Study demonstrates a pattern in ‘how scientists lie about their data’

Stanford researchers uncover patterns in how scientists lie about their data

When scientists falsify data, they try to cover it up by writing differently in their published works. A pair of Stanford researchers have devised a way of identifying these written clues.

white-coated doctor with hands behind his back; one hand has fingers crossed in gesture indicating he's lying

Andrey Popov/Shutterstock

Stanford communication scholars have devised an ‘obfuscation index’ that can help catch falsified scientific research before it is published.

Even the best poker players have “tells” that give away when they’re bluffing with a weak hand. Scientists who commit fraud have similar, but even more subtle, tells, and a pair of Stanford researchers have cracked the writing patterns of scientists who attempt to pass along falsified data.

The work, published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, could eventually help scientists identify falsified research before it is published.

There is a fair amount of research dedicated to understanding the ways liars lie. Studies have shown that liars generally tend to express more negative emotion terms and use fewer first-person pronouns. Fraudulent financial reports typically display higher levels of linguistic obfuscation – phrasing that is meant to distract from or conceal the fake data – than accurate reports.

To see if similar patterns exist in scientific academia, Jeff Hancock, a professor of communication at Stanford, and graduate student David Markowitz searched the archives of PubMed, a database of life sciences journals, from 1973 to 2013 for retracted papers. They identified 253, primarily from biomedical journals, that were retracted for documented fraud and compared the writing in these to unretracted papers from the same journals and publication years, and covering the same topics.

They then rated the level of fraud of each paper using a customized “obfuscation index,” which rated the degree to which the authors attempted to mask their false results. This was achieved through a summary score of causal terms, abstract language, jargon, positive emotion terms and a standardized ease of reading score.

“We believe the underlying idea behind obfuscation is to muddle the truth,” said Markowitz, the lead author on the paper. “Scientists faking data know that they are committing a misconduct and do not want to get caught. Therefore, one strategy to evade this may be to obscure parts of the paper. We suggest that language can be one of many variables to differentiate between fraudulent and genuine science.”

The results showed that fraudulent retracted papers scored significantly higher on the obfuscation index than papers retracted for other reasons. For example, fraudulent papers contained approximately 1.5 percent more jargon than unretracted papers.

“Fradulent papers had about 60 more jargon-like words per paper compared to unretracted papers,” Markowitz said. “This is a non-trivial amount.”

The researchers say that scientists might commit data fraud for a variety of reasons. Previous research points to a “publish or perish” mentality that may motivate researchers to manipulate their findings or fake studies altogether. But the change the researchers found in the writing, however, is directly related to the author’s goals of covering up lies through the manipulation of language. For instance, a fraudulent author may use fewer positive emotion terms to curb praise for the data, for fear of triggering inquiry.

In the future, a computerized system based on this work might be able to flag a submitted paper so that editors could give it a more critical review before publication, depending on the journal’s threshold for obfuscated language. But the authors warn that this approach isn’t currently feasible given the false-positive rate.

“Science fraud is of increasing concern in academia, and automatic tools for identifying fraud might be useful,” Hancock said. “But much more research is needed before considering this kind of approach. Obviously, there is a very high error rate that would need to be improved, but also science is based on trust, and introducing a ‘fraud detection’ tool into the publication process might undermine that trust.”


177 thoughts on “Study demonstrates a pattern in ‘how scientists lie about their data’

      • And judging by some of the “peer” reviewed papers being retracted, some of those names are probably sock puppets.

      • JB
        And I am not sure about the value of a tile alone.
        Most houses need several.
        Possibly St Albert (Gore) has a house that needs thousands.
        Titles – see previous post about our Prince of Wales.


    • Just eliminate every sentence with qualifiers: might, probably, likely, quite possibly, exceedingly probable…of course that would eliminate the report.

      • But that’s the jargon of climate science, you see.
        Here is some additional climate jargon: may, could, conceivable, perhaps, projected, modeled, etc. It’s quite a long list.

      • I totally disagree.

        “More research is needed” indicates that the researcher has perhaps found something but is an admission of the shortcomings of the work. One needs to publish (so as not to perish) and can’t wait years until the definitive research is completed.

