Ramblings on academic-related matters. For information on my research see https://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/research/oxford-study-of-children-s-communication-i

BishopBlog: Defence against the dark arts: a proposal for a new MSc course

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2023-11-19 19:00:08

Ramblings on academic-related matters. For information on my research see https://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/research/oxford-study-of-children-s-communication-impairments. Twin analysis blog: http://dbtemp.blogspot.com/ . ERP time-frequency analysis blog: bishoptechbits.blogspot.com/ . For tweets, follow @deevybee.

Since I retired, an increasing amount of my time has been taken up with investigating scientific fraud. In recent months, I've become convinced of two things: first, fraud is a far more serious problem than most scientists recognise, and second, we cannot continue to leave the task of tackling it to volunteer sleuths. 

If you ask a typical scientist about fraud, they will usually tell you it is extremely rare, and that it would be a mistake to damage confidence in science because of the activities of a few unprincipled individuals. Asked to name fraudsters they may, depending on their age and discipline, mention Paolo Macchiarini, John Darsee, Elizabeth Holmes or Diederich Stapel, all high profile, successful individuals, who were brought down when unambiguous evidence of fraud was uncovered. Fraud has been around for years, as documented in an excellent book by Horace Judson (2004), and yet, we are reassured, science is self-correcting, and has prospered despite the activities of the occasional "bad apple". The problem with this argument is that, on the one hand, we only know about the fraudsters who get caught, and on the other hand, science is not prospering particularly well - numerous published papers produce results that fail to replicate and major discoveries are few and far between (Harris, 2017). We are swamped with scientific publications, but it is increasingly hard to distinguish the signal from the noise. In my view, it is getting to the point where in many fields it is impossible to build a cumulative science, because we lack a solid foundation of trustworthy findings. And it's getting worse and worse.

My gloomy prognosis is partly engendered by a consideration of a very different kind of fraud: the academic paper mill. In contrast to the lone fraudulent scientist who fakes data to achieve career advancement, the paper mill is an industrial-scale operation, where vast numbers of fraudulent papers are generated, and placed in peer-reviewed journals with authorship slots being sold to willing customers. This process is facilitated in some cases by publishers who encourage special issues, which are then taken over by "guest editors" who work for a paper mill. Some paper mill products are very hard to detect: they may be created from a convincing template with just a few details altered to make the article original. Others are incoherent nonsense, with spectacularly strange prose emerging when "tortured phrases" are inserted to evade plagiarism detectors.

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