure man clings to the top of a passenger jet, saying “Hello?!”, in an illustration from the book How To.

That harks back to such a specific era of webcomics, where there would be an accompanying news post.

Yeah, and I saw people doing [that] and was like, Oh, maybe that’s just how this works? But I resisted that, so I never really included anything like that with my comics after the very initial ones that I posted.

Whenever I talk to comics creators and let slip the age I was when I first discovered their work, I always feel the need to apologize, but ...

Oh, for sure, but I’m a huge sucker for those. I’ve done a bunch of comics about how weird it is to pick out things that age you in unexpected ways or in unexpected places. So it’s always fair when people want to spring those on me because I’ve sprung so many, like, Hey, you want to feel old? Here’s a thing.

I even have a chapter in my book that’s “How to Tell if You’re a ’90s Kid.” It’s all about like — there’s a really interesting section on analyzing what names you think are normal and how that really dates you. And how you can see fictional characters have names that are common among little kids, and then 20 years later, there are a bunch of adults with those same names.

And the reason for that is that TV writers and new parents are both doing their work at the same cultural moment and picking names. But the TV writers have a head start because they can give names to adults. You can see those cultural forces playing out. Like, for the last 10 years or so, there have been more babies named Brooklyn than Sarah, which blows my mind because I knew, like, 20 Sarahs.

And then I also talk about how nuclear testing leaves radioactive particles in your teeth. That tells you if you’re a Baby Boomer or not! So it was a fun chapter. But yeah, you were saying, when you talk to creators ...

A stick figure drawing of a tooth fairy approaching a person at a desk, from the book How To. The person refuses the fairy’s teeth, because they are from Baby Boomers.

Right. What I was about to say was, I think I discovered xkcd when I was in college, so I’ve been reading xkcd a long time. And through being a professionally online person starting in about 2010, going through the Google Reader era and the Reddit-is-still something-that-normal-people-don’t-know-what-it-is era, and the Digg era — xkcd stood out for me for having a very optimistic idea of online culture and online spaces and online communities.

And in the early 2000s, it was not radical to feel that way about the internet. But this is all context for asking, do you have a take on the evolution of online communities? As someone who’s observed them and been around for so long? It feels like xkcd is broadly optimistic about the potential of the internet, but how has that played out for you personally?

It’s funny, because I’m definitely not particularly out there myself on a lot of these communities. I’m watching them from the sides. I think there are certainly some things that I was optimistic about that then turned into ... more like forces that were ambiguous at best. And then other things were things that I was really upset and worried about, or mad about, that now look like the only good ones. Like, Oh wow, if only we could have kept having it that good .

I mean, I think back to the ’90s: Bill Gates was the ultimate evil for crushing things with his software for business, and we all wrote Microsoft with a dollar sign and we were rebels and stuff. And now it feels like he’s sort of the only, like, tech billionaire who’s just trying to do good stuff? Like, he’s out there curing malaria or whatever, and then you look at what everyone else who has a bazillion dollars is doing and you’re like, Whoa, wait a minute. Maybe we were too hard on that guy . [ laughs ] Like, Wow, now I wish we could get back to when Bill Gates was the worst thing on the internet .

I think that what I’ve always been really optimistic about is people themselves. I really feel like everyone, I don’t know ... like, one thing I just really, really dislike about science and physics sometimes is when there’s a little bit of that condescending streak, and that idea that like, Oh, well we’re smarter than other people .

That just really rubs me the wrong way. When people are like, People are stupid . And it’s like, people are exactly average; people are people. And if you’re saying that what you’re really trying to say is, like, “ I’m smart. I’m not like everyone,” [then], like, well, OK, so you’re full of yourself.

I’m optimistic about people in general basically being good. There’s some survey question that they ask like, Do you think most people can be trusted ? And it in the mid-20th century, like 60, 70% of people said, Yeah, for sure. Most people can be trusted . And now it’s like 30% say that, and 60 or 70% say like, I dunno, you can’t be too careful .

And I’m as wary as the next person about any kind of random stranger on the internet, because you don’t know where they’re coming from. But fundamentally, I really believe most people can be trusted, most people are good. You just have to build a system that has the right tools to make it safe to interact with the people who aren’t, and tools to protect communities from being swayed by a few people who are really bad.

That’s the thing that I think I criticize the most often about how the internet has developed, which is that it lets small communities — people who are dedicated — manipulate larger communities to give the impression of a peer consensus around some topic. Or if someone’s targeted by a handful of people, it doesn’t take very many people to completely dominate every public forum, or comment thread about something on the internet, and give the sense that like, Oh wow, if I support this person, I’m in a small minority, because everyone seems to be mad at them.

And this is something where even if you’re relatively savvy ... like, for me it’s really still really hard not to have my impression swayed by what I see in the first couple of comments. I really do think we need our norms to catch up to where we can respond to this kind of stuff better, and we can build systems that are more robust in these ways. And I feel anxious and urgent about it.

It’s like in the era of email forwards, where there would be like a chain letter that’s like, If you don’t do this, you’re going to have terrible luck , or Bill Gates is going to send a dollar to everyone who forwarded this email . It was everywhere; it flooded email. It isn’t that we built something that stopped those emails. We didn’t have to rearchitect things, but we did need everyone’s email behavior to catch up.

I think we need a combination of both of those, and I feel frustrated that it doesn’t feel like it’s happening as quickly as it should, but I think it’s happening. So I dunno. I think that the more we talk about the kind of, for example, harassment people get on the internet — if they are [ laughs, and then continues knowingly ] are a certain kind of person, or express certain views, the way that it can leak into every part of the internet and completely destroy someone’s ability to exist in the digital space — [the better].

[About] how easy it is to launch those kinds of campaigns, and how easy it is for the rest of us to be swayed by them, not really realizing that what we’re seeing is not representative. I guess that comes back to — it’s like that Marvel Cinematic Universe thing.

A chart ranking tools that Thor could have been associated with from best to worst, including hammer, circular saw, nail gun, digital caliper, and others.

We only ever hear from the superfans, but that means that it’s pretty easy for a group of people to decide to be superfans and really sway things for everyone else. And you know, sometimes that’s how activism gets done and that’s good. But I think that we really haven’t come to grips with exactly what that means for digital spaces. That’s the most pressing and scary thing for me. We need to figure that out. And whether it’s a technical thing or a norms thing, or probably both, I really wish that would hurry up. Before, you know, democracy collapses, or we all destroy each other over some dispute over a dress or whatever the heck.

I was just sitting here thinking that optimism isn’t the right word, but futurism is. Looking forward and trying to figure out what direction we should go in before we are already going in a direction is a better characterization of xkcd ’s exploration of online spaces and the impact of technology.

It’s a thing that a lot of people are doing. I mean, it’s a thing that also everyone who’s trying to build a new internet service or who works at a tech company and is designing a new platform — they’re all also trying to figure out the next big thing. And there’s no end of media people who are trying to figure out why the next big thing might be bad or, Are scooters destroying our cities? or whatever.

I try not to be reflexively critical, and also try not to be just excited about every new tech thing without worrying about the consequences. It’s sort of like with How To : It’s not that want to find why ideas are bad or find why they’re good. I just want to take an idea and explore it, see where it goes, and understand that it may turn out to be really bad — and be a little bit humble about my own ability to tell which is which.

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February 19, 2024 report

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trusted source

AI-generated disproportioned rat genitalia makes its way into peer-reviewed journal

by Bob Yirka ,

rat anatomy

The editors at the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology have retracted a paper after it was pointed out to them by readers that supporting images had been generated improperly by an AI image generator. In their retraction, the editors report that the reason for the retraction was that "concerns were raised regarding the nature of its AI-generated figures."

In the article, which involved research surrounding stem cells in small mammals , the authors included images depicting rat anatomy that an AI system had clearly created. In one picture, a single rat appeared to have a penis and testicles that were larger than the rest of its body—not something that occurs in nature. Some of the accompanying text was also incomprehensible. Another image showed a rat cell that did not resemble the true structure of a rat cell.