        The papers that are dangerous purport to find statistically significant results supporting a drug company. They don’t say “more research is needed”. Those ones are more likely to be fraudulent.

      • I have to agree with CB. The idea that no more research is “needed” implies that we already know enough, which is humbug on a par with CAGW. The argument could be made based on that, that no more research was needed after the Ptolemaic astronomical model was developed because it “worked.” It actually did for what they used it for, but it would never have helped land a man on the moon. Research leads to better explanatory models, which in turn leads to the opportunity to do things the older “model” forbade.

      • Gamecock ,Tom in Florida & commieBob, the odd thing is I agree with all three of you. Gamecock and Tom in Florida I believe have Climate Scientists in the fore part of their brain(s) when commenting. commieBob is looking at the needs of science in general.
        For most fields the statement, “More research is needed” is an acknowledgment that the researcher recognizes that there is more to do. Also it opens the subject up to other persons to add a new set of eyes.
        my 2 cents anyway

      • Would any scientist ever claim “no more research is needed”. That would be a bold claim. …oh, wait…nevermind!

      • Commiebob, the Gunning Fog Index was introduced in 1952. The Stanford study is old news. Known for 3 generations.

      • Gamecock says:
        November 25, 2015 at 11:42 am

        Commiebob, the Gunning Fog Index was introduced in 1952. The Stanford study is old news. Known for 3 generations.

        What a complete non sequitur. I fail to see how anything you raised has anything to do with anything I said.

        1 – The Gunning Fog Index measures the readability of English writing.

        2 – Which Stanford study?

        3 – What precisely has been known for three generations and why does it matter?

        If you were trying for humor, I apologize because the joke has eluded me.

      • Commie Bob might be right, but I doubt it, more research is needed to be sure, send money for this research to me. When sending this money don’t confuse me with Tom in Florida, I am another Tom in Florida.

      • tomwtrevor says:
        November 25, 2015 at 6:07 pm

        Commie Bob please provide proof that research by drug companies are more likely fraudulent.

        I’ve been seeing stories about drug company malfeasance for a long time. Money provides a powerful motive. Here’s a link. The one that got me was the statement that 90% of cancer studies could not be replicated. The following alligations appeared in Nature:

        “It was shocking,” Glenn Begley, now senior vice president of privately held biotechnology company TetraLogic, told Reuters. “These are the studies the pharmaceutical industry relies on to identify new targets for drug development. But if you’re going to place a $1 million or $2 million or $5 million bet on an observation, you need to be sure it’s true. As we tried to reproduce these papers we became convinced you can’t take anything at face value.”

        Another common fraudulent practice is to refuse to publish papers that produce negative results.

        At many universities you won’t get tenure if you don’t publish. That means you become unemployed. That’s a powerful motive for fraud. Add to that the motivation of the company sponsoring the research and it becomes unsurprising to find many fraudulent papers.

        Having said the above, I believe that the vast majority of papers are not fraudulent. The evidence does imply that research done by, or sponsored by, drug companies is more likely to be fraudulent than research not involving a drug company.

    • In the course of ‘Contemporary Neo-orthodox Climatology’ we say with confidence: “The ScienceIs Settled”!

  1. I was watching the Weather Channel as Hurricane Patricia approached Mexico. It was clear that the meteorologists had been told they were to state that Patricia was the strongest hurricane ever. However, it was clear that a number of them were uncomfortable making that claim, and therefore introduced numerous qualifiers, e.g., it was the strongest “cyclone” in the eastern Pacific, it was the strongest storm designated a hurricane, etc. I was really watching closely because it became obvious that the meteorologists did not believe what they were being told to say, but were trying hard to obey instructions.

    • The definition of hurricane strength is usually given by the lowest pressure. With that measure Hurricane Patricia (Mexico) at 880 hPa was stronger than the strongest Atlantic hurricane, Hurricane Wilma at 882 hPa but not as strong as Typhoon Tip at 870 hPa. Patricia was very small in comparative size of the wind field.

