Fraudulent Academic Papers

The term “fake news” has lost much of its meaning, but it describes a real and dangerous Internet trend. Because it’s hard for many people to differentiate a real news site from a fraudulent one, they can be hoodwinked by fictitious news stories pretending to be real. The result is that otherwise reasonable people believe lies.

The trends fostering fake news are more general, though, and we need to start thinking about how it could affect different areas of our lives. In particular, I worry about how it will affect academia. In addition to fake news, I worry about fake research.

An example of this seems to have happened recently in the cryptography field. SIMON is a block cipher designed by the National Security Agency (NSA) and made public in 2013. It’s a general design optimized for hardware implementation, with a variety of block sizes and key lengths. Academic cryptanalysts have been trying to break the cipher since then, with some pretty good results, although the NSA’s specified parameters are still immune to attack. Last week, a paper appeared on the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR) ePrint archive purporting to demonstrate a much more effective break of SIMON, one that would affect actual implementations. The paper was sufficiently weird, the authors sufficiently unknown and the details of the attack sufficiently absent, that the editors took it down a few days later. No harm done in the end.

In recent years, there has been a push to speed up the process of disseminating research results. Instead of the laborious process of academic publication, researchers have turned to faster online publishing processes, preprint servers, and simply posting research results. The IACR ePrint archive is one of those alternatives. This has all sorts of benefits, but one of the casualties is the process of peer review. As flawed as that process is, it does help ensure the accuracy of results. (Of course, bad papers can still make it through the process. We’re still dealing with the aftermath of a flawed, and now retracted, Lancet paper linking vaccines with autism.)

Like the news business, academic publishing is subject to abuse. We can only speculate about the motivations of the three people who are listed as authors on the SIMON paper, but you can easily imagine better-executed and more nefarious scenarios. In a world of competitive research, one group might publish a fake result to throw other researchers off the trail. It might be a company trying to gain an advantage over a potential competitor, or even a country trying to gain an advantage over another country.

Reverting to a slower and more accurate system isn’t the answer; the world is just moving too fast for that. We need to recognize that fictitious research results can now easily be injected into our academic publication system, and tune our skepticism meters accordingly.

This essay previously appeared on

Posted on May 30, 2019 at 9:51 AM42 Comments


Matt May 30, 2019 10:34 AM

I’m sick to death of hearing about “a study” or “a paper” and having people start parroting the results. Independently reproducing results where possible (or similar research intended to show a similar effect, where exact reproduction is not possible) is the best way to gain confidence in asserted knowledge. Doing or believing anything on the basis of one paper is foolish.

Fake news and real peers May 30, 2019 11:55 AM

Look at the lunacy that Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian got peer reviewed and published in what’s been called “Sokal 2.0”, or the more earnest stuff RealPeerReview tweets out. All you need to do is spin it right and you can get literally anything reviewed and published. It’s a race to the bottom – if anyone says to me “a paper said” I file it alongside “some guy’s blog said” until I’ve had at least a quick look at the paper itself or the authors.

Sergey Babkin May 30, 2019 11:59 AM

Disseminating the false information is nothing new. The communists have practiced it with great success in the past century, and I’m sure the whole is as old as the human species.

Probably the only practical way to gaining confidence is reproducing the results, not reviewing them. And in particular in the CS department, the research papers should come with the source code of the experiments, especially when the research had been based on the existing open source systems. The security is distinctly different from the general CS, but perhaps some similar way can be found.

BG May 30, 2019 12:44 PM

To the extent any “fake research” lies within an actual science, there is nothing to fear. The scientific method exists precisely for the reason of distinguishing valid research from fake research. Of course, the scientific method only works on science. Cryptography is a science to the extent it is applied mathematics making falsifiable hypotheses, so there is nothing to fear. Fake research is easily snuffed out in real sciences. Fake research is harder to snuff out in fake sciences aka soft sciences like economics, epidemiology and climatology. If it can’t make a falsifiable hypothesis, it is not science because “true or false” can’t be tested.

Clive Robinson May 30, 2019 12:58 PM

@ Bruce,

As you are aware there is also the stealing of the work and ideas of others, you yourself had one of your papers copied to the point that there was little doubt your work had been stolen.

As @Thoth pointed out the other day, yet another paper has appeard where his and my discussions have been stolen by those in the academic field of endevor.

I’ve even had ideas taken by those at the Cambridge Computer lab, which earn’t the person a best paper award

It’s also clear that other leading edge discussions have been taken from this blog by companies and even national SigInt agencies.

There is little honour amoungst those who do this deliberatly and for profit.

It’s a shame because it brings discredit on others that try to do things more honestly.

The appearance of so many “essey writting services” should tell people just how many people are prepared to cheat just to gain an advabtage that rightfully belongs to others.

In a way, they are not just cheating, thay are actually stealing opportunities from others, and I find it at best distasteful.

Winter May 30, 2019 1:03 PM

Recently, I participated in reviewing contributions to a conference. One of the questions was to rate how easy it would be to reproduce the experiments reported.

The problem has been noted.

Bob Paddock May 30, 2019 1:24 PM

“The scientific method exists precisely for the reason of distinguishing valid research from fake research. Of course, the scientific method only works on science.”

It only works when everyone involved is honest. A lot of research, Big Pharma for example, is rife with problems of “file drawer effect” where nonsupporting data is placed and not mentioned.

The file drawer effect is linked with the idea of publication bias. The term was created by the psychologist Robert Rosenthal (1979). This stated effect occurs when studies that have been carried out in a particular area of research have been conducted, but not all were reported. This can mean that those that were reported could hold different results on average, when excluding the studies that were not reported.

