The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.
A systematic literature review of blank pages in academic publishing*
by Glen Wright, F.X. Coudert, Martin Bentley, Graham Steel, and Sylvain Deville
CNRS and Chimie ParisTech, Paris, France
The phrase “This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank,” common in all areas of publishing, has been found in peer reviewed academic articles costing $30 to access. To the best of our knowledge, this paper represents the first known review of Intentionally Blank Pages (IBPs).
We looked at the variations in samples from the existing literature, and quantified the amount of blankness on such pages using a new metric, the “Blankness Defect Rate” (BDR). After showing that most blank pages are defective, we suggest a number of alternatives, factually correct or less ambiguous. Then we offer some possible explanations for this phenomenon.
The phrase “This Page is Intentionally Left Blank” is ubiquitous in the world of printed text, appearing most notably in instruction manuals and exam papers. It is generally accepted that its purpose is to indicate that the page on which it appears is purposely bereft of content. Yet the very inclusion of this phrase nullifies its intent: the page is no longer blank. Indeed, it is now intentionally not blank. By virtue of self-reference, the phrase denies its own existence, despite the fact that we know it is there. This is, essentially, a rather banal, academic version of René Magritte’s surrealist work The Treachery of Images (Figure 1).
The U.S. Code of Regulations (1984) actually mandates that blank pages in certain books and pamphlets must be marked as such.1 As such, they are especially common in technical works. This has lead to a large number of people attempting to solve the philosophical conundrum such nonblank blank pages create. The Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. General Accounting Office, acutely aware of the distress caused, purported in 2001 to have resolved the conundrum in its Principles of Federal Appropriations Law (second edition, volume IV).2 Text on page ii, which is otherwise blank, reads, “This page is intended to be blank. Please do not read it.” However, this appears to have only further entrenched the philosophical contradictions, and the subsequent third edition contained no such text on its blank page.
Figure 2. Screenshot of the ScienceDirect checkout page, accessed via an institutional login from Sciences Po, showing the cost of an IBP taken from Verified Synthesis of Zeolitic Materials (2001).
In October 2014, François-Xavier Coudert reported that a number of peer-reviewed academic “articles,” priced at $30 each on the website ScienceDirect, consist solely of one blank page apiece (Figure 2).3 In order to determine what value was being added to these pages by the peer review process that they have undergone, we set out to investigate their blankness.