The disproportioned images in the paper are likely to add to ongoing discussions in the science community surrounding the use of AI in generating text or imagery for use in technical papers—particularly those published in established journals.

In this case, it is not clear how such problematic images wound up in a peer-reviewed journal. The authors, a combined team from Hong Hui Hospital and Jiaotong University in China, did not try to hide the fact that they had used AI to create the images ; they even credited Midjourney.

Some in the press have noted that Frontiers has a policy that allows for the use of AI-generated materials as long as their use is disclosed, which was the case in this instance. But the policy also notes that attempts must be made to fact-check anything produced by such systems, which clearly was not the case in this mix-up.

The editors at Frontiers initially posted a note on the paper claiming that the article had been corrected and that a new version would be published in short order. Not much later, the paper was retracted.

The mistakes made by the authors of the paper and the team at the journal that approved its publication are likely to be the first of many to come, though it is still not clear what changes will be required to prevent such mistakes from happening in the future.

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AI gone wild —

Scientists aghast at bizarre ai rat with huge genitals in peer-reviewed article, it's unclear how such egregiously bad images made it through peer-review..

Beth Mole - Feb 15, 2024 11:16 pm UTC

An actual laboratory rat, who is intrigued.

Appall and scorn ripped through scientists' social media networks Thursday as several egregiously bad AI-generated figures circulated from a peer-reviewed article recently published in a reputable journal. Those figures—which the authors acknowledge in the article's text were made by Midjourney—are all uninterpretable. They contain gibberish text and, most strikingly, one includes an image of a rat with grotesquely large and bizarre genitals, as well as a text label of "dck."

AI-generated Figure 1 of the paper. This image is supposed to show spermatogonial stem cells isolated, purified, and cultured from rat testes.

The article in question is titled "Cellular functions of spermatogonial stem cells in relation to JAK/STAT signaling pathway," which was authored by three researchers in China, including the corresponding author Dingjun Hao of Xi’an Honghui Hospital. It was published online Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology.

Frontiers did not immediately respond to Ars' request for comment, but we will update this post with any response.

Figure 2 is supposed to be a diagram of the JAK-STAT signaling pathway.

But the rat's package is far from the only problem. Figure 2 is less graphic but equally mangled. While it's intended to be a diagram of a complex signaling pathway, it instead is a jumbled mess. One scientific integrity expert questioned whether it provided an overly complicated explanation of "how to make a donut with colorful sprinkles." Like the first image, the diagram is rife with nonsense text and baffling images. Figure 3 is no better, offering a collage of small circular images that are densely annotated with gibberish. The image is supposed to provide visual representations of how the signaling pathway from Figure 2 regulates the biological properties of spermatogonial stem cells.

Some scientists online questioned whether the article's text was also AI-generated. One user noted that AI detection software determined that it was likely to be AI-generated; however, as Ars has reported previously, such software is unreliable .

Figure 3 is supposed to show the regulation of biological properties of spermatogonial stem cells by JAK/STAT signaling pathway.

The images, while egregious examples, highlight a growing problem in scientific publishing. A scientist's success relies heavily on their publication record, with a large volume of publications, frequent publishing, and articles appearing in top-tier journals, all of which earn scientists more prestige. The system incentivizes less-than-scrupulous researchers to push through low-quality articles, which, in the era of AI chatbots, could potentially be generated with the help of AI. Researchers worry that the growing use of AI will make published research less trustworthy. As such, research journals have recently set new authorship guidelines for AI-generated text to try to address the problem. But for now, as the Frontiers article shows, there are clearly some gaps.

reader comments

Channel ars technica.

Review Article By Misinformation Spreaders Misleads About mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines

Scicheck digest.

T he mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have a good safety record and have saved millions of lives. But viral posts claim the contrary, citing a recent peer-reviewed article authored by known COVID-19 misinformation spreaders and published in a controversial journal. The paper repeats previously debunked claims.

More than  half a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have now been administered in the U.S. and only a few, very rare, safety concerns have emerged. The vast majority of people experience only minor, temporary side effects such as pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, or muscle pain — or no side effects at all. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said , these vaccines “have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”

A small number of severe allergic reactions known as anaphylaxis, which are expected with any vaccine, have occurred with the authorized and approved COVID-19 vaccines. Fortunately, these reactions are rare, typically occur within minutes of inoculation and can be treated. Approximately 5 per million people vaccinated have experienced anaphylaxis after a COVID-19 vaccine, according  to the CDC.

To make sure serious allergic reactions can be identified and treated, all people receiving a vaccine should be observed for 15 minutes after getting a shot, and anyone who has experienced anaphylaxis or had any kind of immediate allergic reaction to any vaccine or injection in the past should be monitored for a half hour. People who have had a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose or one of the vaccine ingredients should not be immunized. Also, those who shouldn’t receive one type of COVID-19 vaccine should be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving a different type of vaccine.

There is evidence that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines may rarely cause inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or of the surrounding lining (pericarditis), particularly in male adolescents and young adults .

Based on data collected through August 2021, the reporting rates of either condition in the U.S. are highest in males 16 to 17 years old after the second dose (105.9 cases per million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine), followed by 12- to 15-year-old males (70.7 cases per million). The rate for 18- to 24-year-old males was 52.4 cases and 56.3 cases per million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, respectively.

Health officials have emphasized that vaccine-related myocarditis and pericarditis cases are rare and the benefits of vaccination still outweigh the risks. Early evidence suggests these myocarditis cases are less severe than typical ones. The CDC has also noted that most patients who were treated “responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been linked to an  increased risk of rare blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets, especially in women ages 30 to 49 . Early symptoms of the condition, which is known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS, can appear as late as three weeks after vaccination and  include  severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision, leg swelling, and easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin outside of the injection site.

According to the CDC, TTS has occurred in around 4 people per million doses administered. As of early April ,  the syndrome has been confirmed in 60 cases, including nine deaths, after more than 18.6 million doses of the J&J vaccine. Although TTS remains rare, because of the availability of mRNA vaccines, which are not associated with this serious side effect, the FDA on May 5 limited authorized use of the J&J vaccine to adults who either couldn’t get one of the other authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines because of medical or access reasons, or only wanted a J&J vaccine for protection against the disease. Several months earlier, on Dec. 16, 2021 ,  the CDC had recommended the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots over J&J’s.

The J&J vaccine has also been linked to an increased risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks nerve cells.  Most people  who develop GBS fully recover, although some have permanent nerve damage and the condition can be fatal.

Safety surveillance data suggest that compared with the mRNA vaccines, which have not been linked to GBS, the J&J vaccine is associated with 15.5 additional GBS cases per million doses of vaccine in the three weeks following vaccination. Most reported cases following J&J vaccination have occurred in men 50 years old and older.

Link to this

The  safety  of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna is supported by the rigorous clinical trials run prior to their release and numerous studies conducted since. Hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated in the U.S., many with multiple doses, and serious side effects are rare .

COVID-19 vaccines have also been shown to be  effective  in reducing the risk of severe forms of the disease. Multiple studies have estimated that the COVID-19 vaccines saved millions of lives across the globe.

But an  article  — written by misinformation spreaders who oppose COVID-19 vaccination — that claims to have reviewed the original trials and “other relevant studies” largely ignores this body of evidence. Instead, the review, which calls for a “global moratorium” on the mRNA vaccines, cites multiple flawed or criticized studies —  many   of   which   we’ve   written about before — to falsely claim the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have caused “extensive, well-documented” serious adverse events and have killed nearly 14 times as many people as they saved.

The article was peer-reviewed and published in Cureus, an open-access online medical journal that prioritizes fast publication and has published problematic studies before, as we will explain.

Social   media   posts  that share the incorrect conclusions of the review have gone viral. 

“mRNA COVID-19 vaccines caused more deaths than saved: study,” reads a Feb. 4  Instagram post  that shared a screenshot of a headline by the Epoch Times. 