The term the file drawer effect is explained by Jeffery Scargle in his scientific journal (2000). It is derived from the idea of the minority of research or studies that support the null hypothesis are lost or ‘tucked away’ within researchers’ file cabinets. Even if it is merely a small number of studies lost in ‘the file drawer’ this can still lead to significant bias (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2000). Reasons for not publishing research, can be due to lack of interest and time from scientists/sponsors, or if the results are particularly negative, producing unwanted outcomes. … –

Petre Peter May 30, 2019 2:48 PM

I would guess that by now there would be some automatic verification done that looks for similarities in other papers when submitting a document. To me, the most obvious problem is hiring someone to write the paper for you. Determent, punishment, and recognizing this is a science in itself that mostly relies on student’s integrity.

vas pup May 30, 2019 2:55 PM

Tempted to cheat on a written exam? Artificial intelligence is 90% certain to nab you:

“Police and fake news

Ghostwriter’s technological foundation can be applied elsewhere in society. For example, the program could be used in police work to supplement forged document analysis, a task carried out by forensic document examiners and others.

“It would be fun to collaborate with the police, who currently deploy forensic document examiners to look for qualitative similarities and differences between the texts they are comparing. We can look at large amounts of data and find patterns. I imagine that this combination would benefit police work,” says Lorenzen, who emphasizes that ethical discussions are needed here as well.

LorenR May 30, 2019 3:08 PM

The broader point of this article seems quite reasonable to me but I’d like to pick a small nit:

The IACR ePrint archive is one of those alternatives. This has all sorts of benefits, but one of the casualties is the process of peer review.

Peer review still happened in this case, it was just “post peer review” rather than “prior peer review”. Peer review, as I understand the term, appears to have worked as designed in this case. I am highly skeptical of any calls, even indirect, for a return to the gatekeeper “we know better” system of “prior peer review” academic research publication.

Wok May 30, 2019 3:55 PM

I am uncomfortable with the notion of getting rid of the standard of peer review. Institutions react slowly to changes in trust and we’re already seeing chaos with reduced public trust in news outlets. I shudder to think of the damage we’d have for loss of trust in academic publishing on top of that.

Clive Robinson May 30, 2019 4:36 PM

@ LorenR,

I am highly skeptical of any calls, even indirect, for a return to the gatekeeper “we know better” system of “prior peer review” academic research publication.

And so you should, “prior peer review” especially when anonymous has been called into question in a number of areas in the past.

The two big ones being “starving out” and “non mainstream thinking”.

The clasic of the latter in the ICTsec area being the Wiesner’s original paper about “Quantum Banknotes” that eventualy gave rise to the ideas of Bennet and Brassard of Quantum cryptography. It was only belatedly that Wiesner’s paper got published, most to whom this happens to are not so lucky.

The other problem is in part abother form of don’t rock the boat. If you want to see how bad it can be follow up the history of “Pure White and Deadly”.

But anonymous peer reviewers for so called prestigeous journals have another issue which is they don’t want to loose the position, thus they tend to take a very conservative view…

Personally I’d rather see the “raw ideas” of an inventive mind be the ideas sound or not.

But public post published review has an interesting asspect. We know that the “Publish or be damed” rule applies these days where if you are not getting atleast as many papers published as your peers you get “de-rated”. Thus science has become not just timid it has become salami slicing and papers worth less and less.

In essence if you are not yet “established” and have a good idea, you are better served by writting a half dozen or so mediocre papers than you are a single outstanding paper. Also you can punt them around many journals untill one bites.

Public post publication review has the potential to kill both of those defects off and in the process make papers worth reading again.

Speaking of which,

@ ALL,

Of those interested in Quantum Cryptographies failings in practice might be interested in this,

I’ve explaind injection locking and how it can be used to enumerate the security of EM systems in the past, along with a whole bunch of other ways to make practical QC a pile of wasted q-bits. So in some respects there is actually nothing new in that particular part of the idea behind the attack, but getting it all to work as an attack in a new domain is actually more than a bit niffty, so q-dos to them 😉

jUBBA May 30, 2019 9:03 PM

@vas pup

How sad! The problem with this app is that it allows no room for growth and change in the student. If a student is still writing at the end of the school like they did at the beginning of the year, then the education system failed.

Cheating vs growth? How can an app tell the difference?

Dave May 30, 2019 11:08 PM

It’s not necessarily a consciously fake paper, with the crypto field being a branch of mathematics it attracts more than its fair share of cranks and crackpots who think they’ve done the equivalent of squaring the circle or trisecting the angle. These guys probably thought they had some magic break but were afraid the NSA’s black helicopters would come and get them (as opposed to guys in white coats, which would be a bigger concern), so they engaged in all sorts of skullduggery to avoid the NSA assassins.

Clive Robinson May 31, 2019 3:15 AM

@ Dave,

… think they’ve done the equivalent of squaring the circle or trisecting the angle.

If they thought they could do one then the same thinking would do the other 😉

Because at heart the reason for not being able to do either is “surds”[1].

A similar issue exists with computers, but people including many softwre people tend to “forget about it”[2].

[1] For those that want a nice gentle read on why both are not posible (to do with a perfect compass and straight edge),

[2] They forget because most times people don’t need precision beyond a certain point, and that sometimes bites. Computers as they are currently designed can only deal with positive integers in a 2^n field. The minute you try representing any other type of number problems pop up. For instance add a sign bit to get negative numbers and either zero becomes an issue in “ones complement” or your number range becomes unbalanced in “two’s complement” and you end up with a value that can only be in either the negative or positive range but not both…

doctor from Sweden May 31, 2019 5:00 AM

@ Clive Robinson
‘I’ve even had ideas taken by those at the Cambridge Computer lab, which earn’t the person a best paper award’ – can you provide me some references? I’m collecting a wider sample of similar situations from other technical fields than my own (Rehabilitation Medicine) for an article with a journalist from a weekly magazine.