    • The danger lies in the “boy crying wolf” syndrome. Such was the case of Cyclone Tracy that flattened Darwin (Australia) in 1974, resulting in the death of 71 residents.

      • That could be injurious in a scientific debate, if you want to win supporters.
        Oh! Forgot… settled scientology, debate is illegal.

  2. How about some error bars on the % jargon measure? 1.5% doesn’t sound like much to me, especially if it is +/- 1%.

      • I was thinking the same. Writing style could easily play into this, and it’s not just pretension either, Mark.

        I confess that I slip into the EPA’s acronym-heavy lingo when talking with colleagues, and I sometimes slip into it with non-environmental people as well, leading to annoyed and glazed over eyes. That’s how I have to think to do my job. It’s just as natural as theater majors making obscure Shakespeare references (so common in my college hobby of fencing that I had to actively stop myself once I entered the workforce).

      • Jargon and obfuscatory language is a favorite of the Humanities and Education crowd. They have to spout crappola like that to explain why their new education theories (that once again failed to teach kids anything) were actually working. Then about every ten years or so (just about the point where the results data began to reveal the sad truth) they changed to a new system, moved the goalposts and got a free reboot.

      • “As a proponent of perspicuity one should really espouse eschewing obfuscation in typographical emanations.”

      • “We believe the underlying idea behind obfuscation is to muddle the truth,”

        Not always. I use it to conceal my ignorance.

  3. 1.5% more jargon? That’s easily due to different writing styles. My own writing can shift to dramatically different amounts of jargon depending on my caffeination level! Then, you have the problem that if a tool exists, the cheaters will have access to it as well, so anyone taking the time to commit fraud could easily edit their paper until it passes any arbitrary threshold.

    Interesting, but don’t expect to ever see this fulfilling it’s implied ambitions

  4. “They identified 253, primarily from biomedical journals, that were retracted “.

    I wonder if this reflects the healthier competition in the bio medical field? That other sciences have just as much of a need for retraction but nobody calls for it.

    • I don’t think so. Theoretical physics is highly competitive and it is almost impossible to fake a result. Suppose, you claim to have discovered some theory — others would do the calculations and either show you right or wrong. Very hard to fake. On the other hand, there is some misappropriation of other people’s ideas. So most don’t talk about their work too much before its published.

      • The hardest of all to fake would be a proof of some theorem in mathematics. A mistake was discovered during peer review of Andrew Wiles’ first attempt at proving Fermat’s Last Theorem in 1993. After fixing the mistake, the proof was finally published in 1995.

        But what if the mistake had not be caught? That happens too, but hopefully someone will eventually discover it – as was the case with several ‘proofs’ of the Four Color Map Theorem that stood for a little over a decade until the mistakes were discovered.

  5. At one job I had there was a set of instructions on how to produce what sounded like important technical reports, all you did was chose a random set of numbers and letters from 1-6 and A-G and put the phrases and sentences together and it all seemed to make sense but was completely meaningless, a bit like the IPCC reports.

    James Bull

  6. Is this the reason why I have a hard time understanding papers written on climate science? I can make my way around most other scientific areas.

  7. It would change how they lie going forward. But it would always identify muddled or obfuscated writing.

      • That phrase always makes me laugh: CEOs often use it when talking about their company. Apparently it’s to differentiate from going backward, or nowhere, because it isn’t obvious to laypeople that those moves would be a bad thing.

  8. This kind of analysis might be very good at identifying papers where the structure and the language used ‘overplays a weak hand’ but would it really pick up premeditated or preprogrammed fraud? If a scientist gets weak results – or even contradictory results – which might endanger his advancement or his next grant, he’s almost bound to dress it up to favour his desired narrative, as we’ve seen so many clear examples in climate science. That’s not hard to spot. But if there is a conscious or even subconscious STRATEGY to achieve a particular result, or anything seriously underhand, would that be so clearly flagged? (I note they used retracted papers for the training of their routine, so presumably there was serious wrongdoing in some of them. Or is it going to need the sort of detective work that is done so thoroughly at Climate Audit to get to the bottom of it?

    somewhat off topic – at Judith Curry’s site there has been a fascinating discussion following a short bit of research by Zeke Hausfather and Kevin Cowtan which is a significant defence of the Karl et al. revision of surface temperatures. For the most part the discussion has been very good-natured and very useful, with only a few knee-jerk reactions. Last time I looked, H and K, who both participated fully in the discussion, seemed (to me) to have the better of the exchange. Zeke is always worth listening to and impeccably polite. Pity there isn’t more of such stuff.

