Fake News, Fake Science: An Epidemic

By Shlomo Maital

              The epidemic of fake news is a result of demand and supply.  Supply – an army of fakers who often use sophisticated AI tools to make up conspiracy stories.  Demand – a larger army of those who are willing to believe anything that makes them feel good and look good.   Of course, this is hugely troubling.  It erodes the foundation of trust on which society is built.

              But now, we find that there is also fake science —  fraudulent papers published in scientific journals.   This is from a forthcoming article in Science: 

    Around a third of studies published in neuroscience journals, and about 24% in medical journals, are “made up or plagiarized,” according to a new paper.   The research, referred to as a preprint — meaning it has not yet been peer-reviewed — looked at 5,000 published papers, as first reported by Science.

     Using a simple, automated detection system the researchers looked for two telltale signs: Whether an author was registered with a personal, rather than institutional, email address, and if the author listed their affiliation as a hospital. The papers flagged as potentially fake were then checked by humans. About 1,500 of the papers were likely fraudulent, the researchers concluded.

  Fake science, too, is generated by supply and demand.  Demand —  academic departments that count publications as a condition for tenure or employment.  Supply —  scientists struggling to keep their jobs or gain promotion, struggling to get research funds, and battling publish or perish,  choose to lie and publish rather than foster truth and perish.

    If not only our news media but our scientific journals are riddled with fakes, then we are in big trouble.