Bob Paddock May 31, 2019 7:01 AM

@Clive Robinson

“… injection locking…”

Clive, I’m curious on your insights to using ‘Chaos’, in the mathematical sense, for things like secure communication?

Also I find it interesting that ‘Chaos’ seems to be part of making the brain work.

From April 2019:
“Current-Starved Cross-Coupled CMOS Inverter Rings as Versatile Generators of Chaotic and Neural-Like Dynamics Over Multiple Frequency Decades”
DOI: 10.1109/ACCESS.2019.2912903

“Effective long-time phase dynamics of limit-cycle oscillators driven by weak colored noise”

“Mysterious ‘Neural Noise’ Primes Brain for Peak Performance”

stine May 31, 2019 8:05 AM

re: vas pup

“Artificial intelligence is 90% certain to nab you”

This is both true and false. While it may be true for fiction, when it comes to non-fiction or research papers, the AI is still broken because it assumes that you’ve used cut and paste for quotations* which is the whole point of the paper(s).

    • which is what you should to to preserve accuracy

BENSON May 31, 2019 8:29 AM

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. — Richard Feynman

wumpus May 31, 2019 8:50 AM

“I’m sick to death of hearing about “a study” or “a paper” and having people start parroting the results.”

While I certainly agree with you, I also am completely unaware of sources of funding to confirm/deny such papers. I’d only expect multiple papers in a field likely to generate enough funding for multiple independent researchers. Of course, this means few and fewer papers are worth bothering about.

I’d hate to think of how much the replication issue depends on researchers not having to worry about anyone trying to replicate their work.

albert May 31, 2019 12:40 PM

@vas pup,
The simple solution is to have the same ghost writer write all of your papers.
@TJ Williams,
“…peer review is great as long as it is fair an unbiased an not run by an old boys network…” I would include “defenders of the Paradigm”. This is the primary criticism from young students, especially in areas like particle physics. IIRC, Einsteins first paper was -not- peer-reviewed.

. .. . .. — ….

vas pup May 31, 2019 2:11 PM

@albert – good suggestion! Thank you.

You should like this information below:

“Phase transitions: The math behind the music

Physics professor applies tools of statistical mechanics to explain why basic ordered patterns emerge in music across time and cultures:

The longtime science researcher and a part-time viola player has become consumed with understanding and explaining the connective tissue between the two disciplines — more specifically, how the ordered structure of music emerges from the general chaos of sound.
But Berezovsky contends that much of the thinking, until now, has been a top-down approach, applying mathematical ideas to existing musical compositions as a way of understanding already existing music.

[!!!]He contends he’s uncovering the “emergent structures of musical harmony” inherent in the art, just as order comes from disorder in the physical world. He believes that could mean a whole new way of looking at music of the past, present and future.

“I believe that this model could shed light on the very structures of harmony, particularly in Western music,” Berezovsky said. “But we can take it further: These ideas could provide a new lens for studying the entire system of tuning and harmony across cultures and across history — maybe even a road map for exploring new ideas in those areas.
Berezovsky said his theory is more than just an illustration of how we think about music. Instead, he says the mathematical structure is actually the fundamental underpinning of music itself, making the resultant octaves and other arrangements a foregone conclusion, not an arbitrary invention by humans.”

May be music could have its future in encryption/security as well?

albert May 31, 2019 2:41 PM

@vas pup,

Music (western music) is very mathematical*. Even music that only consists of melody and rhythm. Even music that consists solely of rhythm (percussion instruments). Berezovsky is trying to understand how music comes from chaos, much like evolutionists try to get life from chaos. But music doesn’t come from chaos, it comes from humans reaction to sound, and these reactions have been known and studied for centuries. We react to sound via the ear/brain connection, and also through physical sensations. I played bass in a hard rock group for years. That bass set up primal reactions even in deaf people. The subject is too vast to discuss here. If you can find a copy of “Musicophila”, by Oliver Sacks, read it. He presents case studies of people who have severe neurological impairments, many of whom cannot even communicate verbally. Their reactions to music seem to bypass normal cognition in a primal way.

I believe there were discussions here on music as a medium for encryption. Musics mathematical nature make computer analysis easier, unfortunately.

Sorry for rambling…

  • Tesla believed the number 3 was special. I believe 2^(1/12) is very special indeed.
    . .. . .. — ….

Clive Robinson May 31, 2019 2:51 PM

@ Bob Paddock,

I’m curious on your insights to using ‘Chaos’, in the mathematical sense, for things like secure communication?

I would try and avoid using it.

Firstly whilst it is very sensitive to it’s initial or starting conditions it is effectively determanistic. Which in of it’s self is not sufficient from disbaring it’s use, after all the majority –but not all– crypto algorithms are fully determanistic.

What concerns me is it’s input to ouput mapping depending on where you are in it’s mapping it can have undesirable characteristics especially in the short term. Look at the behaviour of the solar system, although it is chaotic you’ld have to wait for five to ten million years for it to appear to be so. Likewise look at the behaviour of a double rod pendulum, again it’s chaotic in the long term, but in the short term when you are watching it you can mentaly predict where it’s going much like you do when someone throws a tennis ball for you to catch. One of the more famous chaotic systems is the Korenz Attractor, that makes those rather beautiful “butterfly wing” patterns. As their “finder” Edward Lorenz has observed of chaos theory

    When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future

Where things go is dependent on things like rounding errors. Therefore running it on a computer that uses 64bit ints will produce a different result than 32bits over time, thus there are in effect almost hidden dependencies waiting to take a chunk out of you.