  9. 1.5%more obfuscation words!! And I note they added obfuscation to beef up the finding by telling us (trust me) this is significant. Then followed with there were a lot of false positives. Then said it could be a useful tool for finding fraud but that would show a lack of trust and science is all about trust!! Wow.

    Forensics on paper before reading it.:

    This paper was a disappointment for the authors but because of publish or perish, they spun it to get it published. I would like Briggs or McIntyre to get the data to see how significant that puny 1.5% with the false positives is. This paper should be retracted based on the author’s criteria.

  10. Obviously, there is a very high error rate that would need to be improved

    Is it an error, or has the data fraud just not been detected yet?

    • Even now many scientists are trained to be very careful in qualifying what they write, which is obfuscatory to your normal human, who wants a nice clear picture. So, scientific writing starts out as involved. Any simple “fog” filter is very likely to turn up many false positives because just about any scientist will tend to make “self negated arguments.” They advance an hypothesis, describe what they think supports it, and then argue against it. If they feel their conclusions are very weak but that they are still correct, the conclusions will be extremely foggy ending in “more research is needed”. In fraudulent papers I would look for falsely confidant assertions about their conclusions following a particularly vague discussion of what the research “found.”

  11. This is right up there with micro-expressions, the polygraph, Mosso’s Cradle, and astrology. There’s a little something there, and if you squint, and really, truly believe, then it works!

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, there is no “pattern of deception” used by liars that can be spotted–not in writing, facial expressions, blood pressure, leg-crossing, eye movements, or any other physical indicators.

    The only sure way to detect lies is contextual analysis–careful logical analysis by someone expert in the context of the claims made by the liar.

    • “The only sure way to detect lies is contextual analysis–careful logical analysis by someone expert in the context of the claims made by the liar.”

      With one expert checking the other. Maybe we could call that peer review?

      • Paul,

        Spot on! And there is the conundrum. Bureaucracies beget sacred cows and fiefdoms. Academia is a bureaucracy. Bias is inherent in the review system.

        So the missing modifier for the blank below is: “an unbiased impartial”

        “…careful logical analysis by _______ expert in the context of the claims made by the liar.”

        And in fact, that is what the global warming realist community has created–a review system, outside the official bureaucracy, made up of contextual experts who do not have conflicts of interest. You’re participating in it now!

        The only other missing modifier is “trained to detect deception.” Even the best contextual experts must be trained to understand the depths to which men will descend their efforts to deceive. Normal experts in most fields have no clue that there are total frauds moving among them. Without training–call it skeptical situational awareness sensitivity training–most experts are unable to spot the fakes.

      • A colleague reported the following from his required initial meeting with an academic integrity issue. The student said, “I didn’t plagiarize it–I got it from my friend. He must have plagiarized it!”

    • Before retirement I was teaching computer programming classes–mostly Java and Visual Basic. Occasionally students submitted work created by others or jointly in the same class. So they had to make cosmetic changes in the code to make it look different without disrupting the functionality.

      The assignments were submitted online, and were graded in the same sequence. Typically they were uploaded around four hours apart to avoid being too obvious. So by the time I got to grading the latter one, its twin was still relatively fresh in my mind.

      After a while I got to the point where I could “feel” that such obfuscation was occurring in the first one, and would be looking for the next one to show up. I probably should have analysed the pairs to explicitly explicitly identify the symptoms and written a paper about it. I am glad, however, that these researchers have done so in regard to this issue concerning the integrity of science. They are addressing a societal problem which is much more significant than occasional cheaters in undergraduate classes.

      Although there may be weaknesses in what they have achieved so far (more research may be needed), it’s a start. More power to them! And regardless of the ultimate success or failure of such efforts, they are drawing additional attention to the problem.