One author of the review — as well as other social media users — are also using the fact that the paper was published as proof that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe.

“People have said I’m a misinformation spreader because since  May 2021, I have been publicly saying the COVID vaccines are not safe . Now the medical peer-reviewed literature shows I was right.  Do you believe me now? ” Steve Kirsch, a review co-author and a former tech entrepreneur who lacks biomedical training, said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Jan. 30 (emphasis is his). 

“!! TRUST THE #SCIENCE !!,” the author of a  viral post  wrote on Instagram on Feb. 7. The post included a screenshot of a news story titled “Mainstream science mulls ‘global moratorium’ on COVID vaccines as cancers rise, boosters flub,” and the statement “Covid vaccines *may* cause cancer. You don’t say.” 

Just because a paper is published does not make it correct. While peer review is useful in weeding out bad science, it’s not foolproof, and the rigor and processes vary by journal. This review, which many experts have criticized, is an outlier, not “mainstream science.” And as  we’ve   written , there’s no evidence mRNA COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer and resulted in millions of deaths. 

Anti-Vaccine Authors and Debunked Claims

Many of the review’s authors have a history of spreading COVID-19 or vaccine misinformation. This includes Kirsch , who has repeatedly pushed the incorrect idea that the COVID-19 vaccines have killed millions of people worldwide, as well as Dr. Peter McCullough , Stephanie Seneff and Jessica Rose.

McCullough still   recommends  treating COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, even though both have been shown not to work against the disease. He also promotes and sells “spike protein detoxification” products for people who have been vaccinated, despite no evidence that vaccinated people need any such detox.

Seneff is a computer scientist who has promoted the false notion that vaccines cause autism. She previously co-authored a review paper with McCullough, which the Cureus review cites, that misused data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System to baselessly claim the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines suppress the innate immune system, as we  reported . Rose has also been  accused  of misusing VAERS data to claim vaccines are not safe — a common deception among the anti-vaccination community.

The Cureus review cites and even republishes a figure from one of Rose’s Substack posts about the supposedly alarming number of VAERS reports for “autoimmune disorders” following COVID-19 vaccination compared with influenza vaccines. The review claims the increased reporting “represents an immense safety signal.” But as we’ve explained   before , the higher number of VAERS reports for the COVID-19 vaccines can be explained by multiple factors, such as increased awareness and stricter reporting requirements – and does not in and of itself constitute a safety signal. A report can be submitted by anyone and does not mean that a vaccine caused a particular problem.

The review paper, titled “COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: Lessons Learned from the Registrational Trials and Global Vaccination Campaign,” repeats many claims we’ve already written about, based on studies or analyses that have been widely criticized or debunked. 

To claim the vaccines cause “serious harms to humans,” for example, the review draws on a problematic reanalysis of the adverse events reported in the original trials that was published in the journal Vaccine in 2022. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the state’s surgeon general, have cited the paper to argue that the vaccines are too risky. But as  we’ve   written — and is detailed in a commentary article published in the same journal — the paper has multiple methodological flaws, including how it counted the adverse events.

The review also uncritically cites an unpublished analysis by former physics professor Denis Rancourt that alleged that some 17 million people died from the COVID-19 vaccines. We recently explained that the report erroneously ignored deaths from COVID-19 and that such estimates are implausible. And the review recycles unsupported claims about “high levels of DNA contamination” in the mRNA vaccines and the possibility that such DNA fragments “will integrate into the human genome” and cause cancer. As we’ve detailed , trace amounts of residual DNA are expected in vaccines, but there is no evidence the DNA can alter a person’s DNA or cause cancer.

Finally, the review highlighted findings from a Cleveland Clinic observational study that it called the “best evidence for the failure of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine’s ability to confer protection against COVID-19.” The study, which identified a correlation between more COVID-19 vaccine doses and a higher rate of testing positive for a coronavirus infection, has frequently been cited by those opposed to vaccination. But as  we’ve   explained , the finding runs counter to that of many other studies, which have generally found increased protection with more doses. And the paper did not demonstrate that more doses actually cause an increased risk of infection. In fact, many experts suspect that the association is likely the result of other differences between people who received a different number of doses. Moreover, the primary purpose of vaccination is to protect against severe disease — and there is abundant evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines have been very successful on that front.

“Lessons learned? More like conspiracies spun,” wrote surgical oncologist Dr.  David Gorski  in a  post  about the review in his blog Respectful Insolence.

The authors of the review have also been criticized for citing their own studies in the review and for including non-scientific publications as primary sources. 

“BTW, the McCullough, Kirsch, etc. Cureus paper that is purportedly a scientific review article references trialsitetnews, epoch times, brownstone, the spectator, children’s health defense, and conservative review as primary sources for some of their points, as well as 11 substack articles/blogs, a youtube/twitter video, and 2 explicit anti-vaccine books, plus a large number of self-citations from the review authors,”  Jeffrey S. Morris , director of the division of biostatistics in the department of biostatistics, epidemiology and informatics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine,  wrote on X  on Feb. 1.

Peer Review Doesn’t Guarantee Scientific Quality

Much of the complimentary coverage of the review paper by some of the usual misinformation spreaders has emphasized that it was published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“A review paper published last week in the journal Cureus is the first peer-reviewed paper to call for a global moratorium on the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines,” declared a Jan. 29  article  published on Robert F. Kennedy’s anti-vaccine website, Children’s Health Defense. The story also received attention on  social media .

Peer review , or the process of having fellow scientists provide feedback on a manuscript and whether it is good enough to publish, can be immensely helpful in ensuring that a given paper does not contain major flaws or errors. But peer review is only as good as the feedback provided — and it does not automatically mean the paper can be trusted. Nor are all peer-reviewed journals  the same , since each has different standards and reputations.

Cureus is unusual in that it focuses on publishing papers quickly and advertises “efficient” peer review and a “hassle-free” publishing experience. The journal’s metrics for the last six months indicate that the average time from submission to publication is 33 days and that the acceptance rate is 51%. For context, the prestigious journal  Nature — which some posts have misleadingly likened Cureus to, as they share the same parent publisher — has a median time of 267 days for submission to acceptance and an 8%  acceptance rate . Per the  article information  for this review paper, the peer-review process took  77  days.

In 2015, responding to concerns about the journal and its fast peer-review process, the founder, president and co-editor-in-chief of Cureus, Dr. John R. Adler, said that “by design peer rejection is not a big part of our review process,” and that the journal also relies on post-publication review to “sort out what is quality/important.”

A paper by Emory University librarians that was presented at a 2022 conference classified Cureus as potentially “untrustworthy or predatory.” The journal is available on PubMed Central, the National Institutes of Health’s database of biomedical research, but is not indexed on MEDLINE, which requires some vetting for inclusion. (A paper’s appearance in either database does not imply any kind of endorsement by the NIH.)

Cureus, notably, published  two problematic  studies about ivermectin for COVID-19 in 2022. As we reported at the time, the results of the studies were inconsistent with stronger studies that did not find any benefit of using ivermectin for COVID-19. Both studies had methodological flaws and were authored by ivermectin activists —  a fact that was not disclosed  at the time of publication.

Although even the best journals occasionally retract published studies, Cureus has ended up  multiple   times  in the pages of Retraction Watch, a blog and online database of retractions — most recently on Jan. 26 for  56 studies  retracted for faked authorship nearly two years after they were first flagged. In 2022, Retraction Watch  reported  that a study retracted by Frontiers in Medicine was later updated and published in Cureus.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s articles providing accurate health information and correcting health misinformation are made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.

“ Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines .” CDC. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

“ Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination ”. CDC. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

“ COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness Update .” CDC. Accessed 15 Feb 2024.

Van Beusekom, Mary. “ Global COVID vaccination saved 2.4 million lives in first 8 months, study estimates .” CIDRAP, University of Minnesota. 31 Oct 2023. 