Whilst I would not use typical Chaos Theory algorithms “raw” they can be used to replace some other functions such as simple counters that then go through a CS algorithm before use in a small subset of CompSec functions. That is if the CS algorithm is of any use it should act as a oneway function with a sensible avalanch criteria. Thus they could be used for the likes of “entropy pool” mixers/stirrers.

However as with other domains that cover a large amount of ground, you could ask half a dozen practitioners and get two dozen answers over a shortish period of time 😉

As for the apparent relationship to nural activity, I’ve seen very little on the subject, but I would be cautious.

Look at it this way the movment of “heavenly bodies” appears sufficiently like clockwork that not only can you make acurately predictive models using gears and clockwork escapments, you can actually set your watch more acurately with the transit of Venus than you can with time keeping systems that predate the first of the atomic resonance refrence systems.

However the similarity in behaviour and accuracy in no way indicates that the heavenly bodies run by clockwork. It’s the old “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, why doubt it is a duck?” question, to which the answer is “Because it knows it’s not a duck but a goose”.

Thus you would need quite a few hypotheses and ethical experiments to show actuall correlation not coincidence.

I would be especialy be carefull about rings of inverting logic gates, especially CMOS ones. As I said a few days ago CMOS gates are actually very high gain amplifiers that hit the rails. Their analog behaviour region is very close into their input bias point. Which means you get phase jitter on the switching time. In certain kinds of logic circuits such as SR latches and other latches this input bias error can cause “soft faults” which you can read about under metastability. If you connect the output of an inverting amplifier through a second amplifier and back to the input of the first you get a 360deg phase rotation if the total gain is one or more it is going to oscillate at a frequency dependent on other circuit parameters such as roll of frequency and transmission line delay. A large number of people incorectly believe that two or more of these oscillators can be mixed together via a latch to give you “entropy”… Because close in on an oscilloscope the resulting logic signal “looks random”. However the actual result is a “digitized sinewave” of the difference frequency with a little noise generated jitter… Which becomes fairly obvious when you set the oscilloscope time base such that it’s display period is between one and two cycle periods of the difference signal.

What’s worse is those ring oscillators generally have one or more paths “in common” between them via the likes of power supply rails… Thus just like pendulums over time they will tend to synchronize to a near harmonic of any signal that may be present on those common lines, which is just another form of injection locking. And when this happens any ebtropy you thought you were getting will drop down to below the far from random system noise[1].

So I would be cautious and look for ways to “disprove” the hypothesis.

[1] In most systems the “noise” is not “random” from the likes of thermal noise, it’s actually a summation of lots of little usually determanistic signals, that just “look like” Gausian White Noise. You can easily see this by using a Linear Feedback Shift Register (LFSR) if you feed it through a low pass filter the result is very “white-noise” like in most test instruments, which is why they are used in testing of analoge systems like audio amplifiers etc.

Faustus May 31, 2019 3:35 PM

@ vas pup

90% is not that high an accuracy rate. Also, there is no indication of the rate of false positives versus false negatives. It is unlikely they are the same. What is the assumed real-world prevalence of cheating? Without a decent figure for real-world prevalence it is impossible to say whether this “AI” would accuse many more people falsely of cheating than it finds actual cheaters.

I could see this article in Reader’s Digest. But a science magazine? This is really just a press release. Advertising. Without details the 90% figure is meaningless.

Unfortunately forensics has been caught ACTUALLY USING weak indicators like this to put people in prison. A lot of statistics is not intuitive.

Erdem Memisyazici May 31, 2019 5:16 PM

A good measure is to test it yourself. This is where proof-of-concept type code blocks really help the general public who may not be able to fully wrap their minds around the topic. Ever seen white papers with pseudo-code attached? Those help people both understand the research and type it in their favorite language. It also makes the proof/details more fun to read.

Alyer Babtu May 31, 2019 6:42 PM

Grigory Perelman presented his proof of the Thurston geometrization conjecture and thereby the Poincaré Conjecture, outstanding for about 100 years, in three papers on That changed the picture of research publishing for me !

Perelman, and Vladimir Arnold before him, are exemplary in their dismissal of the circus of journals, peer reviews, conferences, prizes, and monetary rewards. Armold “ … sit home working hard to prove fundamental theorems which will remain the cornerstones of mathematics forever”

FakeName May 31, 2019 7:28 PM

The problem is we as a society allow OPINION to become conflated with factual, vetted news.

Like when famous people express their opinion and that somehow becomes news. It’s not and should never be elevated to top story or front page.

vas pup June 1, 2019 1:59 PM

@Faustus • May 31, 2019 3:35 PM
I got your point. Thank you.
Any evidence taking alone: witness/victim testimony, forensic analysis of any sort AND confession as well could not be considered as source of final decision for incarceration.
Why? Memory is very subjective and subject for confabulation, biases, distortion by emotion state, time passed by, etc.
Forensic evidence could be planted on the crime scene, contaminated during analysis in the lab (intentionally or accidently), provided only particular probability of validity of the method itself (as you pointed out). Confession could be false (see any book on Forensic Psychology related to the subject for details).
Conclusion: only constellation of all evidence taking together and supporting not contradicting each other could serve as basis for decision in criminal case. Otherwise, we are in Inquisition process of Middle Ages.

Neil Prestemon June 2, 2019 12:29 PM

I don’t see the process on review or vetting of academic papers to be the cause of the harm here. Don’t get me wrong; if this process is allowing fraudulent papers to get through the process and be published, OR, if the process is somehow “inadequate”, to properly deal with the volume of papers in a timely manner, then the process should probably be adjusted or fine-tuned in some way.

But overall, I think any problems in this process are almost certainly minor to the point of nearly insignificant, in comparison to the absolutely horrible problems we have across the board, in the entire field of journalism.

