Inside the Fake Science Factory

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Inside the Fake Science Factory
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Fake News has got a sidekick and it's called Fake Science. This talk presents the findings 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; Fake science factories, twilight companies whose sole purpose is to give studies an air of scientific credibility while cashing in on millions of dollars in the process. Until recently, these fake science factories have remained relatively under the radar, with few outside of academia aware of their presence; but the highly profitable industry is growing significantly and with it, so are the implications. To the public, fake science is indistinguishable from legitimate science, which is facing similar accusations itself. Our findings highlight the prevalence of the pseudo-academic conferences, journals and publications and the damage they can and are doing to society.
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who is excited for the last two hour talk of the day these guys have some awesome things they're gonna show an and girl so with no further delay please give a warm welcome to Sven til and Sookie presenting at DEFCON 26 inside the safe fake science Factory oh yeah and if one falls over the other one because of the law of mics I'll help them up but yeah let's let's get you guys untangled first alright give another round of pause so high def con hi everyone thanks for having us this is amazing this is such an honor to speak in front of such a great audience here my name is still till Kraus I'm a reporter and investigative journalist from tsuitachi title Germany suited Saito magazine a big magazine from the German newspaper and we're glad to be here today my name thanks my name is fair I am also an investigative reporter from Germany's biggest broadcaster ard and the reason why or one reason why we are here and why we are really excited to be here is
that the whole research you're gonna see now started right here DEFCON so this is for us also kind of a way of saying Thank You Def Con because of what this conference makes possible and it started because last year I had a talk here and I'm met Chris how about now I had that same thing last year I should learn I'm Chris also answer to sucky I work for the Online Privacy Foundation and I'm also a member of the DEFCON CFP Review Board I didn't vote on my own talk honestly so to get you started I mean this is a really long talk but it's basically divided into two parts so what we're going to do now is give you the presentation and have a little bit of time for question answers and then you're in for a treat because we're gonna go show you a documentary film that we made about the subject matter that we're not talking about so you'll be well entertained I think I hope and after this documentary we will still have some time for questions and answers so if you guys want to know anything more that we're talking about we're here to answer your questions and before we
totally dive into this fake science Factory what what does it even mean right so we will talk today about something that pretends to be science but in fact it's just bogus or you could even call it sometimes so and in order to understand how important it is let's think a little bit about what science means for society right so when you talk about science it's not just academics working in ivory towers doing research the results really influence the world how we see the world our perception of the world what kind of things we buy what medications we take how political decisions are influenced a lot of this is based on science and this makes it really important that science is actually working the whole process of scientific publication so about a year
ago I was fairly far along with some research and with the researcher wanted to present an abstract and some preliminary findings a conference so I found this one the 19th International
Conference on political psychology submitted an abstract it got accepted we were pretty delighted with that and that's a very standard thing to do in academia so that you can discuss your results with peers and that forms like the rest of your decision on how you write the rest of the paper so off I went to Copenhagen in Denmark in October last year excited about the conference you know kind of breaking it about the presentation and this was the conference
not not a room in the conference that's the conference and all the attendees except me but I just thought well maybe that's like an admin error or something but then the talk started and bearing in mind I've submitted on political psychology the talks before mine were on urban planning advanced Islamic finance I'm not even sure that really is robotics farming all sorts of things you know get there they say oK you've got five minutes to present five minutes that you know before they said it was twenty minutes so you get those five it's like all of a sudden you're thinking this is a little bit weird what the so this sort of shenanigans has actually got a name as I found out I'm the sort of schmuck that goes to these sort of places apparently and it's called
predatory publishing and Chile's gonna talk to us a little bit more about that so predatory publishing what is this so we try to nail it down to some sort of a
formula based on Albert Einstein euro is MC square so this means that what
predatory publishers are doing is they take something that is either scientific like your talk or something that is utterly non-scientific they mix it all together to make a lot of money and there's a definition for this of course so this is this is kind of a broader broader social sociological problem where you see that those meetings are set up to peer appear as if there are science but they're not because nobody is actually really looking at that what what what people are publishing there so my question to you guys would be who here is either scientist or has a scientific background and owes a little bit about that let's have a show of hands all right that's quite a few people but for the for the rest of us I'd just give you a very brief tour of how publications in the scientific world usually work so you live in a good academic journal you have an idea for a paper you submit it and editor checks it and could either reject it straight away or sends it to a
process that is called peer review so peer review is something where other scientists other researchers who have some knowledge in that field and look at your manuscript and make suggestions they look it's the mythology okay it's the data set okay are the conclusions in any way coherent and they read the paper they make suggestions and they can again reject it straight away if the same artist doesn't make any sense or they have it for revision and a friend of mine who's a scientist they he calls the peer review a big pain in the ass basically because people always have some suggestions and it's a very very long and painful process it can it can take months so it goes back and forth
you can have to resubmit it another peer review another possibility of rejection but then in the end after a long time it gets subjected so a little disclaimer here the peer-review process as we know it from the big journals that we know off either open access journals on the internet or printed journals it is not a perfect process sometimes weird papers could slip through the the companies who run those big publications that there's a big monopolies here a lot of money to be made so this is not a perfect system but the whole idea of other scientists reviewing manuscripts still is kind of like the gold standard for academic publishing so when we look at those
predatory journals things look quite a bit different so the only thing they have in common is there is a submission so somebody submits a paper there then you've got some superficial comments if at all then you have to make a payment and then it's accepted so quite easy right
