Inside the Fake Science Factories


@sveckert, @tillkrause, Peter Hornung and Dr Dade Murphy

Playlists: '35c3' videos starting here / audio / related events

This talk investigates fake science factories; international twilight companies whose sole purpose is to give studies an air of scientific credibility while cashing in on millions of dollars in the process. We present the findings, outcomes and methodology from a team of investigative journalists, hackers and data scientists who delved into the parallel universe of fraudulent pseudo-academic conferences and journals. The story was published in Germany (ARD and Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin) in mid of July and then went around the world. How did it begin? What did we learn in the process? And: What happened since the story got published?

Until recently, fake science factories have remained relatively under the radar, with few outside of academia aware of their presence; but the highly profitable industry has been growing significantly in the last five years and with it, so are the implications. To the public, fake science is often indistinguishable from legitimate science, which is facing similar accusations itself. We expose the scale and value of two fake science operations: Well-known institutions and professors who abuse this route of publication for personal gain and the deadly consequences when the public believe in fake cures or weird discoveries that seem scientific at a very first glance. Beyond the pressure to publish, we find varying motivations from paid vacations and promotions to obtaining stipends and research grants. Our findings highlight the prevalence of the pseudo-academic conferences, journals and publications and the damage they can and are doing to society.

For 35C3 we did some extra analytics and will publish new numbers, how pseudo-academic publishing has dropped since the story got out in several countries in July 2018.

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