The Lancet Paper – itself, was not necessarily indicative of a flawed process; because this paper was EVENTUALLY investigated, reviewed, and debunked. Clearly and soundly. The harm that was done, was largely due to the way our newsmedia; mostly the non-science-oriented newsmedia, (but even science-specific print media makes terrible mistakes, and I’d hang that on The Lancet’s decision to publish this particular paper, likely based on a controversy-driven impulse aimed at increasing attention, readership, and ultimately revenue. Were there other motivations behind that decision? We should question that.) The Lancet is far from the worst offender here, and I think they’re rightfully regarded as the most trustworthy publication in their niche.

Most of the publications regarded as “serious”, have occasionally erred in this regard. But there are (and have been) many pseudo-scientific publications posing as science, and disseminating to a much broader audience, articles and material that is much more harmful – Popular Science, OMNI magazine, and etc. These publications were very entertaining, and their influence has certainly declined in the internet age; to be replaced by the innumerable sources of pseudoscientific and anti-scientific materials. These materials get picked up by the more pedestrian mainstream press, and very widely promoted and disseminated, particularly materials that back a particular, deliberate political agenda.

This is where the real harm is done. Because this affects the opinions and mindset of the general public, which has a very strong effect on public policy, particularly where public policy ought to be guided by scientific fact.

And in some cases, long-cherished and trusted publications, (for example: National Geographic) are subjected to “free market forces” (more pseudoscience, for you Economists out there. . . ) as corporate entities, and have been swept up in a trend of increasing ownership changes and consolidation, and these ownership changes often reflect a particular editorial bias towards utilizing the publication’s former trustworthy “brand” as a cynical tool to promote biased opinion, and to disseminate papers and articles with a pseudoscientific basis, in order to spread political propaganda, to influence popular opinion, and thus public policy, favorable to the common interests of the giant media corporations and their advertisers, which are frequently in contradiction to public interest, rational thinking, humanist values, and common sense.

A century ago, this was called “Yellow Journalism”.

A century ago, we did not have a global digital information network that could connect 5 billion people with cellular telephone devices equipped with social media applications and web browsers. (plus the other 2+ billion, connected with more primitive computing devices). A century ago, we did not have entire server farms dedicated to “AI” (another pseudoscience term, but I digress), programs capable of generating slanted, biased, and false content, bot-farms spewing postings with links to this misinformation millions of times faster than any sensible humans could review, moderate, debunk, or ever hope to slow down, let alone stop. A century ago, we did not have a 24×7 international cable television news network with hundreds of channels all spewing content, much of which is posing as unbiased journalism, while actually being used as a means of influence peddling, character assassination, and even extortion. A century ago, we did not have major world powers (including international organized crime) dedicating entire bureaucracies to leveraging these tools for Machiavellian gains. A century ago, we did not have hundreds of massively-funded private organizations and “think tanks” (like Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Free Congress Research and Education, Cato, Hudson, Hoover, Manhattan, etc), filled with thousands and thousands of partisan hacks, churning out policy opinion pieces, feeding into this ecosystem.

A century ago, we were not completely defenseless against this attack on our very cognitive tools that all humans share, that brought us together as a civilization in the first place, some tens of thousands of years ago.

So the question of harm caused by a few fraudulent papers leaking through the academic peer review process, to become published, and later, eventually debunked, to me, is not a problem. This is a feature, not a bug, of the Scientific Method. I think it’s fine.

The harm is caused by our catastrophically bad signal-to-noise ratio in what happens to those papers after they’re published, and how it leads to misinformation, and disinformation. This is not just a problem that is causing harm to scientific progress. This is an existential threat to humanity, and quite likely all life on this planet.

Giorgio Ganis June 2, 2019 2:24 PM

Fake research has been around for a while. Ever heard of Diederik Stapel?

If you want to keep track of this topic, one of the best sites is probably Retraction Watch: . Papers are retracted for many reasons, but often because the data were fabricated or manipulated.


Clive Robinson June 2, 2019 7:12 PM

@ Neil Prestemon,

The Lancet Paper – itself, was not necessarily indicative of a flawed process; because this paper was EVENTUALLY investigated, reviewed, and debunked.

Actually it was politically attacked by the UK Government, and major threats were issued against a number of people long before the Lancet withdrew the paper (after 12years and the reasoning quoted in the withdrawal is it’s self suspect). Likewise the GMC eventually spent 217days looking into it, an unheard of time.

The reason the whole thing was “political” from the outset was that parents had the temerity not to follow yet more bad medical advice from the UK Gov[1] made on what turned out to be purely financial motivation…

The supposed “debunking” did not follow any kind of real unbiased scientific process, just the hackned old trick of “reviewing selected papers” of interpreted population studies[2]. With such a process you can argue almost anything you selectively like.

Now it does not matter what you think about Dr Wakefield the other authors or the Royal Free Hospital in Hampsted North London. Put simply the water has been too muddied to make reliable observations. The only things we can say is that the study size was small, that due to lack of patient records[2] the study had to go in part on parental recolections, and for some reason unexplained three conditions were linked in the paper. Anything after that you will not be able to find out much that can be seen to be in anyway independent due to the political hatchet job done by the UK Gov.

But if you can find the paper and look there were thirteen authors on that paper. Can you name them or what happened to them? Journalists have made claims about “dishonesty” but if that is true of one what about the others? Surely they are not all innocent dupes? Ten apparently have claimed they actually never saw the paper that had their names on it!

We have no idea if this statment is true or not, it certainly did not come out for some time… Which raises the question is this sort of thing uncommon or common in medical research? Or perhaps we should ask was it a convenient or concocted way for those ten to try to get out of the firing line? If so where they in effect threatened or bribed. We know from the death of Dr David Kelly, the UK Gov will quite happily try to force people to be dishonest in giving evidence, and possibly worse, “kill the messenger”.