so in order to to to understand what we're talking about here we have to make clear there are hundreds if not thousands of predatory publishers out there they're a little bit like this Nigerian email scam that you guys probably know a lot about yeah they send out emails in bulk trying to recruit authors people to send their manuscripts there and we looked at the five major companies behind that one of them is was it where you presented all makes is another one from India so those are the ones where a lot of journalists are published they have a lot of conference going on so these are the major players in this field so after finding out about this whole project free publishing thing I wanted two things wanted the 450 euros back and I mean that the the 450 euro things pretty standard if you've been to like an I Triple E conference you have to pay for a ten a tendancy so it's like I didn't spot anything there but more importantly I wanted my intellectual property back if anybody's written an abstract it's kind of a pain in the arse and it takes a long time so having to rewrite it so it doesn't fall prey of some sort plagiarism engine is a bit of a frustrating thing so I asked was it for my money back in them to withdraw the paper and they were like no you signed the form here they are so you know I had to have to then go to the credit card company and explain what a press conference was and that's not that easy so you know you went to a conference yes but it wasn't really a conference right but there was a conference sort of so I had to write a detailed description for that and also to send to the UK fraud authorities kind of explain what was what was going on so I could get my money back I took all the information I'd written up and I just put it on a wordpress site Wasat watched WordPress comm I also have found all the authors that were going to be attending in the next 12 months and emailed all of those folks that were from universities and said hey you might be going to a shitty conference I also
created a Twitter account why sit watch to warn people who were talking about Wasat and I also pings failure here who I met last year at Def Con and said this
this is exactly the message I received and I would say don't mess with him because he knows me I'm badass on saturdays and and this is yeah where where the story begins with the whole investigation so we decided as a media organization to dive into it and to go on research this as deep as we could and to really kind of rip them apart so I teamed up with Till and also with another good colleague of mine which together we are quite a big investigative research cooperation in Germany and one of the first things what we thought what we should do was need some help and I don't know who saw my talk last year knows that I love to dress up so so we needed some help and my alter ego was Isabella Steen and we decided to to become scientists and Isabella died and she was from University the University of Himmel Fortin him reportin it's a village in Germany and an old couple of hundreds people living there and we believe that Santa Claus is coming from there so it was Isabella it was Isabella Stein from this pictures niversity and also together with my good colleague we submitted a fake paper this paper was
randomly Jenner generated by a company by a computer algorithm that there's more I'm sure I'm sure you you all get that right this is a very neat neat program you can find it on the web it's called seijin and some MIT students invented this this program you just have to type in your name your fixtures name and then a paper jumps out and this was the one when we typed in our pictures name this was the paper which came out so fake
paper number one a sting operation we
decided to go to the same conference people where Chris was they call
themselves Buzzard the world Academy of Science and Technology and we hardly believed ourselves when they invited us for the conference so we went to London
this is not this one we went to London in January and presented there and yeah
let's let's see how Isabella Stein and Christiane Ballmer how they did and we
really we've read it out loud
let's see if we get that running so yes
the first one it's it's it it's it's edited a little bit introduce us so they
might colleague is a Palestine also from from University of Applied Sciences see here now is the relationship between our solution and the analysis of the memory
processes miracles this occasion where you would need a theory of wrap like trees but we for pausing of that solution we use the 90s Nintendo Gameboy
give on the system the higher the scalability guts and that's what we wanted to achieve
I would also state you all know this procedure
particularism reflection on a job too
introduced us a full day smite Kali is a Philistine the also came from sorry thank you [Applause] the hardest part was was really not not laughs and and I and I have to admit after our Little Theater we nearly ran out the room in the next room and and we couldn't stop it for a while so but I mean it's funny but on the other hand it's it's sad at once
and everybody applauded and I think they were very polite people polite scientists but also there were no computer experts so there was probably a chemist or or biologist or a film critical critics person so they they couldn't know about what we were speaking and this is also a reason why these conferences are so she did oh I didn't want to spoil that one so this one is the organizer this was
the only person there who was from the world Academy of Science and Technology and I asked him who are you what's your name and he Bali he did not want to answer and he mumbled something like I'm only a student from Cyprus and I don't know anything about this sentence so we kind of it stopped here in London because we yeah we could not find out who is that guy and who is behind was it and this was also a time when we needed some help more from a hacker person to dive deeper so I called
a a friend of mine Andrew McPherson and Andrew Macpherson's like employee number one of pitar you make multigo I don't know if you've not heard multigo it's kind of a a tool for exploring relationships and technical and non-technical contacts since it's pretty awesome and the creator of multigo created this graphic for us because he was pretty excited by the talk - so in
order to try and find out a little bit more about who's behind this was it dog organization we listen to multigo rather and we did on this occasion and we run a transform that shows entries from who is and we found out that wasit dog was using CloudFlare which is you know a little bit of a pain because it's a bit of a dead end but not really a pain
because what we found with wasa dog is that was using the same tracking cookie as is org I asked dog and Wasat calm then if we look at the IP ownership for those guys we see it links to a guy called Bora our dill Bora our dill is the guy and the student they're the student there they're a surveyor met in London Bora our dill also post some PHP freaks under the name or the alias of
Globus and you can get some interesting information about the sort of the structure of the asset organization by some of his posts on the HP freak so
back to multigo and looking at the Whois information we also see there that if we look at the AI org practice this a million times it references a gentleman called Kimmel our deal I'm not sure from pronouncing that right but this is the
guy here Kamal's really the saw the the top of the tree for wasit org and I watch it dog it's a family business he's borrows father and there's an over our deal as well involved three of them we think if we look at Borah he's also registered a turn of over a conference he type DNS names 83 in total like conference university and scientific conference and stuff like that so in total asset host
about 13 events in 13 different cities each month so they're quite busy 5,000 conference conference titles a month a year that's 157 events 48 cities 35 countries and 50 3467 conference titles in total anything you can think of and if it's not there there's an opportunity to suggest one so we estimated based on
about 20 to 25 submissions events that they're making or the annual revenues about 3.8 million euros a year or about four and a half million US dollars even if there are overheads for the hotel rooms and they don't necessarily need to book the hotel conference rooms all day I come from so lasted two whole hours so even if it got some two million that's quite a lot of revenue a profit that they're making from from listen this is just why sit oh yeah another video yeah
we we of course tried to speak with them about this so we went to another conference in Berlin but this time in TV
and satoshi title we have several questions to you science this was a
scientific conference so what is scientific about this conference martica wasn't of the ifc people that love you just need let me go to the luggage police radio and TV and the end of it so
we got thrown out we we got thrown out
and we we did we didn't get any answers
from them until today so the only
answers or the only information we have are the information we have from from Chris okay so after this encounter with these weird people and this weird conferences we really thought okay let's
let's look deeper into what's going on
