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This Study Is Intentionally Left Blank

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.

Context
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.

Methodology
A total of 56 individual IBPs were found on the online ScienceDirect platform, 24 of which were immediately available for purchase and study. These appear to be a cross-disciplinary selection, so it is felt that this will give a good indication of the treatment of IBPs over a wide range of subjects. It is notable that these IBPs are largely from books. It appears that journals generally do not leave pages blank on purpose.

Analysis

Out of 24 PDFs, only one was truly blank. This was checked by rendering of its contents at high resolution (600 dpi) followed by a search for non-white pixels. The remainder were manually examined, showing some variety in their style (Figure 3). One used a sans-serif font, although the majority (22 out of 24) used rasterized serif fonts in varying sizes and positioning.

Figure 3. Variability in font family, size, and resolution of the text on intentionally blank pages.

Blankness
Despite their claim to have been “intentionally left blank,” our analysis shows that almost none of the IBPs have, in actual fact, been left blank: all but one of them contain the text “This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank.” The exception is an IBP from Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001). The reason for the omission of the informative text on this page remains wholly unclear.

The prevalence of text on these “blank pages” will either disappoint readers who have paid $30 for a product that was falsely advertised, or raise existential questions such as “What is a blank page?” and “Why did I choose a career in academia?”

The amount of blankness varies, and can be quantified using a factor we have named the “blankness defect rate” (BDR). The BDR is the amount of space on the page that is in fact not blank, primarily caused by the presence of text. Automated determination of the BDR was undertaken using custom Mathematica scripts. The primary factor affecting the BDR was the size of the informative text (Figure 4), with larger text leading to a higher BDR. The font used may also affect the BDR; fonts with serifs cause higher BDRs, as they occupy more space. Additional interference effects may also be present. The average BDR of the sampled IBPs is 0.163% (± 0.04%), while the average amount of non-blank space (i.e. ink), measured in cubic centimeters (cm2), is 0.830 cm2 (± 0.204).

Figure 4. Histogram of disclaimer text width on IBPs. The data point corresponding to the single perfectly blank page in our sample is highlighted in orange.

File Size
The total size of the 24 IBPs is 237 kilobytes (KB), averaging almost 10 KB per page. Individual IBPs varied from 7 KB to an impressive 19 KB, as can be seen in Appendix 1. By contrast, our control has a size of merely 365 bytes. Even the peer-reviewed genuinely blank IBP was 8.2 KB in size. To put this into perspective, only 144 average IBPs provided by journals can be stored on one standard 1.44-megabyte floppy disk; our control allows for the storage of 3945 IBPs. Printing these would certainly provide enough blank pages for most practical purposes.

Positioning of Text
Visual observation shows that most pages have their text placed centrally, both horizontally and vertically. There is some variation, however, most commonly horizontal displacement of the text to the right and downwards vertical displacement. This distribution can be seen in Figure 5.

The pages are all designed to be viewed in portrait mode, with no line breaks being used. What is intended to occur if pages are purchased for use in landscape orientation is unclear, but the text will be misaligned in such situations, causing readers to have to turn either their heads or their reading material in order to confirm that the page is indeed blank.

The IBP from Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001), the only truly blank IBP sampled, has no predetermined orientation or alignment. In fact, it may be rotated and/or reversed at will, maintaining its original character at all times.

Cost
The publisher-provided IBPs furnish 31 characters to the reader for $30 (Figure 2), a cost of approximately $1.33 per character. Our control was created in a matter of minutes, for free, using a simple text editor. Considering the current pressure on research funding, and to ensure no unnecessary spending of taxpayer money is undertaken, we recommend the use of our control IBP in future. We have therefore placed it under the Creative Commons CC0 license, and made it available online (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.12593).

At $30 per PDF, anecdotally a common price point for “scientific” papers, readers pay an average of $33.58 per square centimeter of ink. There is some variability in this price, owing to variations in the BDR. The most expensive blank page costs $46.35/ cm2 (page 16 of Joe Grand’s Best of Hardware: Wireless and Game Console Hacking); the least expensive is a mere $23.21/ cm2 (page 129 of Electronics Reliability and Measurement Technology).