Watson, Oliver J., et al. “ Global impact of the first year of COVID-19 vaccination: a mathematical modelling study .” Infectious Diseases. 23 Jun 2022. 

Trang, Brittany. “ Covid vaccines averted 3 million deaths in U.S., according to new study .” Stat. 13 Dec 2022. 

“ COVID-19 vaccinations have saved more than 1.4 million lives in the WHO European Region, a new study finds .” WHO. Press release. 16 Jan 2024. 

Mead, M. Nathaniel, et al. “ COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: Lessons Learned from the Registrational Trials and Global Vaccination Campaign .” Cureus. 24 Jan 2024. 

Yandell, Kate. “ Tucker Carlson Video Spreads Falsehoods on COVID-19 Vaccines, WHO Accord .” 12 Jan 2024. 

Yandell, Kate. “ Faulty Science Underpins Florida Surgeon General’s Call to Halt mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination .” 5 Jan 2024. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “ mRNA Vaccines Protect Against COVID-19 Mortality, Contrary to Misleading Posts .” 26 May 2023. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “ COVID-19 Vaccine Benefits Outweigh Small Risks, Contrary to Flawed Claim From U.K. Cardiologist .” 8 May 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “ Cleveland Clinic Study Did Not Show Vaccines Increase COVID-19 Risk .” 16 Jun 2023. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “ Autopsy Study Doesn’t Show COVID-19 Vaccines Are Unsafe .” 21 Dec 2022. 

Swann, Sara. “ Experts say mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives, not caused mass deaths .” PolitiFact. 9 Feb 2024. 

Wong, Adrian. “ COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Lessons Learned Fact Check! ” Techarp. 30 Jan 2024. 

Gorski, David. “ Antivaxxers write about “lessons learned” but know nothing .” Respectful Insolence. 26 Jan 2024. 

McDonald, Jessica. “ Flawed Analysis of New Zealand Data Doesn’t Show COVID-19 Vaccines Killed Millions .” 15 Dec 2024. 

Yandell, Kate. “ COVID-19 Vaccines Save Lives, Are Not More Lethal Than COVID-19 .” 6 Nov 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “ Posts Push Unproven ‘Spike Protein Detoxification’ Regimen .” 21 Sep 2023. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “ Clinical Trials Show Ivermectin Does Not Benefit COVID-19 Patients, Contrary to Social Media Claims .” 15 Sep 2022. 

Robertson, Lori. “ No New Revelation on Hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19 .” 2 Jul 2021. 

McDonald, Jessica. “ COVID-19 Vaccination Increases Immunity, Contrary to Immune Suppression Claims .” 29 Jul 2022. 

Gorski, David. “ 2021: The year the weaponization of VAERS went mainstream .” Respectful Insolence. 27 Dec 2021. 

McDonald, Jessica. “What VAERS Can and Can’t Do, and How Anti-Vaccination Groups Habitually Misuse Its Data.” 6 Jun 2023. 

Fraiman, Joseph. “ Serious adverse events of special interest following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination in randomized trials in adults .” Vaccine. 22 Sep 2022. 

McDonald, Jessica, and Catalina Jaramillo. “ DeSantis’ Dubious COVID-19 Vaccine Claims .” 2 May 2023. 

Black, Steven, and Stephen Evans. “ Serious adverse events following mRNA vaccination in randomized trials in adults .” Vaccine. 26 May 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “ Posts Spread False Claim About Moderna Patent Application .” 22 Nov 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “ COVID-19 Vaccines Have Not Been Shown to Alter DNA, Cause Cancer .” 26 Oct 2023. 

Jaramillo, Catalina, and Kate Yandell. “ RFK Jr.’s COVID-19 Deceptions .” 11 Aug 2023. 

Morris, Jeffrey (@jsm2334) “ BTW, the McCullough, Kirsch, etc. Cureus paper that is purportedly a scientific review article references trialsitetnews, epoch times, brownstone, the spectator, children’s health defense, and conservative review as primary sources for some of their points, as well as 11 substack articles/blogs, a youtube/twitter video, and 2 explicit anti-vaccine books, plus a large number of self-citations from the review authors. ” X. 1 Feb 2024. 

“ Scrutinizing science: Peer review. ” Understanding Science 101. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Crossley, Merlin. “ When to trust (and not to trust) peer reviewed science .” The Conversation. 12 Jul 2018.

“ Reviewer Guide .” Cureus. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

“ About Cureus .” Cureus. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

“ Journal Metrics .” Nature. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

“ Editorial criteria and processes .” Nature. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Sparks, Katie, and Kimberly R. Powell. “ Assessing Predatory Journal Publishing Within Health Sciences Authors .” SLA conference. 31 Jul 2022.  

“ MEDLINE, PubMed, and PMC (PubMed Central): How are they different? ” NIH. 28 Dec 2023.

“ Disclaimer .” National Library of Medicine. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

“ Some Strange Goings On at Cureus .” Emerald City Journal. 20 Aug 2016.

Oransky, Ivan. “ Journal retracts more than 50 studies from Saudi Arabia for faked authorship .” Retraction Watch. 26 Jan 2024. 

Kincaid, Ellie. “ Researcher attacks journal for retracting his paper on COVID-19 drug .” Retraction Watch. 26 Jan 2024. 10 Jun 2022.

Jaramillo, Catalina. “ Evidence Still Lacking to Support Ivermectin as Treatment for COVID-19 .” 6 Jun 2022.

Jaramillo, Catalina. “ Clinical Trials Show Ivermectin Does Not Benefit COVID-19 Patients, Contrary to Social Media Claims .” 15 Sep 2022.

Kerr, Lucy, et al. “ Correction: Ivermectin Prophylaxis Used for COVID-19: A Citywide, Prospective, Observational Study of 223,128 Subjects Using Propensity Score Matching .” Cureus. 24 Mar 2022. 

The post Review Article By Misinformation Spreaders Misleads About mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines  appeared first on .

Review Article By Misinformation Spreaders Misleads About mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines 

Peer Review

peer review xkcd

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  • What Is Peer Review? | Types & Examples

What Is Peer Review? | Types & Examples

Published on December 17, 2021 by Tegan George . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Peer review, sometimes referred to as refereeing , is the process of evaluating submissions to an academic journal. Using strict criteria, a panel of reviewers in the same subject area decides whether to accept each submission for publication.

Peer-reviewed articles are considered a highly credible source due to the stringent process they go through before publication.

There are various types of peer review. The main difference between them is to what extent the authors, reviewers, and editors know each other’s identities. The most common types are:

  • Single-blind review
  • Double-blind review
  • Triple-blind review

Collaborative review

Open review.

Relatedly, peer assessment is a process where your peers provide you with feedback on something you’ve written, based on a set of criteria or benchmarks from an instructor. They then give constructive feedback, compliments, or guidance to help you improve your draft.

Table of contents

What is the purpose of peer review, types of peer review, the peer review process, providing feedback to your peers, peer review example, advantages of peer review, criticisms of peer review, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about peer reviews.

Many academic fields use peer review, largely to determine whether a manuscript is suitable for publication. Peer review enhances the credibility of the manuscript. For this reason, academic journals are among the most credible sources you can refer to.

However, peer review is also common in non-academic settings. The United Nations, the European Union, and many individual nations use peer review to evaluate grant applications. It is also widely used in medical and health-related fields as a teaching or quality-of-care measure.

Peer assessment is often used in the classroom as a pedagogical tool. Both receiving feedback and providing it are thought to enhance the learning process, helping students think critically and collaboratively.

Receive feedback on language, structure, and formatting

Professional editors proofread and edit your paper by focusing on:

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See an example

peer review xkcd

Depending on the journal, there are several types of peer review.

Single-blind peer review

The most common type of peer review is single-blind (or single anonymized) review . Here, the names of the reviewers are not known by the author.

While this gives the reviewers the ability to give feedback without the possibility of interference from the author, there has been substantial criticism of this method in the last few years. Many argue that single-blind reviewing can lead to poaching or intellectual theft or that anonymized comments cause reviewers to be too harsh.