there we know that a lot of those conference organisers also have a publication arm where they publish journals and scientific articles so we thought okay if they accept any computer-generated nonsense and you had a good laugh at that because you obviously were able to see what kind of crap that was and let's see it let's try to put this on the next level right let's try to have an scientific article published in one of their journals so we'd really try to think what would the bad guys do right so we try to have a we invented a cancer cure complete nonsense and have the goal to have it published in one of the journals so that we could say well this is a scientifically proven medication that we could then sell for example over the internet because who would buy just some random medication on the internet when you can buy one that says this is proven by scientists in a peer-reviewed journal so what we did we
for some reason we like bees because bees are awesome can be sealed cancer probably not but who knows right in the world of scientific publications that are fake anything's possible so we
invented another institution the e Favier Institute we made a Twitter account and a website a Twitter account logo actually is the German symbol for recycling so this was a little hint for that for the trash that we're gonna put out to the world the CEO of this is dr. Richard Fulton which in Germany means air a full moon which means invented so the whole thing was was was was pretty bad and we submitted a paper to one of the journals from omics which is one of the biggest companies in that field the Journal of integrative oncology looks legit' at a very first glance so we wrote a paper saying that the backs that beasts produce can have a better effect on cancer treatment than chemotherapy so we just we just said that right there was no proof we said oh yeah we had some patients and we basically asked them as long as we wanted until they actually said yeah we feel better this was our mythology and we we made some other outrageous claims for example we said well one of the reasons why bees may be a good you know therapy option for cancer patients is because bees don't get cancer right makes perfect sense the other argument we had was that well the general nature of bees you know how they fly around and those are really happy animals that pretty much suggests that they're probably a good way to treat cancer and we even because we're scientists we quoted a book you know we just didn't say that bees have a very very happy nature we looked it up in a book and recorded it in reference section the only problem is it's a
children's book we really we really try to make it low stake so that anybody not not as not like that the a Nobel prize-winning scientist is needed to find out that this is utterly nonsense right but guess
what happened after a couple of days we got to review comments back from the publisher and they said oh yeah this provides important experimental and preclinical evidences there was no evidence at all it was just completely invented they had some minor Corrections that they didn't understand an abbreviation what s ITF means which is not hard that they didn't understand it because we just made it up so we said oh yeah si T f stands for signal infer Transfer Protocol and they said oh sure yeah okay and we got an email around ten
days after we handed in the sub the manuscript and the paper was accepted and published and they wanted to have two thousand euros so two points something thousand dollars the publication fee which we never paid and they still publish the paper so it was online there and it doesn't stop there so after a while when the paper was online we received several emails from other predatory publishers inviting us to be editors at cancer journals and one email that I put up on the screen here we got invited to be keynote speakers at a breast cancer conference in Paris so what a career right we just invented this whole operation and within two weeks we had a scientific publication that we could put on the website and saying this is officially peer-reviewed we were able to speak at a conference and were editors of journals so if we really had to plan to sell this fake medication we would have some arguments now and this sounds funny at first and believe us we had a lot of fun doing this but it's actually really serious because this is much something that we just made up this is something that is really happening so there are various medications or
alleged medications out there which are proven in this journals for example it's it did not took us a long time to find G Sima G seamoth is supposed to help against last stage cancer and a variety of other other illnesses you you may have and it is a something that you take it and then your immune system gets so strong that cancer is is beaten so and they advertised with this studies really yeah
quite often so we just want to show or give you a short glimpse of what you can do with these studies 300 scientists
from eight nations have written a hundred and fifty scientific research papers on Chiefs EMF to scientists but we have written 32 of them yes this is advertisement gone gone that it that
it'll play and you will see now testimonials from this company I took the GC math twice a week and after three weeks I started to feel less tired it doesn't turn something is you
know just crockery it is scientifically backed so we will now look into studies
300 scientists from eight nations have
written a hundred and fifty scientific research papers on GCM F 200 scientists
but we have written 32 of them
he wants to stay with us I took the GC
math twice a week and after three weeks I started to feel less tired it doesn't
turn something is you know just quackery it it is of scientific impact okay there we go it's a good advertisement right you can see it a couple of hundred scientists so from make it stop but I think I think you're getting the idea right so this is what makes this whole fake science operation so so dangerous
that people can actually sit in front of a camera and say this is not just quackery it's scientifically back and I mean let's be honest who really has the background to double-check those studies right yes and here you see some of the studies from these confirm from this from this company company and these studies they are and one of them is in the journal where till submitted the bee wax paper others are in journals where we submitted a computer-generated fake paper so you have no peer review or you have some kind of fake peer review because this is the only reason why these papers get yeah I get published so
what we did was we showed this studies
to quite and well-known oncologist in Germany and she yeah she reviewed these studies for a second time and she said these studies are really terrible and that she thinks that a normal person
can't see it and even doctor if he is not very familiar with it even a doctor can't see it because these studies they they only take care about single cases for example they are not scientifically at all and they should not have been published in any real Journal so her conclusion was that these studies only exist that these internet pages where these products are sold can link to these scientific articles and this is
quite bad especially for the patients when they are very very ill and when they are searching hopelessly for some miracle or for some cure and this is also the way how these studies are spreading of the social media or over yeah over the media over articles and media so it also took us not long to find somebody who also spread the word this is a very beloved TV host from Germany she died in 2016 because she was severely ill she had breast cancer and the last stage and she wrote a book and in this book she she really spoke very advertising and well about GC mass and that yeah this is her last hope we also spoke to her best friend and she told us that this was her last hope this medication and she was nobody who believed and some wonder healer or something she believed in the studies because she read them by herself so she died and on this case you really can see that this is a business with last hopes and that these people who are publishing this failed studies that they are making money with the hopes of dying people so
usually there are no consequences in this case luckily there are so the one
company who is selling that stuff is is going to go on trial in London in November and the fires alleged that they illegally saw GC map as a cancer drug based on failed studies we also try to reach out to them but our our questions were ignored so what's the matter with
all this many snake oil sellers they can use this and then they can sell their stuff we found plenty of other medications like some very some stem
cell therapies which which can't be working or some new energy healer who has a hundred-fifty studies who heals with his energy so there's plenty of them out there and they can sell their products because of these predatory publishers so this was a reason another
reason for us to build a bigger picture we wanted to know who else is there and the first step was to write as many fake papers as we could and get them accepted at I
