Artificial Light

Fakin’ It: News, Research, Publications, Conferences

Interest Over Time - FakeAll that attention directed at fake news might be a blip on the viewscreen of popular culture. Or it might be an ongoing concern for years to come. One thing is clear, though. Interest in what is fake and what is genuine has been growing for most of a decade. Fakin’ it on social media might be taken in stride. But faking scientific research, publications, and conferences is a serious problem.

Writing in the latest issue of Obesity, Bob Kushner and Scott Kahan call out the problem of fake journals and conferences:

These deceptions are exploitative, rather than educational. They are driven by profit, rather than scholarship. Because their sole intent is to lure the uninformed to pay high publishing costs or registration fees, they ignore quality controls and transparency.

The problem is not limited to obesity.

Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at the University of Canterbury, recently tested the extremes of this charade. He let his smartphone compose a nonsensical abstract for a nuclear physics conference. The abstract began with: “Atomic Physics and I shall not have the same problem with a separate section for a very long long way.” It got worse from there. But nonetheless, the conference organizers accepted it within three hours.

In the New York Times, Kevin Carey offers a look at “the strange world of fake academia.” This world blurs the line between legitimate scholarship and fraud. “The difference between legitimate and fake publications and conferences is far blurrier than scholars would like to admit,” he writes.

These frauds are possible because standards of scientific integrity are sloppy. Generalizations too often masquerade as facts. Research sometimes becomes an exercise in proving a point, rather than testing a hypothesis. Repeated observations about correlations morph into proof of causation. A suggestion of conflicted motives for critical questions serves to dismiss those questions.

A gray zone forms where advocacy creeps into the space where scientific rigor must come first.

The concern about what is fake and what is real will only grow stronger. Serious attention to scientific integrity provides the only real answers.

Click here for more from the New York Times and here for the commentary by Kahan and Kushner.

Artificial Light, photograph © Jed Sullivan / flickr

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January 2, 2017