fake journal articles

First Fake News, Now Faked Academic Papers by the Thousands

6 June 2024

3.1 MINS

Academic publisher Wiley and Sons has announced that it is closing 19 journals and has retracted more than 11,300 papers that appeared compromised. At least two other prestigious academic publishers – IOP Publishing and Springer Nature – have retracted great numbers of suspect papers each, and several other journals have pulled smaller numbers of dubious papers.

Worse news is that artificial intelligence (AI) is going to make the faking of all manner of online communication, including academic papers and news, much, much easier to do and infinitely worse in reach and consequences.

Given this grave situation, if the Albanese Government thinks that a misinformation and disinformation bill will serve to counter the effects of the coming explosion of fake news, images, videos, essays and academic writings, it is delusional.

The fraud that has hit Wiley and others is not an academic fraud as such – researchers faking results or modifying statistics or any such manipulation – but is the work of what are called “paper mills”.

These are bogus online businesses that offer to list a researcher as an author of a fabricated paper for a price. The paper mill then submits the paper, often to several journals at the one time to maximise the chance of being published. They often choose one-off special editions that might not undergo as thorough a review as an ordinary edition does, which gives them a better chance of getting published.

Wiley and Sons is no fly-by-night newcomer in publishing. It has been in existence since 1807 and is a major publisher of academic books, encyclopedias and journals. It is a New York Stock Exchange-listed public company with a market capitalisation of $US2.1 billion ($A3.16 billion) and had revenue of $US1.93 billion in the year to the end of April 2024.

So, if Wiley, a gold-standard publisher if there ever was one, can become victim of such fraudsters, it hardly needs to be said that presumably the rot goes deep into the industry and no doubt we can expect many similar exposures of fraud from lesser publishing players in the near future.

Researchers track paper mills through their advertisements and websites, and have traced them to several countries, including Russia, Iran, Latvia, China and India. The fees that the mills charge range from about $A75 to $A10,000.

Springer Nature has rejected more than 8,000 papers from a suspected paper mill. And, in 2022, IOP Publishing made the discovery of nearly 900 fake papers.

“Generative AI has just handed them a winning lottery ticket,” Kim Eggleton, head of peer review at IOP told The Wall Street Journal. “They can do it really cheap, at scale, and the detection methods are not where we need them to be. I can only see that challenge increasing.”

Proposed Laws Useless

Artificial intelligence is opening up new avenues for fraud that we have not even imagined yet.

As Patrick J. Byrne wrote in November 2023, it is hard to know how large digital platforms are to comply with any proposed misinformation and disinformation legislation when the proportion of online media content that will be produced by AI and trolls is set to explode.

Quite apart from the doubtful wisdom of considering legislation that will require legislators to define what comprises misinformation and disinformation, particularly in regard to political statements – are the members of our state and federal governments at this time of such a calibre that we should trust them to be “neutral” in that deliberation – the sheer volume of fraudulent content available online will render any such legislation entirely mute.

It will be simply impossible to police, and consequently, any efforts to do so will inevitably fail – and, along the way, will implicate numbers of the innocent and the slightly foolish, along with any truly malicious players who get dragged up in the net.

Let it be said that it is never wise to put in place laws that will not and, in this case, cannot be policed. It undermines the educational function of law, which is not to be dismissed as an esoteric fancy – the farce of the so-called “war on drugs” testifies to the result of underestimating this function of the law – when people experience as a matter of course that a law is not enforced.

Thus, that on so many counts it can be damaging to the body politic and civil society itself to enact such legislation, to do so would be the ultimate unwisdom. Let us hope there is someone somewhere who can advise our Federal Government not to proceed with the plan. On the record of the Albanese Government so far, it would seem to be a forlorn hope.

Rather than government pontificating on what is information and what is dis and misinformation, may it step back from the authoritarian model and allow the citizenry to practise the virtues of prudence and justice and learn to recognise the difference for themselves.

In the meantime, what is urgently needed is a wide national debate on AI.


Republished with thanks to News Weekly. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock Images.

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One Comment

  1. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 6 June 2024 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Just more rotteness from the World we live in. We all know that Albanese’s “Misinformaton + Disinformation “Law will do NOTHING to stop all this. It’s just another way to prevent we , the people, from knowing the Truth of what is going on. It is just Marxist cohercion to run our lives and stay in power for ever , ie Labor’s dictatorship. We are as Naomi Wolf said in her book in a new Dark Age because people have turned from God which has left us to be enslaved by the Oligarchs.

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