      • I’ve taught at the college level off and on since 1970, and have always warned my teaching assistants to be on the lookout for computer code that was copied and cosmetically changed. They catch several such attempts in beginning programming classes of size 30 to 40 students.

        The incident that caused me the most angst was having to confront the son of a very close friend. (On the first strike, a letter about the incident is put on file with the academic dean. Second strike the course is automatically graded as F. Third strike is dismissal from the school.)

      • Four cases of student copying spring to my mind.
        Case 1: the copying group all printed on blue paper. Everyone else in the class used white.
        Case 2: a sequence of copies in which each copy dropped or mistook more parts of a key diagram until the last one was gibberish.
        Case 3: one of my father’s colleagues marked a report which had copied a lot from a thesis without acknowledgement. His!
        Case 4: two students submitted identical assignments. When I pointed this out they said “But we’re married!”

  12. ….Stanford communication scholars have devised an ‘obfuscation index’ that can help catch falsified scientific research before it is published…

    As far as I can see, they simply count the ‘weasel words’ used. All this is is writing in ‘Civil Service’ style – writing so that you cannot be held to anything if something were later to go wrong.

    I’d like to see the tool used on Cabinet Office briefings. They are notorious for saying nothing true and using pages and pages of text to do so…

  13. This paper and research design has to be a farce. It appears to be a pretty good example of a paper filled with exactly what they were looking for. Here is the real fraud being seen in research these days: The significance ratchet overruns the data.

    • Pamela – I think you hit the nail on the head. You can easily tell in most Global Warming/Climate change reports that the data are inadequate.
      1) Short time series.
      2) Low spatial coverage.
      3) Large areas of the globe where there are no data at all. This gets progressively worse as you go back in time..
      4)Using a few proxy data to draw conclusions about the entire globe.
      5) Assuming CO2 is well mixed.
      6) Assuming that the solar flux constant is constant. This would require the Earth’s orbit to be circular, no tilt in the Earth’s axis, and no change at all in solar output.
      7) Ignoring any long term cyclical changes.

    • I think my years as a professional graduate student in theoretical linguistics are behind my extreme revulsion at the complete inappropriateness of this “paper” in a field that purports to use our understanding of “language” to analyze the motives of a writer. (Shall we say that this kind of thing always pegs my BS meter.) The only thing they got right was the intractability of the “problem”; in the seventies, we worked very hard to let everyone know what the “jargon” words meant, because every piece of theory worked strictly and carefully within its own jargon space, and this shared jargon space made communication actually work better. And if the writer believes his own drivel, and his advisors encourage his publication of drivel, where is the obfuscation?

      The Stanford researchers have devised a text-based polygraph, based on even less useful research than the physical polygraph was. Now, there is little doubt is some minds as to why polygraphs are widely disallowed as a tool for sifting truth, because, sadly, polygraphy is a little like phrenology and “climate science”. Enough said.

      • And where is the control set? A set of papers based on research not shown to be based on false data might show up a lot of possibly bad writing. What are the evil motives of this set of authors?

    • I have always regarded this as a matter of definition.

      “Lie” means “to say something that you do not believe, with the intention of deception”.

      What else would a lie be?

      • Unless you are being “economical with the truth”…something my former wife was good at. As I say to all my friends, what I say may not be tactful, but it will always be the truth. Unless you are a traffic cop, then no I was not speeding.

  14. While there are some problems with this approach it does give the cheaters something else to think about. An AI algorithm with proper metrics scanning all papers for “further review” is very possible. Even if it doesn’t work all the time the cheaters would have to be aware that their papers were going to be rated by a machine. Their pal-review won’t work on it.

    Gives them something else to worry about. That is good. Sad that we have to go to these lengths to ensure honest science but that is the world we live in.

  15. Much of what passes as climate science is spurious at best. Weasel wording to cover up a lack of sound science is the real art form being practised.

    But then we didn’t need a study to validate that.

