Scientific fraud is a ticking time bomb

The topic does not lead to discussion in the National Assembly. He doesn’t stir up dinner parties or social networking.

However, the wonderful world of scholarly publishing is sick. And by allowing the situation to deteriorate, we are looking for serious problems.

Recently, our colleague Philippe Robitaille-Grou drew attention to “article factories” that produce fake scientific publications. Articles sold to researchers trying to publish anything to advance their careers.

To these, “predatory journals” are added, which ignore the quality of the work and ask scientists to publish on their pages in order to pocket the money.

Not to mention private publishers, certainly reliable, but making obscene profits by disseminating science funded mostly by public money.

These twisted models will fly in our face.

Allowing spurious scientific results to seep into good results risks discrediting the entire scientific process.

However, the pandemic has demonstrated more than ever how important science is to our societies. And he revealed all the importance for citizens to understand and trust it.

It only takes a very large proportion of citizens who believe that vaccines are dangerous to undermine all public health strategies.

At a time when conspiracy theories spread faster than a kindergarten respiratory virus, every scientific hoax is therefore a ticking time bomb.

The good news is that there are ways to defuse these bombs. But for this we have to go back to the source of the problem: the commercialization of scientific results.

Worldwide, a handful of major publishers such as Elsevier, Springer or Sage control thousands of scientific journals (e.g. journals such as Nature Where Lancet).

An article in 2017 watchman showed that these publishers are an incredibly profitable industry, generating higher margins than Apple or Google.

Why? It’s simple. While a regular journal has to pay journalists, scientific publications receive free manuscripts from researchers. They then arrange for these manuscripts to be evaluated by other scientists without paying for them (popular peer review). Then resell the items through expensive subscriptions to institutions, often publicly funded, such as university libraries.

We are not the first to conclude that they have us.

“The state pays for the bulk of the research, pays the salaries of most of those who check the quality of this research, and then buys the bulk of the published products,” Deutsche Bank has already concluded in its report. “strange” model.

To overcome this, the so-called “open access” newspapers appeared, that is, they can be read for free. But since nothing in life is free, many ask scientists for money to be published there.

This exchange of money has created markets for science in one way or another. Researchers under unhealthy pressure to publish, especially in countries like China, markets that never lack clients.

Not surprisingly, this led to abuse and parallel markets. Researchers try to get bogus articles produced in “factories” to be published in real journals. And those fake magazines publish anything to make money.

By now, the savvy are usually able to distinguish true science from fake. But not always, and the appearance of artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT can make defining boundaries even more difficult.

The solution?

Like many others, Jean-Claude Quedon, professor emeritus of the University of Montreal, concludes that scientific results should be published on public platforms.

It’s already happening. In Quebec, the Érudit platform also publishes more than 300 scientific journals in French, especially in the humanities. Funded specifically by the Fonds de recherche du Quebec and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The principle is “diamond open access”, which means that the publication is free for both authors and readers.

Especially in South America such platforms (Redalyc, SciELO) are very successful.

Access to free diamonds doesn’t solve everything. But that takes a big problem out of the equation: the financial incentive for journals to publish bad science.

Obviously, like the prestige of the big magazines Nature remains large compared to public platforms. But we will have to learn to evaluate scientific work according to other criteria. The current model is broken and the entire credibility of science is at stake.

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