Double-blind peer review

In double-blind (or double anonymized) review , both the author and the reviewers are anonymous.

Arguments for double-blind review highlight that this mitigates any risk of prejudice on the side of the reviewer, while protecting the nature of the process. In theory, it also leads to manuscripts being published on merit rather than on the reputation of the author.

Triple-blind peer review

While triple-blind (or triple anonymized) review —where the identities of the author, reviewers, and editors are all anonymized—does exist, it is difficult to carry out in practice.

Proponents of adopting triple-blind review for journal submissions argue that it minimizes potential conflicts of interest and biases. However, ensuring anonymity is logistically challenging, and current editing software is not always able to fully anonymize everyone involved in the process.

In collaborative review , authors and reviewers interact with each other directly throughout the process. However, the identity of the reviewer is not known to the author. This gives all parties the opportunity to resolve any inconsistencies or contradictions in real time, and provides them a rich forum for discussion. It can mitigate the need for multiple rounds of editing and minimize back-and-forth.

Collaborative review can be time- and resource-intensive for the journal, however. For these collaborations to occur, there has to be a set system in place, often a technological platform, with staff monitoring and fixing any bugs or glitches.

Lastly, in open review , all parties know each other’s identities throughout the process. Often, open review can also include feedback from a larger audience, such as an online forum, or reviewer feedback included as part of the final published product.

While many argue that greater transparency prevents plagiarism or unnecessary harshness, there is also concern about the quality of future scholarship if reviewers feel they have to censor their comments.

In general, the peer review process includes the following steps:

  • First, the author submits the manuscript to the editor.
  • Reject the manuscript and send it back to the author, or
  • Send it onward to the selected peer reviewer(s)
  • Next, the peer review process occurs. The reviewer provides feedback, addressing any major or minor issues with the manuscript, and gives their advice regarding what edits should be made.
  • Lastly, the edited manuscript is sent back to the author. They input the edits and resubmit it to the editor for publication.

The peer review process

In an effort to be transparent, many journals are now disclosing who reviewed each article in the published product. There are also increasing opportunities for collaboration and feedback, with some journals allowing open communication between reviewers and authors.

It can seem daunting at first to conduct a peer review or peer assessment. If you’re not sure where to start, there are several best practices you can use.

Summarize the argument in your own words

Summarizing the main argument helps the author see how their argument is interpreted by readers, and gives you a jumping-off point for providing feedback. If you’re having trouble doing this, it’s a sign that the argument needs to be clearer, more concise, or worded differently.

If the author sees that you’ve interpreted their argument differently than they intended, they have an opportunity to address any misunderstandings when they get the manuscript back.

Separate your feedback into major and minor issues

It can be challenging to keep feedback organized. One strategy is to start out with any major issues and then flow into the more minor points. It’s often helpful to keep your feedback in a numbered list, so the author has concrete points to refer back to.

Major issues typically consist of any problems with the style, flow, or key points of the manuscript. Minor issues include spelling errors, citation errors, or other smaller, easy-to-apply feedback.

Tip: Try not to focus too much on the minor issues. If the manuscript has a lot of typos, consider making a note that the author should address spelling and grammar issues, rather than going through and fixing each one.

The best feedback you can provide is anything that helps them strengthen their argument or resolve major stylistic issues.

Give the type of feedback that you would like to receive

No one likes being criticized, and it can be difficult to give honest feedback without sounding overly harsh or critical. One strategy you can use here is the “compliment sandwich,” where you “sandwich” your constructive criticism between two compliments.

Be sure you are giving concrete, actionable feedback that will help the author submit a successful final draft. While you shouldn’t tell them exactly what they should do, your feedback should help them resolve any issues they may have overlooked.

As a rule of thumb, your feedback should be:

  • Easy to understand
  • Constructive

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Below is a brief annotated research example. You can view examples of peer feedback by hovering over the highlighted sections.

Influence of phone use on sleep

Studies show that teens from the US are getting less sleep than they were a decade ago (Johnson, 2019) . On average, teens only slept for 6 hours a night in 2021, compared to 8 hours a night in 2011. Johnson mentions several potential causes, such as increased anxiety, changed diets, and increased phone use.

The current study focuses on the effect phone use before bedtime has on the number of hours of sleep teens are getting.

For this study, a sample of 300 teens was recruited using social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. The first week, all teens were allowed to use their phone the way they normally would, in order to obtain a baseline.

The sample was then divided into 3 groups:

  • Group 1 was not allowed to use their phone before bedtime.
  • Group 2 used their phone for 1 hour before bedtime.
  • Group 3 used their phone for 3 hours before bedtime.

All participants were asked to go to sleep around 10 p.m. to control for variation in bedtime . In the morning, their Fitbit showed the number of hours they’d slept. They kept track of these numbers themselves for 1 week.

Two independent t tests were used in order to compare Group 1 and Group 2, and Group 1 and Group 3. The first t test showed no significant difference ( p > .05) between the number of hours for Group 1 ( M = 7.8, SD = 0.6) and Group 2 ( M = 7.0, SD = 0.8). The second t test showed a significant difference ( p < .01) between the average difference for Group 1 ( M = 7.8, SD = 0.6) and Group 3 ( M = 6.1, SD = 1.5).

This shows that teens sleep fewer hours a night if they use their phone for over an hour before bedtime, compared to teens who use their phone for 0 to 1 hours.

Peer review is an established and hallowed process in academia, dating back hundreds of years. It provides various fields of study with metrics, expectations, and guidance to ensure published work is consistent with predetermined standards.

  • Protects the quality of published research

Peer review can stop obviously problematic, falsified, or otherwise untrustworthy research from being published. Any content that raises red flags for reviewers can be closely examined in the review stage, preventing plagiarized or duplicated research from being published.

  • Gives you access to feedback from experts in your field

Peer review represents an excellent opportunity to get feedback from renowned experts in your field and to improve your writing through their feedback and guidance. Experts with knowledge about your subject matter can give you feedback on both style and content, and they may also suggest avenues for further research that you hadn’t yet considered.

  • Helps you identify any weaknesses in your argument

Peer review acts as a first defense, helping you ensure your argument is clear and that there are no gaps, vague terms, or unanswered questions for readers who weren’t involved in the research process. This way, you’ll end up with a more robust, more cohesive article.

While peer review is a widely accepted metric for credibility, it’s not without its drawbacks.

  • Reviewer bias

The more transparent double-blind system is not yet very common, which can lead to bias in reviewing. A common criticism is that an excellent paper by a new researcher may be declined, while an objectively lower-quality submission by an established researcher would be accepted.

  • Delays in publication

The thoroughness of the peer review process can lead to significant delays in publishing time. Research that was current at the time of submission may not be as current by the time it’s published. There is also high risk of publication bias , where journals are more likely to publish studies with positive findings than studies with negative findings.

  • Risk of human error

By its very nature, peer review carries a risk of human error. In particular, falsification often cannot be detected, given that reviewers would have to replicate entire experiments to ensure the validity of results.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Chi square tests
  • Confidence interval
  • Quartiles & Quantiles
  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Thematic analysis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Cohort study
  • Ethnography

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Conformity bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Availability heuristic
  • Attrition bias
  • Social desirability bias

Peer review is a process of evaluating submissions to an academic journal. Utilizing rigorous criteria, a panel of reviewers in the same subject area decide whether to accept each submission for publication. For this reason, academic journals are often considered among the most credible sources you can use in a research project– provided that the journal itself is trustworthy and well-regarded.

In general, the peer review process follows the following steps: 

  • Reject the manuscript and send it back to author, or 
  • Send it onward to the selected peer reviewer(s) 
  • Next, the peer review process occurs. The reviewer provides feedback, addressing any major or minor issues with the manuscript, and gives their advice regarding what edits should be made. 
  • Lastly, the edited manuscript is sent back to the author. They input the edits, and resubmit it to the editor for publication.