Given that the publisher’s costs are partly linked to the size of files hosted on their web servers, a further perspective to consider is the price per megabyte (MB). These PDF copies of the sample IBPs are sold at $3,331.85 per MB (± $640.97). We note that publishers could substantially increase profit margins by selling truly blank IBPs. Our defect-free IBP, fully compliant with PDF 1.1 and later standards, is a mere 365 bytes (0.000348 MB). If sold at the same nominal price of $30, that would represent $86,184 per MB. Alternatively, if sold at the same price per MB as the sampled IBPs, a true IBP need cost only $1.16. This would greatly alleviate the heavy financial burden borne by academic institutions that frequently require blank pages.

Possible Explanations
One possible explanation for the inclusion of text in the IBPs is that the stock phrase used in the majority of the sampled papers is, in fact, intended as a kōan, i.e., a statement used in Zen practice to provoke the “great doubt” and test a student’s progress. If this is the case, the absence of any philosophy or religious texts from the sample is surprising. Such a hypothesis would suggest that the readers of publications such as Frontiers in Dusty Plasmas and Asymptotic Methods in Probability and Statistics are well ahead on the Zen-curve, an unlikely conclusion.

Our preferred hypothesis is that the blank PDFs provided by journals have a higher file size and cost due to their “added value.” This value has been added through a rigorous process of peer review and professional copy editing, and usually takes the form of the added text. By contrast, our control IBP lacks this additional text and has not been peer reviewed according to normal procedures. The publisher-supplied pages are therefore less confusing to most readers, who would otherwise be left to infer for themselves that the pages are, in fact, blank. We are considering the addition of similar text to all blank pages in our possession.

There is nevertheless an alternative, intriguing explanation. As all writers are well aware, writer’s block is a well established phenomenon among both professional and amateur writers. Could this be the first reported case of editor’s block? The presence of blank pages in multiple domains may imply that several editors have succumbed to this creative impairment. Indeed, given the volume of published academic texts, it is unlikely that just one editor would be responsible for this series of blank pages. Unfortunately, it is not a standard practice to report the name of the editor associated with each IBP and it is therefore impossible to draw a firm conclusion. We hope that this work might engage the interest of social and behavioral specialists who could further investigate this intriguing possibility.

Alternatives
Our analysis suggests the intentionally blank pages are flawed in a number of ways. Here we suggest some alternatives, the use of which will vary depending on the desired outcome.

Where the intention is to reassure the reader that they have come to the end of the current text, some syntactically meaningless symbols at the end of said text can indicate that it was not left blank accidentally. “Dingbats” (❈♥❉♦♣ etc.) have been successfully used for this purpose. We propose that the dingbats method may now be modernised through the use of emoji, small images designed to evoke an emotional response. Emoji may provide a novel method of conveying to the reader that the text has ended.

This is merely an illustration; article continues below.

Otherwise, the traditional blank page paradigm may be maintained with some alteration to the current standard phrase. “There are only eight words on this page” provides a neat solution, or the text may be more comprehensively reformulated thus:

The page on which this statement has been printed has been intentionally left devoid of substantive content, such that the present statement is the only text printed thereon.

If using typesetting software, such as LaTeX, it may also be possible to automatically state exactly how much blank space is present on a page. This would render a message such as “This Page Intentionally Left 99.855% Blank.” A proof of concept was developed (see additional resources) by calculating the BDR in an iterative manner, meaning that this could (in theory) be applied to all intentionally blank pages. This method eliminates the usual existential questions posed by self-reference, and is satisfyingly accurate.

If the primary intention is indeed to provide the reader with a blank page, all text should be omitted. Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001) and the control page from this study provide examples that may be replicated in other contexts.

It should be noted that a number of interesting alternatives are found outside the traditional scientific literature. Andy Griffiths’s book Just Stupid! (1999) begins with a cartoon snail saying: “This page would be blank if I were not here telling you that this page would be blank if I were not here telling you that…” on an endless loop. Don Novello’s The Lazlo Letters (1977) ends with several pages marked “FREE PAPER!” Iranian novelist Reza Amirkhani’s book Man-e-oo (His Ego) reportedly contains an entire chapter consisting of blank pages. However, we have been unable to verify whether the pages remain blank when translated into English from the original Persian.

