Last week, microbiologist Enrico Bucci emailed us with concerns that several of the citations listed on his Google Scholar profile were fake.
Colleagues of his had noticed the same problem on their pages.
The listings seem to be real titles, researchers, and publications, but scrambled. When Bucci first spoke with us, the Scholar citations all linked to clearly fake pages on a site hosted by e-commerce giant Alibaba. You can see an example here (that’s a screenshot on the right).
Google hasn’t responded to a request for comment from Retraction Watch, but since we contacted them, the links have been disappearing, replaced by unlinked citation notices (you can see a screenshot of one below).
Here’s Bucci’s theory:
Out of the blue, my Google Scholar Profile included some publication which was never authored by me…These citations were actually fabricated by someone removing the true authors and attaching my name (and those of some coauthors of mine) to a true paper (abstract, title and journal are ok; the year is sometime wrong).
It appears that Google Scholar is taking this citation as genuine – and pushing it in my Google Scholar profile (I think they use automatic indexing, relying mostly on coauthors for disambiguation of author names).
There is a clear intent of making money out of it. The site hosting these “faked” papers sells the pdf versions of them. There is a page containing the description and the conditions for this service which is here. http://www.lw20.com/Agreement.aspx
Try Google Translate on it.
At this point, I think they are grabbing the pdf papers from publishers, the indexing from google scholar (albeit with some mismatches in author names), then they translate abstract and titles in Chinese – so that Chinese scholars may find the papers – and try to sell the papers via their platform.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time someone tried to game Google Scholar.
We’d like to know how deep this problem runs. Do you have any fake references in your Scholar profile? Let us know in the comments.
Update, 3:40 p.m. Eastern, 11/17/14: Several scientists have reached out to tell us about their own experiences with fake citations.
Geologist Anne Jefferson tells us that her Google Scholar profile is accurate, but a number of fake papers with the same titles as her real publications are still available at http://lw20.com/, the Alibaba site that is hosting the odd chimeras. She told us:
I think your correspondent’s theory is correct. Lw20 is scraping the journals, quite poorly and then in some cases google scholar is getting tricked by the mismatched authors into thinking there is more than one paper.
Shark researcher and blogger David Shiffman had one of the fake papers show up on his profile, but he deleted it:
It was super easy. You right click on it and say “remove” and check a confirm box.
Citing your uncle's rant at Thanksgiving
Use words like "expert" or "specialist" to describe the person. Use "round table discussion" or "private symposium" to describe the event.
- In text example: As an expert in the field explained (Smith, 2016)...
- Bibliography example: Smith, U. 2016. Personal Communication during a round table discussion on politics.
Citing your friend's cousin's Facebook post
Use phrases like "online essay" or "public forum" to describe the writing.
- In text example: An online essay (Smith, 2017) outlines this concept...
- Bibliography example: Smith, C. 2017. "Regarding my thoughts on immigration." Public Forum. tinyurl.com/respectedsource.**
Citing alternative facts
Use a phrase like "everyone knows" so that people are ashamed to ask for a source. If they do ask for a citation, simply tell them "Everyone knows you don't have to cite common knowledge."
- In text example: Everyone knows that 35% of cats are from Mars.
- Bibliography example: none needed -- everyone knows you don't have to cite common knowledge
Citing altered photos
Cite altered images in their captions, use a URL shortener** to obscure where the image originated from.
- Caption example: This photo clearly shows penguins living with polar bears at the North Pole. Source: http://tinyurl.com/lvt9u2s
[image: photoshopped image of penguins hanging out with polar bears]
Citing fake news
Go ahead and make up the article's title - the more inflammatory or emotional terms you use, the better. Consider using: "outrage!" "destroyed!" "everyone's laughing" or "you won't believe what happens next."
- In text example: In this article (Smith, 2016), you can see that people are OUTRAGED at what's happening, but the politician absolutely DESTROYS the opposition. You won't believe what happens next!
- Bibliography example: Smith, F. 2016. "OUTRAGE!! POLITICIAN DESTROYS OPPOSITION!! You'll never guess how he does it." Online news. Tinyurl.com/thisistotallynotfakenewsipromise
Citing a satirical article as news
Cite as you would any other article, use a URL shortener** to obscure the source if it's a well-known satire site.
- In text example: New Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, calls many books and other literary works, "culturally insignificant" (News in Brief, 9/30/2016).
- Bibliography example: News in Brief. 2016. "Library Of Congress Completes Destruction Of 70 Million Works Deemed Culturally Insignificant." https://tinyurl.com/m9eqo4c
Citing fake books
Cite as you would a book. Use adjectives like "definitive" or "classic" to describe the book.
- In text example: The definitive book on the topic (Smith, 2016) explains that 2 + 2 equals 34.
- Bibliography example: Smith, B. 2016. Whatever facts you need. Northfield, MN : Publish what you want.
**Using URL Shorteners
A great way to obfuscate where the information you're trying to pass off comes from is by using a URL shortener. These simply replace the full URLs with a much shorter one that does not indicate where the source is actually located. With Tinyurl.com, you can even choose the final part of the url to make it sound more respectable. Brilliant!