The only actual independent information you might still be able to find was the insurance risk costs set in the US were considerably higher for the combined MMR than that of the three seperate injections. As this was decided on information obtained prior to the Wakefield et al paper then the old question about “smoke without fire” arises.

From my point of view if the parents of a child wanted to go for what the US considered at the time to be the less risky three seperate injections rather than the classified as higher risk triple would you tell them they could not? Would you actively take steps to prevent them doing so? Would you make threats to criminalize such parents and take their children away from them?

Possibly not, but that is what the UK Gov decided as suitable tactics early on…

Oh of those involved on both sides the question of “did they have clean hands?” arose. Quess what was found some were in effect being payed by the drugs companies, but kind of forgot to mention it in research findings etc. Even the most senior Gov Dr was found to have been less than scrupulous in declairing where their money was comming from… However about the only thing you will find now is that Dr Wakefield had been used by the US legal profession as an “expert witness” or advisor, and he had some dealings in a similar capacity with the UK legal system, things that actually carry “A duty of confidentiality”…

So all we realy know is that after a lot of mud and threats were thrown about the Lancet eventualy gave way to political preasure in as minimal way as possible, due in the main not to the co-writers of the original paper disowning the paper, but due to a General Medical Council finding that was in essence unreliable linking of paper data to actual subject data…

But something else that rarely gets mentioned was the poisonous state in the GMC at the time. Junior Doctors had in effect declaired “no confidence” in the GMC seniors over their “too close relationship” with the Government and in effect selling junior doctors down the river. Something subsequent history suggests is rather more than an allegation, as can be seen by the number of GP practices now closing down.

What you also might not know is that UK Politicians and Civil Servants have a very long history of interfering with medicine and actively going against well found scientific and other competent advice, even when they have selected the advisors.

The result is many many unnecessary deaths can easily be laid at the UK Gov door[1]. However if you do so you get from them the same lie of “Best scientific evidence made available at the time” every time even when it can clearly be shown otherwise.

Yes I read a lot about things at the time and tried to find out what I could trying to sort the UK Gov propaganda from something approaching independent evidence. Personaly on what I found I can in no way blaim any parent who decided to go for the single jabs. However I can very much lay considerable blaim on the UK Government as to why now there is no actual research being carried out in this area, and it may be three or four generations before anyone dares.

But there is another thing we do know, which is autism is still rising and we do not know why[3]. Even though certain parts of the medical profession “Keep rearanging the deck chairs”.

But then this is not the first time we’ve seen this. Look into the history of “Pure White and Deadly” and the hand US “Big Agro” had in pushing what became a “Government vested interest” which has resulted in the premature deaths of millions and still does… Sugar is not “empty calories” it’s “Death loaded addictive calories” that you easily get hooked on, then go on to developing old age diseases in midlife or earlier. Oh and don’t forget life expectency is dropping in the US unlike other Western Nations (mainly in those who eat processed foods).

[1] For example have a look into hemophilia and the blood bourn diseases including HIV that those suffering from hemophilia have contracted and died from because of UK Gov insistence to carry on using low cost imported blood products that had not been tested or screened…

[2] Any time you see a paper that is a review of papers on population studies, you should throw it in the bin. The thing is population studies are based on medical record keeping that is at best scant, to actually being down right dishonest. If you have a dig around about drug follow ups they were rarely carried out longer than six months. Frequently they were payed for by the drugs companies who collected the raw data and almost invariably the raw imput data is never revealed, to even those with oversight requirments on drug safety thus independently verifying the results is virtually impossible. Thus reviews of such studies are often what programers call “GIGO” likewise reviews of such reviews… This poor medical record keeping is one of the reasons many doctors in the UK ask patients or their relatives for “life histories” because experience has taught them the unreliability of medical records…

[3] There is however a correlation between the inteligence of the fathers and the risk of their children having autism. If you are an “engineer” then your childrens risk is about 1/7th higher… But is it “intelligence” or the consequence of behaviours intelligent men tend to have in common in modern society…

Clive Robinson June 2, 2019 8:25 PM

@ Neil Prestemon,

One thing I forgot to mention.

You will often hear a statistic that “Immunization dropped 10%”. It’s actually known to be, to put it politely, inacurate at best. The reason is that the UK Gov very deliberately uses only their chosen “tripple vaccine” MMR figures… Because they very deliberately do not record the use of the single vaccines or other combined vaccines others think are less risky…

They also very deliberately don’t mention that due to a long running campaign to run down the NHS to make privatisation easier. That their policy of badly treating GPs and increasing the GP working hours has caused GP practices to close down due to a lack of new GPs and existing GPs becoming ill and leaving the profession very much earlier than they used to. Thus working parents who are on the bread line find it difficult to not just get a GP appointment they can attend but even get registered with a GP at all. Often children of either working single patents or double/triple job parents are getting excluded from schools and in some areas people move frequently thus children do not get continuity of health care let alone education and the second line health care that goes with it.

Contrary to what is continuously implied with that 10% quote that gets thrown about, the levels of vaccination against the three diseases is simply unknown…

Further if they are down currently as the continued use of the 10% statistic trys to imply, it’s actually unlikely to be still down due to the “MMR Scare” that was largely of the UK Gov’s own making ably assisted by a compliant part of the UK MSM. Why because other vacinations are down some apparently further than 10% and the accusing finger is now being turned to the more recent “free range children” parents who apparently don’t vaccinate at all.

Oh and also apparently with one vaccine it’s new era puritism, apparently some parents believe that giving the vaccine in question to their daughters will debase their daughters morals…

But the original point stands, what ever people may think of Dr Wakefield, there were lots and lots of other irregularities going on all over the place on all sides so much so the real truth of not just the incident but the medical research environment in which the various things happened may remain for ever under the rocks it crawled away to hide under. Oh and as we are now finding out with the likes of Boeing and it’s regulators theres lot’s of wheels that don’t have helmsmen any longer.