think in the end twelve different publisher that this one was mine yeah
scientists theorize thank you but to be honest two or three papers did not get accepted so that that works as well one wrote back to us this is meaning let's do something do something better in the next future so we felt some kind of didn't accept it but the absolute majority accepted the paper without any comments yeah after we asked them this publisher right why did you why did you accept this or you are predatory most of them said no comment some said no we are now predatory publisher even if they accepted two papers from us or this one I like the most I said we are a platform so we we are not responsible but yeah we wanted
to go and to dig deeper yeah so to gather some information from the various predatory journals we did some scraping and analyzing or spidering scraping and analyzing one of those and we start off with scraping which we divide into sort
two sections so first as we want to look at the abstract and papers that have been submitted and all of the information that goes with those and the other thing we wanted to do was look at all of the conferences and where they are and how frequently so the first step
we did is I do some sort of site recon and in this example we just look at what's it real quick we get some ideas of this the site layout and what we want to set our spiders to and what we want to scrape and then later bars so you see the papers and the abstracts are listed here and they're linked to more detail
and here you gets things like the author name the journal title things like that and also you get this like unique identifier for the abstract and they range from about zero to one thousand so you can write some or I
wrote some messy Python to just loop through all of those and download the HTML files of which there are fifty 3069 for asset and then pulled out the matter
metadata the title author add a journal name stuff like that and pipe that all
to a CSV file there's no real magic there it was you know quite straightforward the result in abstract
dot CSV file had all of the things we just saw the paper ID had the the author stuff like that and a direct download link to the PDF which would I would be the PDF version of the abstracts or the paper and that those PDFs contained more information such as the institutions authors were at and and their email addresses so we pull down the PDFs use PDF to text and pipe some of that information into abstract CSV as well
others on the team preferred a slightly more elegant approach using scrapey for example where you're really doing your
source PI during and passing or than one and you get a new sort of JSON file out of it next moving on to conferences real
quick there are a fifty different sort conference areas within wasa in each of them linked to hundreds together collectively thousands of conference
titles so fifty subject areas and here
we see one subject area and that's just a small snippet of the different conferences in that subject area in august two thousand eighteen and the
reason why they all have those abbreviations you know you see like icy eyes something that's done on purpose because legitimate scientific conferences usually go by those acronyms so what was a did is they just changed one of the letters around so that it that it almost sounded like the original to the conference but not quiet and so this trick people into believing oh I'm going through this very reputable conference whereas it was just you know as valuable as a good she bagged written with one C
you could have been at this conference but you chose to come to death come just finished in Vancouver and apparently they had scenes when a lot of the attendees the penny dropped for them so there was a bit of a backlash there apparently so altogether there are forty
four thousand four hundred and seventy six different conference titles you can select there's going to be one for you and if you're the kind of person that likes to plan in advance DT take note and look at all of the wonderful cities you could travel to you'll get a receipt and an attendance voucher and all of that sort of stuff two thousand thirty one so we take what
we did there with wasit but we applied that to all of the five predatory publishers that we looked at we get the JSON files the CSV files and we use a collection of tools to do various different analysis depending on who we were and what we were looking for so Excel tableau which is you can get a 15 day free license or trial license for that neo4j for a graph visualization and curious and of course IR and Python as well so I want to analyzing the data
that we downloaded yes it felt like like lowering a curtain like looking behind the scene because after the scraping
process we could finally say okay this is how big you are this is how many abstracts you have so we wanted to know
how many authors so we found nearly 180,000 abstract and around 400,000 authors contributing to this scan worldwide and this maybe some people
would say oh my god sans in danger so no so this is a few
compared to the total number of scientists with which are nearly 8 million scientists worldwide this is still a very small proportion so so the scientists are publishing in regular journals open access journals or paper journals and only a very small proportion fel is for for this scam but the development is quite interesting you see here that especially with the big ones omics and wizard that they have had quite an increase especially in the last three to five years they're getting bigger and bigger and making more money and many people out there are saying that this is a problem from lower income countries no it's not the u.s. is the
second biggest contributor to this conferences especially omics with nearly 10,000 abstracts and what is interesting if you dive deeper into the data when you are searching for universities or when you are looking for who is contributing to them this goes in every field there's nearly no University you won't find there so even elite universities have published their over the past ten years I have to admit so probably one can say okay this is not too much but anyway these are the numbers we we pulled out of the metadata from the paper I also did here for
DEFCON especially top US institutions list also out of interest because I wanted to know which universities on top of this list he is it is an institution it's the Mayo Clinic I think it's pretty well-known institution University of Michigan Wayne State University I wrote all of the universities you can read here I wrote all of them email asked for the comment most of them did not comment on the issue some did so one here I want to read so they are really dismayed about this they were really kind of concerned when I talked with them on the phone they were like oh my god we did not know this and we we don't like this that our scientists are publishing there and they want to take care and they want to take action to stop this and to to inform their people about this so
most interesting is what are the reasons why scientists do this so first of all scientists got scammed we were talking about the Nigeria scam so this is they're sending spam emails and you fell for it accidentally then you go there once and then you see okay this is crap you won't go there twice also there's the publish or perish pressure and academia so probably some people choose the easy way because it's just fast to publish there and the third case I wanted to go a little bit deeper because this is for us it was the most interesting case when scientists are taking advantage of this predatory publishing so we were lucky to find one
case where there is there is an investigation ongoing so we this is from CUNY University City University of New York and there are quite some professors who really like predatory publishers so they don't publish there once or twice no no they publish they cry at times so what you find in these papers when you print them out you'll find that there's some kind of authors piling you find that 9 to 15 authors for one paper which is not normal then all of these papers are grant funded so this is usually taxpayers money which is in these papers then a lot of this papers is copy paste so if you run this through a software you really see that yeah that there's a lot of copy paste going on and if you take them to a scientists to do a peer review what we did and then they told us ok some of this what is in this really scientifically questionable because probably they were written in a very short time we were lucky to have had a
whistleblower who was familiar with this case with this CUNY case and he he told us that professors can benefit from gaining higher salaries at promotions because they they probably have some legit papers from from good journals and then they can just fill it back up with this cheap publications they can also can obtain other benefits