Peer review can stop obviously problematic, falsified, or otherwise untrustworthy research from being published. It also represents an excellent opportunity to get feedback from renowned experts in your field. It acts as a first defense, helping you ensure your argument is clear and that there are no gaps, vague terms, or unanswered questions for readers who weren’t involved in the research process.

Peer-reviewed articles are considered a highly credible source due to this stringent process they go through before publication.

Many academic fields use peer review , largely to determine whether a manuscript is suitable for publication. Peer review enhances the credibility of the published manuscript.

However, peer review is also common in non-academic settings. The United Nations, the European Union, and many individual nations use peer review to evaluate grant applications. It is also widely used in medical and health-related fields as a teaching or quality-of-care measure. 

A credible source should pass the CRAAP test  and follow these guidelines:

  • The information should be up to date and current.
  • The author and publication should be a trusted authority on the subject you are researching.
  • The sources the author cited should be easy to find, clear, and unbiased.
  • For a web source, the URL and layout should signify that it is trustworthy.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

George, T. (2023, June 22). What Is Peer Review? | Types & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 19, 2024, from

Is this article helpful?

Tegan George

Tegan George

Other students also liked, what are credible sources & how to spot them | examples, ethical considerations in research | types & examples, applying the craap test & evaluating sources, what is your plagiarism score.

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Wyze camera breach allows strangers to peer into others’ homes

Trevor Mogg

Wyze has built a following by offering reasonably priced smart security cameras and other gadgets for the home, and the company generally enjoys a good reputation among its customers.

But another security breach, this one in recent days, is sure to test some customers’ trust in the company. The latest incident involved around 13,000 Wyze customers receiving images and video from Wyze cameras that didn’t belong to them.

The issue appears to be linked to an outage that impacted Wyze cameras at the tail end of last week. The Seattle-based company blamed the disruption to its service on an issue with cloud company Amazon Web Services (AWS), though it didn’t offer specific details. It was following the outage, as Wyze worked to get its service back up and running, that customers started to see imagery from other people’s cameras.

  • Can you use a Blink Outdoor Camera without a subscription?
  • Wyze Cam Floodlight vs. Wyze Cam Floodlight v2: What’s new about this updated security camera?
  • Nest Secure will be discontinued in April – prepare your smart home with these steps

Realizing the mishap, Wyze sent its customers an email on Monday explaining that around 13,000 accounts had received thumbnail images from Wyze cameras belonging to other customers.

“We can now confirm that as cameras were coming back online, about 13,000 Wyze users received thumbnails from cameras that were not their own and 1,504 users tapped on them,” Wyze said in its email, which was shared by The Verge . “Most taps enlarged the thumbnail, but in some cases an Event Video was able to be viewed.”

Wyze explained in its email that the incident was caused by “a third-party caching client library that was recently integrated into our system. This client library received unprecedented load conditions caused by devices coming back online all at once. As a result of increased demand, it mixed up device ID and user ID mapping and connected some data to incorrect accounts.”

The company said that more than 99.75% of Wyze accounts were not affected by the security event.

It added in its email that to ensure the breach isn’t repeated, it has added a new layer of verification before users are connected to Event Videos, among other measures.

Wyze has been hit by such troubling issues in the past , including an incident similar to this most recent one. But in its email to customers, it insisted that security is a “top priority” for the company, adding: “We are so sorry for this incident and are dedicated to rebuilding your trust.”

Editors' Recommendations

  • Do you need a subscription for a Ring doorbell or camera?
  • How to prevent your Ring smart camera from being hacked
  • Wyze Cam Floodlight v2 adds tons of new features at a lower price tag
  • Do smart home security cameras record all the time?
  • Google Home adds new camera features and support for Nest Cam Outdoor

Trevor Mogg

Electronics and smart home gadgets bring convenience and automation to your home and often need minimal maintenance, save for the odd firmware update. However, owners living in cities with extreme winters need to worry about how the weather will impact their gear. Most shoppers are eager to set up and play with their new toys, and they mainly worry about getting them quickly with that luxurious same-day shipping and don’t think ahead to how that new device will operate when the weather turns harsh.

The truth is, if you live where it gets bitterly, extremely cold, your smart devices like wireless cameras, lights, and other components will likely stop working. Here's everything you need to know about smart home devices and cold weather. Pay attention to temperature range When shopping for an outdoor device, we usually pay attention to the IP rating. Many people see this number and assume it means their gadget is impervious to any kind of weather. That might be true to some extent, but the IP rating doesn't extend to extreme heat or extreme cold. IP ratings only rate for water and/or dust ingression, not for how effectively cold or heat can penetrate. To know how a device might be able to withstand cold winters or hot summers, you need to check the temperature operating range.

Security cameras have proven to be great deterrents, forcing would-be robbers to second-guess their devious acts. Despite this, some are brazen enough to go forward, which is why you should think about proper security camera placement. A well-placed camera will have a great field of view and be located in a place that makes the camera difficult to tamper with.

Here's an in-depth look at how to properly place security cameras around your home, ensuring you have eyes on everything that matters. Facing entrances to the home

Many of the best security cameras are produced by Arlo, which includes a variety of products designed for both indoor and outdoor use. They've grown increasingly popular over the years thanks to their easy installation process, impressive resolutions, and versatile smartphone app -- allowing users to quickly get them placed on their property and working exactly as needed. However, some users have been running into an issue that puts their Arlo camera offline, essentially rendering it unusable.

If you've run into the issue, here's how to figure out why your Arlo camera is offline, along with a few tips on how to fix the problem. Start with the basics

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Advancing the science of communication to improve lives

Serving as a peer reviewer for NIDCD grant applications, and an update on NIDCD’s January advisory council meeting

Dr. Debara Tucci Banner

Debara L. Tucci, M.D., M.S., M.B.A.

February 15, 2024

Panel of reviewers with laptops in a conference room.

NIDCD's extramural research program funds extensive research and training opportunities at universities, medical centers, and other institutions through research grants, career development awards, and other funding mechanisms. To ensure that NIDCD supports research that meets the highest level of scientific and ethical standards to improve the lives of millions of people with communication disorders, we depend on an informed and inclusive peer review process.

In this director’s message, I outline the process and value of serving as a peer reviewer for NIDCD grant applications, and I explain how scientific and clinical experts in our mission areas can participate. I also summarize topics discussed at the January National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council Meeting.

The NIH Peer Review Process

The National Institutes of Health’s two-tiered peer review system ensures that grant applications are objectively evaluated based on their scientific and technical merit and in a manner that is free from inappropriate influence. To promote rigorous and fair evaluation of applications for research and training funding in our mission areas—hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language—NIDCD is always seeking to expand the pool of qualified peer reviewers.

NIDCD grant applications are primarily reviewed by panels managed by the NIH Center for Scientific Review and the NIDCD Scientific Review Branch (SRB). Review of applications by the NIDCD SRB is conducted by either the Communication Disorders Review Committee (CDRC) or a Special Emphasis Panel (SEP) . 

The CDRC consists of 21 members who are designated by the NIH Director to serve for overlapping four-year terms. Committee members are selected based on their expertise in NIDCD’s mission areas within disciplines such as academic medicine, basic research, and clinical science. Committee membership is supplemented on an as‑needed, meeting-by-meeting basis.

The other type of NIDCD-managed review panel responsible for reviewing grant applications is the NIDCD SEP. SEPs are formed on an ad hoc basis to provide peer review of specific grant applications. More than 250 members from the extramural scientific community served on NIDCD SEPs in 2021 and 2022. Membership selection is based on expertise in a specific biomedical area, and panel participants serve for an individual meeting rather than fixed terms. Individuals interested in serving on an NIDCD review panel may submit a reviewer interest registration form to the NIDCD SRB.

Serving as a Peer Reviewer

To ensure that review of NIDCD grant applications is fair, equitable, timely, and free of bias, it is important to maintain a diverse pool of reviewers who can be called upon to serve in the above-described groups.

