More Open Access Journal Shaming

There seems to be a never-ending shaming parade of “peer reviewed” open access journals that exist to extract one-time lump sum payments from desperate authors in exchange for a publishing credit and poorly formatted PDF.

“The conceptual penis as a social construct” in Skeptic Magazine takes it the next level, by also lampooning an entire discipline of academic thought. The article’s approach, summarized by the authors:

We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.

This one is a fun ride.

I actually have a case report in an Open Access journal back from my I’m-going-to-be-an-interventional-radiolgoist days (it wasn’t all that good, and my colleague did most of the work, bless him). We submitted but didn’t pay—I think they may have been desperate for articles to publish and just put it up. Case Reports are almost unpublishable now outside of these types of pay-to-publish journals, which creates a bizarre counter-incentive to trying to share interesting one-offs with other physicians and scientists.

I wish—in addition to a robust mechanism for consistently sharing negative results—that there was a better mechanism for sharing research outside of peer review, which is expensive, inefficient, and, in many cases, broken.

Academic publishing is stuck in the pre-digital era. All we’ve done is move physically printed journals online behind paywalls. Comments, updates, additions? Sorry, no. Journals are static, even though science is not. It’s ripe for a big investment by a billionaire to change the status quo. Gates, Zuckerberg—you guys listening?

Why would the brain be spared?

It’s surprising to me that people would question that obesity would have a negative effect on the brain, because it has a negative effect on so many other bodily systems,” he says, adding, “why would the brain be spared?”

– Terry Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University in Washington, D.C, speaking to NPR about new research concerning obesity’s effects on memory.

DeVos Doubles Down: One Servicer to Rule Them All

After rolling back modest consumer protections last month, Education Secretary Best Devos’ tenure has released its biggest change yet.

In an example of doublespeak that would make Orwell proud, DeVos said this in the announcement:

From day one, my priority as Secretary of Education has been to put students’ needs first. This amended solicitation does just that. It maintains superior customer service and borrower protections while increasing oversight and protecting taxpayers.

With changes in the new amendment, we have simplified the process to ensure meaningful borrower protections while saving taxpayers more than $130 million over the next five years. Savings are expected to increase significantly over the life of the contract. Borrowers can expect to see a more user-friendly loan servicing interface, shorter email and call response times and an improved payment application method that will maximize the benefit of each payment the borrower makes. Our amendment makes no changes to repayment plan requirements.

But what the amendment actually does is consolidate the servicer program into one mega-contract in 2019 with no meaningful stipulations for accountability and no demand that the contractor work in the best interest of (or even be fair to) borrowers.1

Yes, the solution to a bad servicing situation is just to consolidate the program and give it to one private for-profit company, and the shortlist of three finalists includes Navient, universally considered the worst servicer, the one with the most complaints, the one with the most opaque and unusable website, the only one currently being sued by another government agency, and the one that despite that lawsuit continues to mislead borrowers.

Here is how Navient responded to being sued by the government for misleading borrowers:

There is no expectation that the servicer will “act in the interest of the consumer.” Courts therefore routinely hold that servicers and lenders “do not owe borrowers any specific fiduciary duties based upon their servicer/borrower relationship.”

From the Consumerist:

According to the CFPB’s April complaint snapshot, Navient was the most complained about student loan servicer, receiving an average of 1,400 complaints from Nov. 2016 to Jan. 2017, a 1,073% increase from the same three-month period the year before.

The Direct loan program tops $1 trillion. Navient already services over $300 billion in student loans and profited around $308 million from servicing those loans last year, down from $338 million in 2015 in part because of $17 million in extra legal expenses for basically being an awful company.

GreatNet, one of the other three finalists (the third is PHEAA aka FedLoan), is the combined venture of Great Lakes and Nelnet, two of the four largest servicers. Both companies have yet to be sued by the government and aren’t quite as hated, which for all I know may disqualify them from making a competitive bid in the current regime.

The budget savings of $130 million over five years is only a small fraction of total servicing expenses, but—more importantly—the increased cost of the Obama-era plan was to pay for genuine customer service to help reduce delinquency and default. Reduced default would likely generate more payments from borrowers, thus paying for some if not all the difference (Americans currently hold $137 billion in defaulted federal loans).

Lastly, the government profits from student loans. This is not a situation in which a budget shortfall affects uninvolved taxpayers; it’s a scenario in which a portion of the profits from student loans are reinvested into the same system to help American citizens who utilize it.

Monuments and Symbols

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on the removal of four historic statues commemorating the confederacy:

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

That last line.

Servicers other than FedLoan don’t handle PSLF

I’ve heard a few stories of attendings calling their servicers after making years and years of payments to get started filing for PSLF and being laughed off the phone because of their high salaries.

To be clear, PSLF has no maximum salary.

The master promissory note you signed says this:

A Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is also available. Under this program, we will forgive the remaining balance due on your eligible Direct Loan Program loans after you have made 120 payments on those loans (after October 1, 2007) under certain repayment plans while you are employed full-time in certain public service jobs. The required 120 payments do not have to be consecutive. Qualifying repayment plans include the REPAYE Plan, the PAYE Plan, the IBR Plan, the ICR Plan, and the Standard Repayment Plan with a 10-year repayment period.

PSLF is all about months of qualifying payments made for qualifying loans while working full-time at a qualified employer. As of now (and probably never for old/current borrowers), there is no “means test” to see if you still deserve to have your loans forgiven even though you’re a “rich doctor.”

Furthermore, the only servicer that handles PSLF is FedLoan. When you submit your first employment verification form (which the Feds recommend doing annually), you’ll be switched to FedLoan if you weren’t already with them by chance.

The other servicers—and probably especially Navient (currently being sued by the federal government for defrauding and misleading borrowers)—have a vested interest in keeping you on the rolls so that they can continue to make money off your payments. When you call the servicer, you’re getting some random employee who is probably making around twelve bucks an hour whose primary role is to provide customer service and troubleshooting with the website, not provide good financial advice. They are much much more likely to deal with somebody on the phone trying to get out of delinquency or default than they are to talk to somebody who is approaching 10 years of payments and is ready for public-service loan forgiveness. Despite the government stating that customer service is a priority, the servicers essentially have no fiduciary duty to work in your best interest.

Since the first loans won’t be forgiven until October 2017, no one can guarantee that there won’t be attempts to limit the damage from the somehow-unexpected popularity of this program, but that hasn’t happened yet and is likely to take some time to occur. Do not take your servicer seriously on this if you think you should otherwise qualify. Just get the paperwork filed out and submit it. Worst thing that happens? Your servicer is changed and you have to set up autopay again.