and this was the reason why this is or this could be the reason why this is so liked for some for minority of people and which we find interesting is that even if you do this knowingly or unknowingly it doesn't really matter because you are feeding the system with this the predatory publishers they get the money from the universities so this is one thing and so they can grow with their business model and the other thing is they get the reputation of the universities they can advertise with oh people from Stanford are publishing here or people from Harvard are publishing here so even if the scientists don't know well so even if they do this and unknowingly they are helping the predatory publishing and they are helping a different group where to will know more about yeah so when we looked at this we we thought well this goes way beyond academia right so it's one thing if professors try to polish their publication lists and get more money maybe or have a better reputation but this whole business can really be used for all kinds of purposes because we as a society we still have this kind of feeling that if something is scientifically proven its kind of valuable and this is great that this is the case because usually science does exactly that but in the case of the predator is it is quite different so we not only look what academics are doing there but we looked what our companies and lobby groups and political influencers are doing there because in the end big companies and big corporations have research and development departments where they present their own research and their new products and all these kind of things and oftentimes what they find is not really scientifically sound but good enough for the Predators right so one big branch of course the tobacco industry and they have a reputation and I think most of you guys you know about this they have a reputation for deceiving the public for four decades trying to downplay the danger of second-hand smoking or the dangers of smoking altogether you probably know that spiel right it's like oh well cancer has many reasons and smoking may be one and maybe not I don't know let's leave you know that's kind of what they do sometimes and so what they do now particularly Philip Morris is a company that we found there quite often did produce of Marlboro you probably know them so they they start to revamp their business a little bit by selling cigarettes that are potentially less harmful as they claim they have scientists writing about this and where does the science sometimes end in the predatory publishers so they have those well looking brochures that they hand out to investors and to the public where they were they where they make their health claims and they list the articles here as peer-reviewed and there are from was it you know they were published and was it and we know what was it is right we got a press presentation award for reading a computer-generated nonsense paper there so well not quite reputable I guess so but this is not a one-time shot Philip Morris seems to be quite a
good customer for them so they publish all kinds of studies in those non peer-reviewed journals that claim to have a peer review they go to conferences present their their research there and particularly for the tobacco industry it's interesting because for some serious academic conferences they are banned they're not even allowed to go there because of their history of deceiving the public they're on a blacklist so they just it seems that they found another way to disseminate their research to kind of boost their reputation who else is there
pharmaceutical companies the pharma giant buyer from Germany inventor of aspirin they published there quite a few papers and one of them is actually interesting because it actually has to do with aspirin right their flagship product and because they want to sell different variations of aspirin they have they come up with aspirin plus C which is basically just normal aspirin with vitamin plus C at it they have a paper here claiming that this helps against the common cold whereas any other scientists that we showed the paper say well this is not actually a legitimate claim the German Consumer Protection Agency actually says that the addition of vitamin C doesn't make any sense in this case but you can sell it at a higher price so if you are a consumer and you want to find out oh well there's this normal aspirin and there's this aspirin plus C you probably go to the Internet look up what the benefits are and you end up here so if you google aspirin plus C the our mix paper and let's keep in mind this is non peer-reviewed this is just any you know any study you can publish there is on the second ranked on Google so I think now with you guys actually looking it up and then clicking on the link you may actually make it rise to the top so again that's the collateral damage of a talk like this but well let's give this to buyer they can have it okay and so I feel I think you understand what's going on here right other companies Mallinckrodt very controversial company that just recently been fined a hundred million dollars for absurd and obscene increase 'men of the prices for the medications they published their about medications their Astra Zeneca is doing
it lobby groups ill see Europe a think-tank funded by coca-cola Hershey's and Kellogg's they sent their scientists over to a conference speaking about childhood obesity and nutrition and guess what it was not about salad right so they used this kind of forum to disseminate their research what else did
we found we we were kind of a run right we were typing in crown of the company so we found critical infrastructure from a table a company that's responsible for the nuclear safety they published things there it was it again you know the that the company that we just saw and it just
goes on and on institutions from Germany basically text taxpayers money goes up they present their stuff there and once
you publish the scientific publication it just doesn't end there you know so it it's cited in other publications other people you know cited its cited in in patents for example yeah for somebody making patents on medical products they cite was at publications there and
what we found particularly disturbing there's this whole big group of climate change deniers the the co2 coalition for example here in the United States very very controversial people you've got the IQ Institute in Germany that is scientifically working together with the German right-wing party AFD they speak in front of Parliament's in Germany actually presenting their view that climate change is not man-made this is all not a problem and we should all you know further invest in coal and all these kind of things there you studies in those journals to back up their claims so this is a very common strategy in in scientific political propaganda that you say well look on the one hand you've got all those award winning scientists tells great you know thinkers who come up with their with the theories and their proofs but we've got other studies that just say a different you know that just say the opposite and in this case we could really prove that their arguments come from predatory publishers and how do we know well we just actually submitted a computer-generated nonsense paper at the exact same journal and got accepted like this so in order to kind of conclude
this first part we really have to think
again what the science mean and we got back to the slide from the beginning so this is not just about you know your common professor doing a little bit of research on the side scientific progress is really a super important driver for our society in the age of enlightenment and democracy so when scientists find out influences not only political decisions but what we buy how we think and how we see the world and if you now with the knowledge that you all have now about the predatory publishers I think you see the danger that is in place there anything can be disseminated anything can have the aura of science nobody checks it and when we confronted many universities they were absolutely they were absolutely clueless they have never heard of this problem before and so the societies those those those
studies they're spreading like viruses you know they're quoted here they quoted there lots of dangerous things are happening you can in the end no longer distinguish fiction from fact so the
most terrible thing that could happen with this whole thing is that the trust that we have in science erodes because we think science is awesome we think science is great and when they do this thing they they really sell themselves at a very very cheap price and that the trust that we have in science and progress may erode you know if more people publish in those journals the trust is gone and this would be