Reasons to serve as an NIDCD peer reviewer include:

  • Eligibility for extended application submission deadlines—depending on the type of review service and specific Notice of Funding Opportunity
  • Staying up to date in the field and gaining insights from other disciplines that might enhance your own research
  • Establishing and strengthening professional collaborations, giving back to the scientific community, and—for early-career participants—gaining hands-on experience in becoming a more competitive grant applicant

If you are a scientist, grantee, clinician, or statistician in our mission areas , I encourage you to register your interest in serving as a peer reviewer . You can learn more about peer review processes by exploring NIH resources, including advice from experienced peer reviewers (video) , a mock peer review study section (video), and guidance on the new simplified peer review framework for research project grant applications, effective January 25, 2025.

National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council Meeting, January 25-26

On January 25-26, the institute’s advisory council convened virtually at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Portions of our council meetings are open to the public, and I invite you to watch the archived videocasts of the January 25 and January 26 open sessions. I also encourage you to join us online for our next meeting, to be held May 16, 2024. A few highlights from January’s meeting are summarized below.

  • Merav Sabri, Ph.D., NIDCD Program Director and coordinator for the BRAIN Initiative, provided an overview of this NIH-led effort and described several funding opportunities within NIDCD’s mission areas . To view this segment, start at the 00:18:00 mark of the January 25 videocast .
  • Maria Geffen, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Neuroscience and Neurology, and Co-Director of the Computational Neuroscience Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed combining computational and behavioral approaches to unravel the neurocircuitry of hearing in uncertain environments, such as holding a conversation in a crowded room. To view this segment, start at the 00:21:00 mark of the January 25 videocast .
  • Argye Hillis, M.D., Professor in the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University, described the use of longitudinal functional brain imaging to reveal mechanisms of language recovery after stroke and the translation of these findings into individualized treatments. To view this segment, start at the 00:55:00 mark of the January 25 videocast .
  • “Dissemination & Implementation (D&I) Science in Communication Disorders” aims to encourage the NIDCD scientific community and the D&I scientific community to increase the quality and quantity of D&I research in communication disorders, with the ultimate goal of narrowing or closing the gap between research and clinical practice.
  • “Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Users - Research to Promote Robust and Effective Communication” encourages the NIDCD scientific community, AAC users, and other invested parties to collaborate in research efforts to promote the accessibility and effective use of robust communication systems for those who cannot rely on spoken language as their primary means of communication.
  • “NIDCD Transition to Independence Award for Extramural and Intramural Clinician–Scientists” is designed to help clinician–scientists in NIDCD mission areas transition from mentored positions to independent positions. The concept specifically aims to facilitate a transition to mainstream NIH research funding such as an R21 or R01 during the independent phase.
  • Susan Thibeault, Ph.D., Professor in the Division of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described using tissue engineering to regenerate the vocal fold lamina propria and epithelium in mouse models and human tissues, as well as research to better understand innate immune-microbial interactions in vocal fold inflammation. To view this segment, start at the 02:20:45 mark of the January 25 videocast .
  • Katherine Bouton, an author, public speaker, and advocate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, described the experience of losing her hearing in midlife. She also discussed the promise and challenges of assistive hearing technologies and outlined her vision of hearing aids and cochlear implants that mimic normal speech. To view this segment, start at the 02:31:15 mark of the January 25 videocast .
  • Diana W. Bianchi, Ph.D., Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), described collaborative efforts between NIDCD, NICHD, and other institutes, including the Tackling Acquisition of Language in Kids (TALK) initiative to advance understanding of late language emergence in children with various risk factors; the INCLUDE (INvestigation of Co-occurring conditions across the Lifespan to Understand Down syndromE) Project , which addresses the health needs of people with Down syndrome; and the NIH Autism Centers of Excellence Program . To view this segment, start at the 00:04:42 mark of the January 26 videocast .
  • Cendrine Robinson, Ph.D., NIDCD’s Chief Diversity Officer, described a 2021 report from the Enhancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility at NIDCD Working Group. She also outlined NIDCD’s initiatives to increase diversity-focused mentoring programs in the extramural and intramural workforce and diversity-related grant opportunities that support mentoring networks and research experiences. To view this segment, start at the 01:41:00 mark of the January 26 videocast .
  • Holly Storkel, Ph.D., Program Officer in NIDCD’s Language Program, described the goals and main themes of NIDCD’s October 2023 virtual workshop, Dissemination and Implementation (D&I) Science in Communication Disorders . She noted that D&I efforts advance NIDCD’s strategic plan ( Theme 4 ). To view this segment, start at the 02:06:00 mark of the January 26 videocast .
  • Becky Wagenaar-Miller, Ph.D., Director of NIDCD’s Division of Extramural Activities, provided an overview of recent NIH policy updates and described NIH’s January 2024 virtual event , which explained policy updates and potential impacts on grantee institutions. To view this segment, start at the 00:2:15:50 mark of the January 26 videocast .

This page has been archived and is no longer updated

Labcoat Life

When Peer Review Turns Frustrated Authors Into Hilarious Editorialists

peer review xkcd

The last thing you would expect in a science journal is a hilarious letter, sent by a bunch of disgruntled authors, which caricaturizes peer review. But this is exactly what you'll find if you flip through the Journal of Systems and Software , volume 54, issue 1 . (Full pdf here .)

The opening paragraph of the letter is gold and grips the reader. Start reading and you know the following paragraphs are going to be totally awesome:

Dear Sir, Madame, or Other: Enclosed is our latest version of Ms. #1996-02-22-RRRRR, that is the re-re-re-revised revision of our paper. Choke on it. We have again rewritten the entire manuscript from start to finish. We even changed the g-d-running head! Hopefully, we have su€ffered enough now to satisfy even you and the bloodthirsty reviewers.

Clearly, the authors went through hell and back during peer review. And they're really hating the reviewers. Especially Reviewer C, who was probably very, shall we say, meticulous:

Still, from this batch of reviewers, C was clearly the most hostile, and we request that you not ask him to review this revision. Indeed, we have mailed letter bombs to four or five people we suspected of being reviewer C, so if you send the manuscript back to them, the review process could be unduly delayed.

The letter does end on a somewhat more classic-albeit mischievous-tone:

We hope you will be pleased with this revision and will finally recognize how urgently deserving of publication this work is. If not, then you are an unscrupulous, depraved monster with no shred of human decency. You ought to be in a cage. [...] If you do accept it, however,we wish to thank you for your patience and wisdom throughout this process, and to express our appreciation for your scholarly insights. To repay you, we would be happy to review some manuscripts for you; please send us the next manuscript that any of these reviewers submits to this journal.

The letter, conveniently anonymized clearly struck the right chords of the journal's editor. (Kudos to you sir!) In the editor's note preceding the actual letter, he "pays tribute to the persistent authors who make a journal like this [...] possible." He also dedicates the letter to all persistent authors, although he neglects dedicating it to all reviewers. Hmm...

Humor is an efficient magnet. Science, by its intrinsically beautiful premise, can awe people by itself. Couple it with humor though and it can go viral and reach (and educate) loads of people. This letter itself is a perfect example. It's doing the rounds online which is quite a feat considering that it's about peer review and that Journal of Systems and Software , volume 54, issue 1 was published TWELVE years ago!

There are a number of websites online which specialize in mixing science and humor: xkcd , Stripped Science , this Facebook page to name a few. All in all, more please!

(And I wouldn't mind seeing more journals publish more science humor.)

