German science scandal on “fake science”

Today the two German public television stations WDR and NDR and the newspaper SZ have published articles about “fake science”, which they describe in their publication as a scandal. They highlight, that scientists (among others) of German universities published a huge number of papers in “fake journals” and have visited “fake scientific conferences”. They give several examples of “fake articles” they have submitted to those publishers and which got without real peer review published.

As someone who works in science, I am used to these invitations. On average five to ten mails reach me every day for conferences or journals. Some seem to have fitting topics, some are just arbitrarily conference invitations where they basically invite everybody who claims to be a scientist. These things of course come with a hefty price tag, but compared to the regular conferences and journals they are often quite cheap. They promise a quick review and also a quick publication of the submitted content.

Why these things could be attractive for some scientists? Because scientific publications are important for every scientist, they basically work as an unemployment insurance. When you have enough publications per year, you have quite a good chance to stay in science, when not, you will quite likely lose your job or do not get a new one. What it makes the offers especially tempting for some, are that renowned journals often need a lot of time to publish the research. Review processes with unpaid reviewers often need a year or more. When you have a three year project, need a year to do the science, write it up for a half a year with many coauthors and then submit it with a review process of over y year, you have to be lucky to be able to put the paper into your CV in time for the next applications. Offers to have a guarantee to have something published, even when the journal is not famous, might be of interest, even for those working in the real science. That also some people use these journals to give their b***s*** publications a platform is of course even more damaging for real science.

So what can be done? Information is of course the first thing, this currently hardly happens and you have to get the idea by yourself, that it might not be good for you to interact with these journals and conference providers. Also we have to rethink our funding for scientific literature publication. Especially in Germany, the amount of money available for publications is low. When you remember that a paper in a journal might need several thousand euros/dollars/pound, especially when you want to have your paper published as open access, then money is key. Some countries like the UK have reacted in the past to enforce publishers to make papers open access after after a certain time. This would certainly help, because only reachable science is of long term benefit to the authors. As Germany has not yet implemented such a law it is time for politics to act.

The market for scientific literature and conferences is connected with high profits. The profit margins for the renowned providers are enormous, and so it is expected that fake providers get onto the market. It will be on the long term a tough fight to keep an eye on what is real and what is “fake”. Let’s hope most real scientists get this done and the working and publication conditions get better over the long term. Otherwise, science as we know it for 400 years is in danger.