  16. John Baez, who used to run the Sci.Physics had a crackpot detection program.
    We should also develop a Climate Science BS detector. Here are a few things to look for:
    1) Expert
    2) Denier
    3) Models predict
    4) Might, could etc.

    • Also “Robust.” I never saw this word in scientific writing (unless it was describing someone’s physique) until Climate Change advocates started using it to describe their evidence. It’s not a scientific word.

      • There’s an entire subfield of Statisics called “Robust Statistics” where they try to cope with the fact that the world doesn’t fit neat STAT 101 models very well. Search for “Robust Regression”, for example. If a climate paper reported that they’d used robust regression (instead of plain old linear regression) I would think they had at least one clue (but not enough). So depending on the context, it’s a word that CAN be used legitimately in science. (Also in the distinction between “robust” and “gracile” hominids.)

  17. I’ve done a fair amount of text analysis and I don’t really buy into the author’s conclusions, particularly the fact that they’re talking about a modest difference, (1.5%), in a newly created scale. In many documents the reason for jargon and vague terms is that the author is poorly informed about the subject matter, rather than an intent to deceive.

    Of course either way it’s bad, you’re either stupid or a liar. My lawyers always tell me to choose the former, after all, calling someone a liar can land you in court.

  18. Wait. Scientists? Lie? I just can’t fathom that.
    It would be like priests molesting children.
    Oh wait.

  19. The study simply quantifies what most objective people do naturally using the built-in BS detector. I would bet that most skeptically minded people, like the majority of WUWT readers, could identify the fraudulent papers nearly as well as whatever algorithm was used in the study.

  20. I don’t believe that more than a handful of “scientists” whose work is funded by the government, in one of the many ways they do that, are trying to do honest science. In fact, I think the funding schemes in place today guarantee abuse and lying. The worst liars may be those in medical research and in climate research: but they are not the only criminals. Not by a long shot.

  21. ‘Science fraud is of increasing concern in academia’, to be fair that is only the case where such fraud is consider a bad thing rather then normal practice, as in climate ‘science ‘ so this approach may not be useful.
    After all if lying is the normal approach, then it is the lack of lying that suggest there is something wrong with your work.

  22. As others noted, a 1.5% difference is hardly Earth-shaking. Also, with their high false-positive rate, it is a sure thing they did not achieve a Wee p-value, the Holy Grail of social science research.

    Others see what is there, I perceive that which is missing.

    The authors failed to account for Tech-Speak.
    Presumably, the authors consider jargon to be at least questionable, while tech-speak is always above reproach.
    They should fractionate the lingo into tech-speak and true jargon, then parameterize the data sets. Then they can do a N-Factorial experimental analysis on properly parameterized and vectored data. This approach is a sure bet to yield the much coveted Wee p-value.

    Note that in the social sciences, one takes the data first, and only then chooses the experimental design which will produce the desired result. The fact that this is exactly opposite to the way we do things in the physical sciences is only a coincidence.

  23. Given the current state of science, funded by bureaucracies with built in incentives to produce the policy support being paid for,are those really false positives?
    A serious dig here, the high rate of positives, indicates either a faulty detection system or a far deeper mess.
    Right now, especially in the soft (pseudo) sciences, I would not be surprised if most of the published material is rubbish and known to be rubbish by the people writing it.

  24. Everybody Lies.

    I believe it is because that little voice in their heads, their “best friend”, convinces them that they need something. Usually it comes down to self worth and projected image of the self. Why would a scientist be immune to normal human failings?

      • JohnKnight,

        HA… yeah… isn’t that the truth. If you ever get the chance, take in a movie night and watch “Revolver” by Guy Ritchie. It is excellent. Not a Chick Flic…and not really a gangster movie either. It gives a interesting perspective on the bombastic power projector types.

  25. Somebody needs to write an app that parses studies and rates them using this methodology.

    Would be interesting to take these alarmist studies and grade them on an ongoing basis.

