“Threshold” is one of the most infamous Star Trek episodes ever. You know what we’re talking about — the one with Warp 10 and the weird evolved amphibians.
Well, it was also the recent subject of a fake scientific research
paper submitted in a test to expose the ever-growing problem of “predatory” scientific journals.
anonymous biologist looking to expose how easy it was to get fake news
into supposedly peer-reviewed scientific journals — inspired by a recent
attempt that got a paper about Star Wars’ midi-chlorians
published in three different journals — recently submitted a paper titled
“Rapid Genetic and Developmental Morphological Change Following Extreme
Celerity.” The author was listed as “Doctor Lewis Zimmerman,” which is
actually the name of the holoengineer that programmed Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram.
The paper was essentially a recap of the events of “Threshold,” the godawful season two episode in which Voyager’s helmsman Tom Paris attempts to break the theoretical “Warp 10” speed barrier, something never done in Trek’s
universe. Turns out, it’s for good reason, because apparently when you
do reach the “extreme celerity” of Warp 10, you turn into a weird
amphibian-person, capture your captain, evolve them into a weird amphibian-person, and then fully evolve into actual space salamanders and mate with each other.
Look, there’s a reason even the people who made this episode call it a “real low point.”
But nonetheless, the paper — which, while obfuscating its language a
bit, was still very clearly fake, including mentions of the transwarp
barrier Paris breaks in the episode and even concluded by thanking the
United Federation of Planets and Voyager producer Brannon Braga — was accepted by four different journals, and actually published in one, American Research Journal of Biosciences. According to a Space.com
interview with the anonymous biologist who submitted the paper, the
journal asked for just $50 to do so. ARJ have now pulled the text from
their website in light of media reports discovering that the paper is
essentially a fancier-worded Memory Alpha page.
the world of science publishing, the rise of “predatory” journals and a
lack of proper checks on the papers that get accepted into them is a
growing, disconcerting problem. Multiple sting operations into exposing
the issue — including an alarming report by
journalist John Bohannon in 2015, who managed to get a scientifically
accurate, but intentionally poor and catchily-presented study, into
predatory journals that then went on to work its way into the media — have
occurred in recent years.
But with efforts like this Trek-themed
paper and last year’s midi-chlorian one, it shows that it’s not just
poorly-conducted research making its way into journals, but blatantly
false papers as well. In a time when public faith in science is more
important than ever, practices that allow for jokey incidents like this
to happen only help to erode public trust in even the best science
A previous version of this article referred to the beings Captain
Janeway and Tom Paris evolve into as space-lizards, when they are in
fact, space-amphibians. io9 regrets the error, and notes the delightful
irony of scientific inaccuracy in a post about fake science.