Image credit: "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham (

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  1. xkcd: Peer Review

    peer review xkcd

  2. XKCD [Peer review] generator / Guillaume Levrier

    peer review xkcd

  3. xkcd: Year in Review

    peer review xkcd

  4. xkcd: the exclusive interview

    peer review xkcd

  5. Pin de Andres Marrugo en xkcd

    peer review xkcd

  6. xkcd: Code Quality

    peer review xkcd


  1. Muslims Review LGBTQ Indoctrination Book Targeting Toddlers


  3. Peer Review_Partnering Pedagogies_An Investigation / Team-Based Learning

  4. Peer review practice round

  5. Peer review

  6. Task 1: Peer Review


  1. xkcd: Peer Review

    TW • FB • IG -Books- What If? 2 WI? • TE • HT A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. What If? is now on YouTube! Check out the first video for the answer to "What if we aimed the Hubble Telescope at Earth?" and follow xkcd's What If? The Video Series channel to be notified about each new video. Peer Review |< < Prev Random Next > >| |<

  2. 2025: Peer Review

    2025: Peer Review - explain xkcd We still need to complete some explanations like this one: 2765: Escape Speed. All incomplete explanations are here . 2025: Peer Review Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb. navigation search |< < Prev Comic #2025 (July 27, 2018) Next > >| Peer Review

  3. The 'XKCD' Science-Paper Meme Nails Academic Publishing

    Science Scientific Publishing Is a Joke An XKCD comic—and its many remixes—perfectly captures the absurdity of academic research. By Benjamin Mazer Adam Maida / The Atlantic / Getty May 6, 2021 A...

  4. 2085: arXiv

    Ponytail expressing confusion about the continued existence of scientific journals previously happened in 2025: Peer Review . The title text refers to another project that is invaluable for internet research, the Internet Archive ( link to it here ). Internet Archive is a public archive of information, including public domain books and music.

  5. xkcd: Peer Review

    xkcd: Peer Review < ? > >| What If? is now on YouTube! Check out the first video for the answer to "What if we aimed the Hubble Telescope at Earth?" and follow xkcd's What If? The Video Series channel to be notified about each new video. Archive What If?

  6. 2304: Preprint

    As of May 11 2020, the study has still not passed peer review, nor undergone any revisions since the first posting. Transcript [Blondie as a newscaster is sitting at a desk. To the right is a screen with text, the bottom word is a thin line making the letters white. Just above her head is what she says as her opening line for her news story.

  7. 2703: Paper Title

    Comic #2703 (November 25, 2022) Next > >| Paper Title Title text: CONFLICT OF INTEREST STATEMENT: The authors hope these results are correct because we all want to be cool people who are good at science. Explanation Many if not most scientific research papers present a hypothesis and the result of testing the hypothesis.

  8. XKCD on the Types of Scientific Papers

    Or you can make Livejournal icons from them, but — if possible — put in the comment field. You can use them freely (with some kind of link) in not-for-profit publications, and I'm also okay with people reprinting occasional comics (with clear attribution) in publications like books, blogs, newsletters, and presentations.

  9. Category:Scientific research

    Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb. navigation search These are different comics related to scientific research and papers written about the research. Pages in category "Scientific research" The following 63 pages are in this category, out of 63 total. 0 451: Impostor 599: Apocalypse 678: Researcher Translation 790: Control 882: Significant

  10. Peer Review

    xkcd - Peer Review Like us on Facebook! Like 1.8M Share Save Tweet PROTIP: Press the ← and → keys to navigate the gallery, 'g' to view the gallery, or 'r' to view a random image. Previous: View Gallery Random Image:

  11. xkcd: Reviews

    The Video Series channel to be notified about each new video. is best viewed with Netscape Navigator 4.0 or below on a Pentium 3±1 emulated in Javascript on an Apple IIGS at a screen resolution of 1024x1.

  12. Ten simple rules for drawing scientific comics

    There are few scientists who haven't heard of Randall Munroe, the artist behind the web comic "xkcd" , which features amazing graphic explanations on everything from climate change to ... Your Manuscript on Peer Review. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology 2017. 28(5): p. 748. View Article Google Scholar 19. ...

  13. Science journal retracts peer-reviewed article containing AI generated

    The company says its "vision [is] to make science open, peer-review rigorous, transparent, and efficient and harness the power of technology to truly serve researchers' needs," and in fact ...

  14. An XKCD comic—and the absurdity of academic research/publishing

    6,171 Has anyone read this or seen the XKCD comic? Scientific Publishing Is a Joke An XKCD comic—and its many remixes—perfectly captures the absurdity of academic research.

  15. 2440: Epistemic Uncertainty

    Comic #2440 (March 22, 2021) Next > >| Epistemic Uncertainty Title text: Luckily, unlike in our previous study, we have no reason to believe Evangeline the Adulterator gained access to our stored doses. Explanation In statistics, a confidence interval is an estimate which provides a range of values.

  16. XKCD [Peer review] generator / Guillaume Levrier

    XKCD [Peer review] generator / Guillaume Levrier | Observable Guillaume Levrier Published Edited Fork of XKCD Types of [academic] papers generator • 1 fork 2 Start building your own data visualizations from examples like this. Powering the world's best data teams.

  17. The creator of xkcd on Marvel, online harassment, and '90s kids

    Previously, she founded The Mary Sue . Say the name Randall Munroe to your average internet literate, and they might not recognize it. But they'll certainly recognize the hundreds upon hundreds ...

  18. xkcd 2025: Peer Review : r/GradSchool

    396K subscribers in the GradSchool community. Discussion forum for current, past, and future students of any discipline completing post-graduate…

  19. xkcd: Car Model Names

    A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. What If? is now on YouTube! Check out the first video for the answer to "What if we aimed the Hubble Telescope at Earth?" and follow xkcd's What If? The Video Series channel to be notified about each new video. Car Model Names. |<.

  20. AI-generated disproportioned rat genitalia makes its way into peer

    Top science editor defends peer-review system in climate row. Sep 15, 2023. Paper by team claiming to have achieved superconductivity at room temperature retracted. Sep 29, 2022.

  21. Peer Review

    Retrieved from ""

  22. Scientists aghast at bizarre AI rat with huge genitals in peer-reviewed

    Scientists aghast at bizarre AI rat with huge genitals in peer-reviewed article It's unclear how such egregiously bad images made it through peer-review. Beth Mole - Feb 15, 2024 11:16 pm UTC

  23. A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language

    and follow xkcd's ... Equations Repair or Replace Word Puzzles Pie Charts Voting Software Disaster Movie Complex Numbers Lightning Distance Heat Index Peer Review Light Hacks Y-Axis Sports Champions Software Development Negative Results An Apple for a Dollar Wall Art Stargazing 2 OEIS Submissions New Phone Thread JWST Delays Rock Thorough ...

  24. Review Article By Misinformation Spreaders Misleads About mRNA ...

    In 2015, responding to concerns about the journal and its fast peer-review process, the founder, president and co-editor-in-chief of Cureus, Dr. John R. Adler, said that "by design peer ...

  25. xkcd 2: Peer Review

    Peer Review. Your manuscript "Don't Pay $25 to Access Any of the Articles in this Journal: A Review of Preprint Repositories and Author Willingness to Email PDF Copies for Free" has also been rejected, but nice try. « Previous. Random. Next » xkcd 2 is a project by Tyler Butler. Learn more about it. xkcd is written by Randall Munroe.

  26. What Is Peer Review?

    Double-blind review. Triple-blind review. Collaborative review. Open review. Relatedly, peer assessment is a process where your peers provide you with feedback on something you've written, based on a set of criteria or benchmarks from an instructor. They then give constructive feedback, compliments, or guidance to help you improve your draft.

  27. Wyze camera breach allows strangers to peer into others' homes

    Tapo, a TP-Link brand known for crafting affordable smart home products, has just launched the C120 Indoor/Outdoor Home Security Camera. The Tapo C120 carries a low price of $40, but it's packed ...

  28. Serving as a peer reviewer for NIDCD grant applications, and an update

    The National Institutes of Health's two-tiered peer review system ensures that grant applications are objectively evaluated based on their scientific and technical merit and in a manner that is free from inappropriate influence. To promote rigorous and fair evaluation of applications for research and training funding in our mission areas ...

  29. When Peer Review Turns Frustrated Authors Into Hilarious ...

    There are a number of websites online which specialize in mixing science and humor: xkcd, Stripped Science, this Facebook page to name a few. All in all, more please! All in all, more please!