  26. And sometimes the fraud is clearly spelled out…

    … ship data are systematically warmer than the buoy data (15–17). … the bias correction involved calculating the average difference between collocated buoy and ship SSTs. The average difference globally was −0.12°C, a correction that is applied to the buoy SSTs at every grid cell in ERSST version 4. … buoy data have been proven to be more accurate and reliable than ship data, with better-known instrument characteristics and automated sampling

  27. I attended a webinar about 24 hours ago during which I asked a question. The answer was exactly as described in the article: vague, slightly negative about the quality, confounding issues that made exactness problematic and generally eschewing investigation because it was going to involve a lot of work and yield inconclusive answers for a novice.

    I know for a fact there was no underlying data collected during the period in question! So the correct answer was, ‘We didn’t consider that and we don’t know.’ As the ‘don’t know’ was key to the whole purpose of spending the million$ it was ‘necessary’ to ‘explain it’ in a way that did not invite a close look at the data, just as the article above explains.

    Very helpful. Thanks.

  28. As a spin doctor for a bio tech company I am acutely aware that when making announcements in relation to scientific data the key is whether the writer of that article believes that what they are writing is true . In other words are they aware that the information that is being written is false. Therefore I would suggest that the key to avoiding the tells is for scientists to convey all information to a third party who believes ( because of their own ignorance) that the information is true and get them to write about it.

  29. What is needed is to check the “obfuscation index” for the same researcher in his retracted work compared with his genuine work. Otherwise you’re just comparing people who cheat with those who don’t, in which case the differences across personalities subsume the “obfuscation index”. The index should be quantified, and doing so would lead to interesting advances in social analysis.

  30. I suspect that link is about a noaa official telling the congressional inquiry on climate change that he was going to order his scientists not to produce science that meets anyone’s standards but his own. But I could be wrong.

  31. Maybe they count inactive verbs like “could” “might” “ought to” etc.., That’s one of the quickest ways I spot false claims in media articles – I note how many couldawouldashoulda’s there are.

  32. “The researchers say that scientists might commit data fraud for a variety of reasons.”

    That’s not possible. Advocates of climate change have assured us repeatedly that all scientists can be trusted without question — as long as they don’t receive funding from dirty fossil-fuel sources. Surely those are the only scientists who commit fraud, and so it’s the only test needed to detect it. /Sarc

  33. But .. But
    It’s Official!

    Global average temperatures in 2015 are likely to be the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

    Data until the end of October showed this year’s temperatures running “well above” any previous 12 month period.

    The researchers say the five year period from 2011 to 2015 was also the warmest on record.

    The rise, they state, was due to a combination of a strong El Nino and human-induced global warming.

    The WMO said their preliminary estimate, based on data from January to October, showed that the global average surface temperature for 2015 was 0.73 degrees C above the 1961-1990 average.

  34. This reminded of an old comment. I looked for it but couldn’t find it.
    Someone had put up a link to a climate research paper generator that used random phrases suggested by the readers.
    Parts of some the “papers” were pretty humorous.

  35. “Skill,” “skilful,” and “skilfully” come to mind–used 14 times by the authors of MBH97 to describe their unprecedented statistical prowess. –AGF

  36. It’s easy to spot fraudulent papers. Just look for the terms “global warming”, “climate change”, “climate disruption”, and/or “unprecedented”.

  37. Opening sentence to wapo article:

    “The Obama administration is continuing to resist efforts (not obfuscate, but stop Republicans politically motivated prying) by a top House Republican to gain access to the internal deliberations(How dare Repubs look at INTERNAL government deliberations) of federal scientists who authored a groundbreaking (IT’S GROUNDBREAKING! No bias there) global warming study the lawmaker is investigating.”

    Same paper that published two leaked pieces of info from a CIA report. Bush then declassified the document that showed how out of context the info had been presented. Then wapo demanded that Bush declassify all the intelligence reports that went into producing the CIA report.

    Then when the woman who had leaked the info got caught by failing a lie detector test the wapo published a front page story on how lie detectors aren’t accurate.

  38. “Science fraud is of increasing concern in academia, and automatic tools for identifying fraud might be useful,” Hancock said. “But much more research is needed before considering this kind of approach. Obviously, there is a very high error rate that would need to be improved, but also science is based on trust, and introducing a ‘fraud detection’ tool into the publication process might undermine that trust.”