Directions for Future Research
In light of the significance of these new findings, we suggest that this paper represents the dawning of a brave new era in the field of bibliometrics. In addition to their prevalence in English, we suspect that IBPs are found in other languages. Whether non-English IBPs are present in the scientific literature is unknown, since the scientific community largely uses English as a lingua Franca. Further investigation may reveal further insights that should be examined in much more detail.

Personal communication from ScienceDirect indicates their intention to remove these pages. This would hamper future efforts to analyse IBPs. However, blankness itself may be an interesting topic of further study, and prevalence of blankness in other areas remains unclear at this juncture. Further avenues of research that may prove fruitful include the blankness of: the digital world, such as websites and tweets; the physical world, such as walls and signs; and other aspects of academic publishing, such as footnotes4 andeven entire academic articles.

Conclusion
We recommend the use of our blank control page for situations where a truly blank page is desired, or where a landscape orientation is required, since publishers have not allowed for their blank pages to be used in such situations. Alternatively, the blank page from Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000 (2001) provides a peer-reviewed alternative for high-quality applications. Where there is a need to maintain the functionality of the additional text, any of the options proposed in this paper are appropriate.

* * *
 

Afterword
It has subsequently come to our attention that ScienceDirect has taken the drastic step of removing all IBPs from its search results. In response to this development, we have taken the decision to make these papers publicly available to ensure that these important contributions to science are not lost to future generations of researchers. While we are aware that this action is in violation of copyright laws, we beg ScienceDirect, and the publishers of the IBPs, not to seek legal redress.

Notes
1. The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America (1984), Section 47, §61.93.

2. http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/d01179sp.pdf.

3. Tweet dated October 13, 2014, @fxcoudert.

4. This footnote is intentionally left blank.

Additional Resources
Intentionally blank pages.

Accurate intentionally blank page.

Minimal-size perfectly blank PDF page: http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1230066 (login required)

Bibliography
“” in Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 2000, 2001

Search for “This page intentionally left blank”, ScienceDirect (accessed November 2014)

This Page Intentionally Left Blank, http://www.this-pageintentionally-left-blank.org/

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Asymptotic Methods in Probability and Statistics, 1998

This Page Intentionally Left Blank, BBC (accessed November 2014)

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Brain Theory, What Is a Brain?, 1996

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Collection of Simulated XRD Powder Patterns for Zeolites, 2001

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Conservation Biological Control, 1998

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Electronics Reliability and Measurement Technology, 1998

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Estimator’s Electrical Man Hour Manual Third edition, 1999

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Estimator’s Piping Man Hour Manual Fifth Edition, 1999

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Frontiers in Dusty Plasmas, Revisited, 2000

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Handbook of Optical Constants of Solids, 1997

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Handbook of Palladium Catalyzed Organic Reactions, 1997

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Hedge Fund Investment Management, 2006

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Industrial Hygiene Engineering Second Edition, 2000

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Intelligent Production Machines and Systems, 2006

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Joe Grand’s Best of Hardware: Wireless and Game Console Hacking, 2006

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Metal Nanoclusters in Catalysis and Materials Science, 2008

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 1996, 1997

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Parallel Computational Fluid Dynamics 1999, 2000

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Programmer’s Ultimate Security DeskRef, 2004

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Projects for Calculus Second Edition, 1998

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Recent Research Towards Advanced Man Machine Interface

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Science Progress in China, 2003

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Stealing the Network How to Own an Identity, 2005

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in Through Spoken Language, 1996

“This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank” in World Fuel Cells, 2002

Appendix 1: Summary of IBPs obtained, detailing size, ordered by year of publication

 

Appendix 2: Sample reformulated IBP
The page on which this statement has been printed has been intentionally left devoid of substantive content, such that the present statement is the only text printed thereon. blank blank blank  blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank  blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank  blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank  blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank blank

_____________________

The article above is from the March-April 2015 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.


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REminds me of a bad practical joke played on a college buddy. We found a paper of his that he finished and was ready to submit to his professor for grading. We added a page to it that contained a contrived conclusion. The prof and our friend were not amused.
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