really terrible so in order to kind of combat this we really made a long streak of investigative projects where we published the findings that we had to get with 23 media partners and journalists around the world where we shared the data and people from other countries be it Korea or India or the United States or Austria France they looked into specific cases from their countries which universities are there which companies are there Germany from the 30 biggest companies 12 had publications in those journals and this Pacific kind of publication really and had the aim to raise awareness as I said don't mess with him yeah Chris yeah so
those are some of the results of the publications that came out and there's more to come the Guardian just ran a story today and and there's more coming up for this in the future so never end a
talk without a call to action that's what we learned right so we're speaking in front of a very very curious and interested audience here so I think what you all can do is you can actually help to make this problem go away when you find a study that somebody some wacky person cites and says oh you know what autism doesn't exist or all you know tobacco is not harmful look where this published we look where this study has been published and if you find it to be from a predatory publisher say so and and share that share the word and spread the word about those those those companies if you look up your University or if you have academic friends warn them tell them that this is actually hurting science by publishing in those journals and again we know that academic publishing has its flaws and and and even the attempt is established publishers do some mistakes but what those predators are doing is really hurting everyone so the big point is here you all can help with this project because you don't even need the database and all those those files this is just if you want to dive deeper but if you have a simple google string search that sware is just about to tweet out on our account and if you enter any any any word there be it a university email address that you know of be it a controversial product that you have heard of be it a controversial person or anything that you want if you if you google it through this the chances are really high that you will find if this comes from a predatory publisher or not look for government we found a lot of government in Germany yes so look for surveillance because this would be very interesting if some surveillance stuff is sold with this with these studies yeah the military's there sometimes too right because all those people they need publications they need that the aura of science and this is the cheap and easy way to do it oh yeah there was a gov that just submitted to the Vancouver conference that just just been saying you could look for that yeah so I think
this concludes the first part of our presentation there's of course this was a big research and a big work from a lot of people so this whole project is more than the three people here so we thank all the people on this chart and one is invite you to stick around for the documentary that we're just about to show and yeah we are approachable on Twitter if you find something get in touch with us we're will hang around after the show here of course come talk to us we share our knowledge and we thank you very very much for the attention this has been great this has been a pleasure Jeff Gordon you guys Rock [Applause]
I will forget the we got the documentary forget the documentary sets up I mean if those guys would have just given me my money back when I asked you know that rug really tied the room together yeah and so the documentary that we're showing now of course this is subtitled so you will understand it and if you have any questions now while we're setting up the laptop wherever we're happy to answer if there's a quick question we have some time so come come in front or speak it out yeah say loud so that we can hear I think there's a question here well the question was from the papers that we looked up how many of them were really legitimate that is a very great question and if the answer is it's hard to tell because only some of them that we really found out were seemingly really dangerous for example with the cancer medications we gave them to other legitimate scientists to look them up so we didn't of course control all of the papers and see how good they are but we really think the problem is that it is almost impossible to tell the difference so we kind of have the comparison like in Germany you have like a big institution that every car has to go there I think it's like the DMV here or something right you get stickers on your car that checks if everything is okay those predatory publishers are like like the DMV just putting the stickers on any car without looking at them most cars will probably be okay some of them will have Exuma that are poisonous and some of them won't have brakes because nobody looked at them and this is the problem with those journals that nobody looks at them so the filtering function is gone now everything is science and everything is peer-reviewed and you can't tell the difference so we invite everyone here to find papers and go for a hunt and look I'll look it up and if you have expert friends and you find a paper show it to them and share share the knowledge so and if authors are publishing papers to these places and kind of leaving them there granted sometimes it's hard to get your paper removed so that's a factor but people are probably King there which is kind of deceptive in its own right then you have to then wonder it's a whole pool polluted how was the research methodology in the data we just don't know and when there are open access and pre was it pre pop paper you know sites like archive and OSF 2io you have to question why researchers aren't aren't publishing there and instead so it's really difficult to extract what's what's real and what's
not and why people what were the people's motivations for publishing there well we've got another question there yeah well so the question was how those business models of the conferences and the publications are intertwined and and the answer is yes they are absolutely interest wined like for example all makes one of the two key players in this they offer both they do a lot of conferences and they do a lot of journals and there's currently actually an FTC investigation here in the United States against omics because of their deceptive practices and so yes a lot of people who publish there also go to the conference's of course there's some separations as well some people only go to conferences authors only publish but many do both full package right another question yeah yeah we we actually we researched one case in Germany where we had a professor and in Germany it is like you have to collect papers and if you have enough paper then you are on professor and in this case we found his yeah his work and a lot of his work was from predatory publishers and he was a professor he was actually a tuba professor because he was very young I think he actually had two or three PhD degrees and he was very young professor and yeah we called him yeah he sweated a lot we did a lot of phone calls we we we didn't published his name but if the people don't look closely they may not see it that it is published in predatory journals poor guy yeah that
was all so I'm sorry question over there Thanks we we were really often asked if the question was are we gonna make the database available sorry but we can't do this because it's a legal problem because in Germany it is when you publish a person's name then you first have to give him the opportunity to say something for these allegations and with four hundred thousand scientists this would not be possible for us so the only thing what we can do and this is what we did here is to publish this easy Google search so that everybody can track his institution and we tried to help people to do the scraping or probably to do a scraping project put it on github so that everybody can do it because we cannot publish the whole database in the web yeah go on [Music] great question yes
yeah that is a good question so the question was if we came across the fact that some of those journals they actually list people there as editors or editorial board members and yes we came across tons of people who were just there either who were already dead that happens so not a lot of editorial work from their side or people who are absolutely clueless about this because you know those website photos they're public they're the CVS or public so those predatory publishers just take the photos on the website put them up there and when we ask them we wrote emails to those people we look them up and say did you know that you're a publisher there or an editor there and a lot of people replied I have never heard of this and they tried now illegal some legal steps to get their pictures removed but we don't know how this will end but with the scraping the scraping code only took the papers and the abstract creeping code did not include