    Bah. Доверяй, но проверяй (“Trust, but verify”).

    Even now, I’ll hazard that as news of this paper reporting this work has gotten out, there are “white hat” hackers who are devising software to automate the identification and assessment of fraud indicators in all sorts of publications.

    Betcha we’ll soon be hearing “There’s an app for that!”

    The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.

    — H.L. Mencken, Prejudices, Fourth Series, ch. 11 (1924)

  39. Try to count the number of times Michelle Wie says, “Um” in this vid:

    At least she doesn’t say “you know” over and over. Which she does about 15 times here:

    Then realize she has a degree in communication from Stanford.

    My expectation of Stanford communication scholars is low.

  40. Lying, obfuscation, and distortion has a strong origin in politics, but soon spread to law, media, advertising and then to science, medicine and meteorology. It remains rare in engineering and architecture as it is obvious when something falls down on people.

  41. Missing from the entire discussion is the one and only way to fight bad or fraudulent science both effectively and consistently, and that is through the forced imposition of very high standards of transparency and reproducibility, in all cases, no excuses.

    Let the public see every single thing you did, every step of the way, to arrive at your conclusions. Ease the way as much as possible for others to replicate your work. Provide every bit of data, every bit of software, everything. If you say that key bits are proprietary or private, fine. Just don’t expect anyone to give much weight to your conclusions – that is the tradeoff you make.

    This horse isn’t quite dead yet, so allow me another whack or two.

    If you want to strike a serious blow against crock science, then devise simple metrics to score both transparency and reproducibility of each and every published paper. This is a very doable project. Don’t be shy – set the standards high. If a paper doesn’t score high on both measures, then it should be dismissed then and there, as the authors themselves have demonstrated no confidence in it. If it does score high, others should have little trouble confirming or rejecting it.

    Anything effectively tolerant of low transparency and reproducibility simply will not get the job done. Low transparency = high dishonesty, and to believe otherwise is to live in la-la-land.

    (PS: Yes, I understand some studies are inherently difficult to replicate. Their numbers are not at all a deal-breaker. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.)

  42. It’s possible to do perfectly valid research and come to misleading conclusions by picking your subject carefully. I read a news article where a study was done by growing poison ivy, oak and sumac under increased CO2. They grew better, implying increased CO2 was bad. But they didn’t try growing any beneficial plants or food plants under the same conditions!

  43. I am become Immediately suspicious of any paper which uses the term “robust” in any context other than culinary.

  44. As I understand it, bullsh*t-o-meters already are patented and sold through most farm supplies stores. Alternatively, peer reviewers might just want to hire a high school English teacher used to grading “research papers”.

  45. “For example, fraudulent papers contained approximately 1.5 percent more jargon than unretracted papers.

    “Fradulent papers had about 60 more jargon-like words per paper compared to unretracted papers,” Markowitz said. “This is a non-trivial amount.”” By “non-trivial” I assume they mean significant.

    That means there are 4000 jargon-like words per paper.

    The authors used papers published at about the same time and on the same subjects as the withdrawn ones. However, this small difference is very unlikely to persist across papers published on different subjects and at different times.

    You would never be able to spot a fraud by comparing a climate research paper with a medical or physics research paper, or even one from the same field from a different time.

  46. The trouble these researchers/scientists create when they falsify facts just to get press coverage and justify their grants is that they can have devastating effect on the businesses of those associated with the subject of the research. In the UK recently there was extensive coverage of a paper purporting to show a ‘possible’ link to cancer from eating bacon and sausages. The words ‘might be’ or ‘could be’ were used in the press release. Three weeks later it was reported that sales of those products in the UK had crashed by more than 15 per cent. This is a tragedy for the British pig industry which has suffered considerably from a downturn in sales over the past ten or more years.
    Unfounded statements that can have such profound impact on segments of business and peoples livelyhoods coming from these idiots, should be banned unless the point made is conclusively proven by totally independent peer revue, or a simple analysis of the research documents to support the press release. If then it is found that the facts have been falsified, or created just for newsworthiness, then those responsible should be punished severely as a warning to others. