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Bias, Fake News, Hoaxes, & Lies

Strategies and guidelines for detecting bias, lies, fake news, misinformation, propaganda. Don't be fooled!

Fake articles, Fake conferences

Scientists and scholars are strongly motivated to publish their findings. Not only is publication often required for a scientist to keep their job (also known as "publish or perish"), publishing is also one of the few ways to get their findings out there for review, and to see the findings of other scholars and scientists, who they might meet someday at a conference and have a chance for a chat. It's one of the few ways available to keep current in their subject area. And, there's a reason people become scholars- most have a passionate interest and motivation to pursue that specific line of study. They just love it!

Unfortunately, unscrupulous enterprises take advantage of this strong motivation and have created FAKE JOURNALS and FAKE CONFERENCES. You might be unlucky enough to find fake journal articles or fake conference proceedings via internet searching.

Happily, fake journals and fake conference proceedings have not (yet) infected the library's online databases.

Zombie Articles: Clarifications, corrections, retractions

Scientists and scholars publish their research findings in conference proceedings or in journals, either in print or, increasingly, online.These conference proceedings and journal articles are often compiled into online databases that allow students and other scholars to search for articles following their interests.

Many print journals are "vetted" or "peer reviewed" which means that peers, or other experts in the same field, review the article and provide comments, corrections, criticisms, suggestions, prior to finally allowing the article to be published in the journal.

After the article has been published, it can now be read by anyone, and readers will often submit their additional comments, criticisms, or corrections. If serious flaws are uncovered, the authors may then be required to publish a clarification or correction, where any minor points or error are clarified, or even, a retraction, in which the entire article is determined to be unreliable. 

Corrections, clarifications, and retractions are communicated to readers by the publication of a statement in the next issue of the journal. These corrections are usually find-able in online databases, by either searching using the words "correction," or "retraction," or "clarification" or similar, combined with the author's name(s) or with topic words, but they are not linked from the original article. 

Open access articles on the internet may not provide links back to any corrections or retractions. The original article, with its flaws or errors, can continue to be found and cited without corrections. These articles are often referred to as ZOMBIE ARTICLES because they just won't die, and are often re-posted in spite of their misinformation.

Funding Bias

Research is expensive! Scientists work many long hours, over the course of weeks, months, or even years, to collect data and complete complex experiments. Often, there will be a team of scientists, student interns, clerical and administrative support staff, guides or technicians, maintenance workers, all of whom need to be paid. There may be a need for travel, or scheduling and paying for time on expensive or exclusive equipment or technology. For example, many scientific experiments are conducted aboard the International Space Station. That's got to cost a lot! Who pays for all this? 

"The business sector continued to account for most of U.S. R&D performance and U.S. R&D funding.

  • The business sector performed $322.5 billion of R&D in 2013, or 71% of the U.S. total, drawing on business, federal, and other sources of R&D funding. The business sector itself provided $297.3 billion of funding for R&D in 2013, or 65% of the U.S. total, most of which supported R&D performed by business. The level of business R&D noticeably declined in 2009 and 2010, compared with the 2008 level but returned to an expansionary path in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Even with these declines, business R&D performance has continued to account for most of the nation’s R&D growth over the last 10 years.
  • The academic sector was the second-largest performer of U.S. R&D, accounting for $64.7 billion in 2013, or about 14% of the national total.
  • The federal government was the second-largest funder of U.S. R&D, accounting for an estimated $121.8 billion, or 27% of U.S. total R&D performance in 2013."

Quoted from 2016 data report of the National Science Foundation. See link below to full report, and updated report for 2020.

With business accounting for the majority of R&D funding, the question of ethics and potential bias immediately comes to mind. Research funded by businesses, we assume, must be to benefit the business, otherwise, why do it? It's surprising that research funding bias is not more prevalent than it is, but it's always wise to check if there is a disclaimer statement attached to the research results or article.

Science publishing is somewhat protected from funding bias by the peer review and editorial review process. Funding bias may be more of a problem in resources and information produced by THINK TANKS, which are often funded by industries, partisan or extremist sources, or even foreign governments. See next page ->