Thus it appears that it is likely that many other science and regulatory environments have sunk to lows where only scandals part the curtains briefly, flashing light on the deep depths of both moral and fiscal corruption pervading these environments.

Jack June 3, 2019 8:53 PM

This is another glaring example of “academic merit” being a sham in some not all cases thereby muddying the playing field into obscurity composed of tenureship, meritocracy, seniority, and all those jargons designed to keep outsiders out of Academics.

Fraud or “cheating” isn’t only rampant in one field. This goes true for all fields of academics in general. If a scientific topic such as medicine and technology can be defrauded, then I can only imagine other fields of study some judged entirely by “panels of experts” (in other words, insiders) are more rampant in practice.

This isn’t stricly limited to copying and “stealing” other people’s ideas. Some papers were produced thru what akin to “academic pipelines” that were entirely worked on by understudies while the respective top feeder simply claim a “leadership” position.

IMHO, this is worse than the great many diploma mills and certification dojos that are so prevailantly visited by job seekers to pay money for NWO (new world order) job equalifications.

Jesse Thompson June 3, 2019 10:00 PM


Peer review still happened in this case, it was just “post peer review” rather than “prior peer review”.

OK, I have very little experience in Academia itself. In it’s current form in the US I’d rate it as primarily a machine to thin the accredited population on not only skill or dedication (which is good) but willingness to burn money (usually parent’s money) which is plutocratic.

But if “Prior peer review” involves papers not being broadly circulated until some gatekeeper journal with a reputation to uphold certifies it, and then it gains score by being cited by others (very 19th/20th century model), and “Post peer review” involves publishing broadly first and then retracting upon challenge (very 21st century wiki-like model) then how about the following approach?

Publish first, possibly on one’s own blog. And while “published” material means nothing by itself, this at least offers maximal transparency and reduces the potential for file drawer syndrome.

And then the role of the large organizations with reputations to uphold (aka “journals”) is no longer to directly publish the material, but instead to aggregate and certify already published material that they have vetted in some way and/or replicated.

Thus the trustworthiness of any given publication can instead be measured by how many trustworthy individuals or journals endorse it, and that also gives a journal the motivation to aggregate news for profit (21st century Reddit model) instead of artificially limiting access to it for profit.

If that’s an approach there are any obvious flaws in, I’d be interested to learn more. Thank you. 🙂

Alyer Babtu June 4, 2019 5:56 AM

As was understood long ago (sophists vs philosophers) it’s corrupting to make pay a part of knowledge and teaching. However, as a practical matter people have to eat, so there has to be some provision for material support. A tricky balance. But clearly a lot of journals and institutions have gone the wrong way on this and attend primarily to lucre, parasitizing the good of knowledge.

Faustus June 4, 2019 9:39 AM

@ Alyer Babtu

“it’s corrupting to make pay a part of knowledge and teaching”

I so agree. With sites like Patreon and its ilk we have writers, thinkers, and philosophers who have been co-opted by their fans. If they dare to learn anything and shift their opinions they risk losing their income. These people cannot be considered serious thinkers anymore. They are simply intellectuals of easy virtue, so to speak.

We need more thinkers like Grigori Perelman who refuse to be put out on the street.

The old system of tenure at university is a fine way to pay people and put them beyond the reach of popular opinion. Unfortunately that is being dismantled in favor of people only being told what they already believe. I think it is the death of the university. That, and the extortionate fees for a generally mediocre education, from professors generally little interested in teaching when their career depends on publishing. And not saying anything that challenges the immeasurable wisdom and knowledge and experience of 17 year olds.

The capper is that we have made university so expensive that we are supposed to give everyone one of these devalued educations at the expense of the public, propping up the price for a piece of paper that means very little.

It is certainly beneficial to have instruction from committed teachers. 10% of my teachers gave me 99% of my university education. But I learned much much more from my personal studies and business experiences than I every learned at university.

If the university cash cow keeps showing so little promise we should slaughter it for the best cuts and leave the rest for the dogs and the flies.

Clive Robinson June 4, 2019 9:33 PM

@ Faustus, Alyer Babtu,

That, and the extortionate fees for a generally mediocre education, from professors generally little interested in teaching when their career depends on publishing.

There are three things there,

1, Extotionate fees,
2, Mediocre teaching,
3, Publish or be damed.

That hide that Universities are atleast bi-polar in form.

That is there is two value added streams,

1, Research,
2, Education.

The question thus arises as to why historically these two mainly non complementry streams were forced to co-exist? And why they are still together currently and I presume for the foreseeable future?

Look at it this way you don’t expect your high school physics teacher to have a Nobel Prize or be looking to be put forward for one. In fact you would probably be more than somewhat discoraged if they did.

That is there is a clear distinction between imparting knowledge in a way favourable to a teaching process and finding new knowledge by research, and the two are not realy complementary so you actually would not expect to find many effective researchers who can also be effective teachers and vice-versa.

I should be clear here I am making a clear distinction between,

1, Diseminating new information.
2, Teaching existing knowledge.

And they clearly have two seperate paths that is “Publishing papers” ment for other practicioners at peer level in the field of endevor. Production of books and learning materials for teaching entrants into a field of endevor.

Yes there is a cross over point from learning to be and actually being in a field of endevor. In the past where the theoretical knowledge was low but the practical “hands on” skills high we used to call such people a “Journeyman”. With time and as more theoretical knowledge had to be learned we moved from the “artisan and journeyman” model we had “apprentices” and “teachers” for the theoretical knowledge and “Craft Masters” for the skills. In both cases the journeyman / apprentice was supposed to pay for their education by producing actuall work their master could sell and in so doing pay the teacher usualky through Guild contributions / thiething. However as the required theoretical knowledge to practical skill level increased to the point practical skills might not even be required “students” from the notion of studying derived from observation. Students were expected to pay their tutors and teachers, thus for several centuries theoretical knowledge was held within the provinence of Churches, Guilds and Universities in effect captured and held by the landed wealthy and some skillful artisans. Thus ther was a political powercsystem in place which remained in effect as artisans started to transition to scientists and engineers. Where work was nolonger carried out to time evolved “patterns” that were information / recipes held as Guild or Trade Secrets but to the rigours of mathmatics and the meritocracy it and the laws of natural philosophy brought forth, from the use of what we call “the scientific method” of “true enquiry” not “conjecture”.

For some reason the tutor / teacher model which is considered fine for schooling, was not considered fine for Universities and the Churches behind them. In effect they were considered almost as “work places” thus the journeyman or apprentice model was considered more appropriate. As a result we have a three tier system of the taught degree, the research doctorate and between them the masters degree which is where the product of the taught degree is applied to the field of endevor to the point the person should have mastered the field of endevor to be either an practitioner/engineer or researcher/scientist. The research degree or doctorate did not as such become either popular or a requirment in Europe untill after the First World War, and even after WWII it was possible to enter acadenia and become tenured without having a Doctorate. There are even now places in Europe where the title “Doctor” is by position/post not qualification with in some places an actuall Doctorate issued much as some Masters were by working in the field of endevor for a minimum period of time. I have a friend who went to a well known English University who jokes about his “Five pound Masters diploma”.

Interestingly is what has happened to the “Guilds” these are now our trade institutions who can and do award professional rather than academic certifications. These still very much have the notion of “time served” built into their award structures, thus no matter how cleaver you have to have been a “practicing/full member” for a number of years or “over a certain age”. Unfortunatly such institutions for reasons of power and prestige are trying to become “Profesional Institutions recognised under law” that is you have to be not just a registered member kow-towing to the regime, you have to in effect beg their indulgance for a licence to be able to practice what is at the end of the day your trade by which you earn your living. It is in effect a “protection racket” where in effect the unacountable hand down commandments and edicts like tablets of stone by devine right. Which at the end of the day is just another “King Game” enforced by authoritarian followers onto the masses under some illusion of “quality standard regulation” to form a “closed shop” cartel or Monopoly primarily designed to enrich those “inside the club” at the expense of those outside by creating an artificial scarcity.

This “closed shop” racket also moved into academia ably assisted by others in the “King Game” thus “tenured position” is actually an “insiders club” which can also be a sinecure as originally intended if the insider wishes it to be so. Which is where the idea of getting those further through their taught degree to actually teach those at an earlier stage. Often such tutoring was done mearly for academic standing which is yet another “insider club” however in the current world it is also payed a pittance via the University administration or bursary. Some current Universities have realised that they can do away with the sinecure positions and their trappings and replace tenured proffessors with pittence paid tutors and research grant finding academics who are in effect “fee arrangers” for PhD contenders. They do the research, again for a pitance, and if they keep their noses clean and cead any entitlement to what they might discover they might eventually be awarded a PhD. Whithout which of course they can not hope to cross over from being an outsider to an insider. The reality is this in no way benifits original research, just the pockets of a small self elected clique.

But this clique is seen by others to be of no benifit, thus should be starved out… Because the new game in town is the “Hedge Fund University”. That is some see well known Universities as “cash rich investment instruments”. That cash is the students tuition fees and bequests and the like.

Thus the trade is big bucks fees for second rate tuition at best, for a prestigious name on your degree certificate. And with luck you will make an entry into certain circles that become “old boy networks” that you can use to “network” your way up the greasy pole for the rest of your life…

Such are the ways of “insider club” protection rackets that are just a variation on the King Game. Which is all many Universities in various nations have become.

Danny June 5, 2019 3:06 AM

@Clive Robinson wrote, “Such are the ways of “insider club” protection rackets that are just a variation on the King Game. Which is all many Universities in various nations have become.”

Historically, “academia” controls our civilization’s knowledge stream. It dictates what becomes Knowledge or not. Governments often hinges on “academia” for answers to their “problems” because it is very good at providing pages of justifications under the guise of prestige. This is an important part of the control hierarchy in any type of society, democratic or not.

The Guilds and Social Clubs often behave in a brother/sisterhood fashion. It is under these venues a secret government can operate under the guise of benevolence. This isn’t unsimilar to what we know as “panels of experts” when it comes to closed-door decision making. This is part of the reason why a true democracy is strictly “Mob rule” in practice. Because at some point in the control hierarchy, we must delegate power to those who are “smarter than us” and this is where a system is prone to be hijacked.

A Nonny Bunny July 13, 2019 1:39 PM


90% is not that high an accuracy rate. Also, there is no indication of the rate of false positives versus false negatives. It is unlikely they are the same. What is the assumed real-world prevalence of cheating?

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the baseline for students paying a ghostwriter to write their assignment is far, far smaller than 10%. And consequently the bulk of the error must by false positives.
You would get an overall accuracy much higher than 90% just by always guessing “not ghostwritten”.

Jack Manson July 13, 2023 8:08 AM

A well-written essay on a very important topic. Forgery of academic works or their plagiarism, as well as the presence of false information in them, is a big problem today. I know a lot about this, as I am a senior student at the university. I want to say that if it is worth ordering academic papers somewhere, then I advise the website where really professional authors will help you with your assignments. Each work that I received from them was unique and passed all the tests for a good score. As stated in the article, you should not trust unreliable sources of information, always check what you write about, and if you encounter difficulties, then contact a good service for help.

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