the editors but what the scraping code of course included was paper who probably where people want to retract it but but but didn't get through it so yes of course and the 400,000 scientists there there might be a quota of people who is in there but who definitely not want to be in there and there's a question over I'm able to take one or two more questions I think we will have more questions after the doc one more question the guy's been standing patiently with his arm you yeah you mean like the GCMs case yeah well we're investigating still into the data yeah so there's more there's more stuff coming up there but we really hope from input from other people because some of those some of those findings you just have to come across them you know we don't know about anyone the drug that's sold in Minnesota or South Korea or wherever around the world those those those snake or sellers do their business so yeah of course we still keep looking into these into these data sets and see what we can find but since it's kind of easy to find those products we really hope that other people pick it up and and and and do the work as well yeah the Google search will get you quite far actually under scraping super-easy - should we roll the video yeah so let's watch the film it's like around 30 minutes and we'll stick around and take more questions afterwards Thanks so far this has been great [Applause] [Music]
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I gotta figure out how to stop this it starts again and again you're entrapped in some loophole and I'm continuing thank you so much thanks for sticking around for sticking around and and for watching even it was all in German and only subtitled we shared the link on Twitter so if you want to share the video it is on my stations website also subtitled spread the word I think if nobody goes there if nobody nobody publishes there this is a pretty easy way to end their business model thank you yeah it will happy to take a few questions while we are we clear up and before we get thrown out there was a couple of points we haven't figured out where all of the money went you know for the for the conferences what else does that fund so that there's some interesting angles to explore and we'll be digging a little bit deeper and if anybody asks themselves what actually happened to our terrible cancer paper with the bees you know because we thought oh we don't want this to be out in the public anymore right we just try to prove a point here so what we did we wrote an email to omics saying oh you know what we made some terrible mistakes and by terrible mistakes we mean everything the mythology is crappy we send them like a whole list of stuff that is completely wrong and asked them to take the paper offline so guess what happened they wanted to charge us they said oh yeah sure you can take it offline but we need a retraction fee whatever that is for two thousand euros so we didn't pay but the moment we kind of said that we were journalists investigating their predatory publishing model the same day the thing was gone so it's no longer there luckily but it it had we had to really you know put them under pressure with journalistic in research because if we were just normal people that we would have to pay two thousand euros to get the stuff removed so they they earn money both ends so you know loops are there's a question over there might not be able to hear you may need to come a little bit further forward but you can't give it a gun no I wish we did but there was a lady that tweeted the wasser watch website yesterday and said oh you should have seen the scenes in Vancouver when people found out this was like a Factory so it might be interesting to follow up with her and see what was going on but there was also a u.s. gov paper I think that was submitted to to that conference not the cybersecurity conference but one of the conferences out of the 150 odd conferences held in that small room there's a I've another question there yeah you sorry I mean that's vague but yeah
so the question is if I guess if papers have been published there may be some PhDs might be provoked or do we think about that not provoked password for breivik gold yeah it's been a long day we actually can't tell maybe I mean or what we could do is spread the word and make this whole thing public and and and we confronted many many universities with our findings and now it's up to them what they do and probably they will have to look into the specific papers whether or not they are worth of the scientific label and or not so I think it's it's up to the universities in the end who's supposed to be doing the job that us guys have been doing and I guess holding these fates to account right well to our knowledge there is no like national or international entity that controls the publication process of scientists so I think there needs to be more like this you know it's it's hard to hard to make this yeah there's a freedom of publication for scientists and I think this is a very important good that you can publish your study wherever you want for us the problem is only if you publish your study and you write peer-reviewed and scientifically on it then it you know what's on it should be in it and and this is with this predatory publisher which is not so the universities I think there is some kind of black listing white listing going on right now and we definitely wanted to contribute to this and I think this could be a way blacklisting white listing then because of our research many use universities on institutions in Germany they do like fa Q's and do's and dont's so the community right now tries to help itself and I think this is a good solution but we will look in one year or one and a half year we will look again if the scientific community is able to to cure this and I mean I'm not pessimistic probably because I think one of them we have to understand one of the reasons why this business model is successful is because it's also a bit of business with shame you know you go there as a young researcher maybe or even as a recession researcher you get your paper there you pay the publication fee you go to this conference and you find out oh damn this is some sort of a scam I fell for some some weird deceptive business practice but nobody knows so you go home they ask you oh how was the conference do you really say I was scammed sorry this was a big mistake I actually you know throw away government money or funding money many people don't have the guts to do this and they just say ah well it was okay ish and try to answer it short sentences and in hope that people talk about something else and so this is this is definitely a goal from our research that that the public knows about this and that there is awareness about this and I think after the publication it's hard to say we didn't know and also to encourage people to come forward we even when you google best presentation of what was it so many universities give out press releases you know having this like people are holding this I got a press presentation of what from buzzard because they probably we're too ashamed to tell it home yeah please [Music]
question was if there are criterias so that I can see if it's a predatory journal or not so one answer is impact factors so of course you can look at the impact factors if they are very low or if they are non-existent this might be a
hint but there are also new publications or new journals out there for example so
that there are courageous people founding a journal and making a good peer review but they don't have an impact factor so this is this is not the only criterion and it's I must submit it's very hard to definitely say this is a fake a journal or something magus what
we did for our research was we had buy more criteria so submitting a fake paper was only one but look at the website is there an office or an Bureau is is an address not official and is it legit or is it for example some of them have
addresses in London but if you google the address it's just a somebody who sells addresses like virtual office addresses like this there are some lists out there there's a there's a guy that we did with that if you it's called Jeffrey bill he's a he did a lot of research in this and he he published something that is called peels list where he did his own research and published and made it public which papers and journals and and conference organizers he deems predatory so again there is some problem with just you know a single person doing this and have the list as a definitive list but this is definitely a good hint he did some amazing job there there's another company that's called cabals they offer some black and white lists as well their subscription based so they for them it's a business model too but for medical paper there's PubMed yeah and there's also white listing in India so that what we did for the research was looking at different whitelist blacklist from the country it's it's a hard job to to to find that out it's a hard job for for scientists
for journalists but but I think with these companies we research I think you can be pretty sure for these companies if it's all mixed or was it or science the main side pop you're pretty for all mix there you have two FTC investigating this for vazhi the cuny case there's also investigation going on in New York so this is also a hint for a predatory publisher please I could run all day every day if you like and there was a question over that first that guy had his hand up a it's like you're all staying with the straight face sure sure in London for example at the conference there was a guy he was really funny he was from India and and he was pretty frank and honest and he was a professor so I think he did not have anything to lose and we asked him and he said of course I know this is a fake conference but anybody anybody from India has to see London one time so of course yeah yeah there are people using the system of course there are but and if you have like 29 publications there you should probably be a bit a little bit suspicious about about the practice but the thing is I mean when we submitted our fake cancer paper there we got some comments they were super superficial you know I mean this paper was full of mistakes we just presented a few of them here but it was really we rolled it with the purpose of being discovered in a way and we did not so the comments we got back were so superficial that we thought this is absolutely no proper peer review but if you are like a scientists who considers the research great you know you think you did an amazing job and the only review you get after two days which should raise some eyebrows I agree but but then those only comments are this is an amazing paper you should just maybe change one one one sub headline somewhere you think oh I did a good job so many people don't don't have maybe the self criticism to see that this is not a proper peer review please yes a very very good question after how biggest was that and how many people are working there so we went to three verse at conferences and we had this international partner so I don't know known how many was at conferences we weren't told about probably six or eight with a you know in South Korea and and then several other places and we think yes it's a family business and Bora is doing Europe we spotted him in Europe in Copenhagen and Berlin in London then we're thinking his father Chimel he's doing Asian and also Turkey and then they have some kind of franchise in the u.s. so this was not a family member we met in New York and we're thinking the daughter maybe is doing the books or something so she's doing the work behind so it's a it's a very very small company and I think they can be a small company because they there's not so much work to do it's so all that Bora was doing at the conference's we went to was really literally just sitting outside the conference room collecting money and giving out nametags and left his laptop unlocked all the time by the way and you know you just upload your presentation on a USB stick so you know maybe I should have said that they had a funny story when they you know they they worked with these 23 different media partners and I think there was one conference where there were a whole bunch of people presenting their papers at the same conference but none of them knew that the evil so it was like a full conference of papers by these meet they're like you were journalists you you you know yeah it was hard to tell we talk to who sorry the tax authorities um I have we talked to the tax authorities I don't know what the US tax authorities are but I did notify the the FTC in the FBI and figured at some point maybe they'd get around to something like that and I did that in a few countries as well not just the US but like Canada where they were having conferences last year and and so on so folks are aware about it yeah there's a question there sorry I didn't so is what was the question correct me if I'm wrong but you know have we looked into how to deal with that sort of the avalanche of spam that academics are getting from these various publishers and how many people are responding and what sort of people are responding I mean I've not looked have you guys it's hard to tell I mean we kind of think that most people who end up publishing there have at some degree responded to those spam emails that most academics know and we received in bulk after we made those fake institutions and all these kind of things so and we were also wondering who would reply to that but actually those spam emails they really vary in sophistication some of them are just high you researcher you won't publish this great so ok but some of them were really like giving the duck the correct titles citing some work that we have done saying oh we read that you did some work on cancer do you want to do this and this and this so this some of them don't really look like you're just really normal spam and and again if you don't suspect people to be that that evil if you don't suspect predatory publishers to exist you could think this is a legitimate request for for publication I think all they discovered my greatness finally somebody found out what great research I'm doing and they invite me to publish oh yeah great I want to do this so some some people definitely fall for this for this reason I mean I didn't get an email invite I it you know it's like political psychology I wasn't aware of this it's like I'll look for a conference that looks kind of legit looked exactly like an I Triple E conference so I wasn't on the wiser so yeah I guess people are searching and maybe finding the conferences that way too I mean we did eventually get all of the stuff removed once we started talking about it with journalists things went pretty quickly and then like a couple of weeks ago we uploaded of the full paper to a pre pub server OS F dot IO and we'll be you know submitting the paper for the whole peer review process please yeah yes we we in in the US this is the first yeah this you are the first to who hear about this for we who is the lady you mentioned Rachel Maddow MSNBC no where I don't I don't know have we yes we we teamed up with The New Yorker because the writer there he already did a story about this this fake predatory also yes yeah okay yeah yeah we will probably a come off yeah yeah just write it write it down because we you know Germany far away from the US and we work together so as a mother Jones picked up the research that we did and there is an institution an amazing one that you all should support it's the international jury I CIJ international consortium for for investigative journalism they sort of supplied us with some some help connecting with other journalists and they gave us some technical infrastructure where we could share findings on an encrypted basis so that not everybody could could read that the work that we were doing so and this is an American institution too so they work together with American this especially for the US there's lots of research what can be done especially if you want to follow cases like the Mallinckrodt case or if you want to follow all this u2 collision case because we did not research these cases until the end or the governmental cases and we wanted to leave you know something special for Def Con so we were kind of we didn't want to have too much information in the US before Def Con and so we were constantly worried that artists might just kick off and you know so please don't and so yeah now we're having for it to be broad yes please also I icebox spoke with our legal person from the station before DEFCON because this definitely is a github project it's it's private but he did not want to cover for this so I would have loved to make this private project public here this would have been great so but but you know as these companies especially omics they're really willing to fight so so I cannot release it but I mean if there's a researcher who really is interested in doing this then just you know give me a shout out so maybe you can do something yeah it's pretty straightforward so if somebody happened to do that and put it out there wow that's awesome they would be a good idea that's the follow-up thanks for that we should come up with the name that's the next challenge silvered the International Journal of that would be my suggestion I've jb yeah correct yeah okay all right thanks so much for this this has been a pleasure [Applause]