Fake news became a real problem in the last year. It’s amazingly easy to set up an online publication that looks legit. Websites can be created in minutes and the cost of publishing on the Internet is so low, anyone can afford to do it. However, as big a problem as ‘fake news’ has become, there’s an even bigger problem brewing, and it has its roots in the same soil.
That problem is fake science. A recent article by Alan Burdick in the New Yorker Magazine says there has been an explosion in fraudulent science journals who will publish any kind of drivel for pay. The article says that “In exchange for a hefty fee, these journals—with names such as Journal of Clinical Toxicology and Enzyme Engineering—offered quick peer review, which often meant no review whatsoever.”
In Science, its publish or perish. Being published is an important step in a scientist’s career path. But scientific journals are unique; they seldom make much money. Their operating costs are supported by institutions and high-priced subscriptions. Many legitimate journals charge the authors to be included. But, those articles are peer-reviewed and subject to intense scrutiny; they are how scientists on opposites sides of the country or the world share their research.
And that fact creates an opportunity for con men to get rich creatively.
Jeffrey Beall, a professor and librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, was blogging about these journals. He identified more than 1100 publishers of what he calls ‘Predatory Journals’ – of which there are now tens of thousands. He said that many predatory publishers also now run bogus conferences, often with names similar to existing ones, to dupe researchers into submitting papers for a nonrefundable fee. You can find a fake scientific article. with what looks like legitimate research, on just about any crazy idea you want and it will support anything you want it to support.
So what can we do about these predatory journals?
Just as we are learning to check our news sources and to separate fake news from legitimate reporting, we need to check our scientific sources and make sure we’re not being led down the rabbit hole by a con artist. Use the smell test – if it smells fishy, don’t trust it without verification. When it comes to new and unbelievable claims, It’s time to question everything and demand proof. That’s not much of an answer, but it’s all we got right now.
The Western View Commentary is (c) 2017 by Len Wilcox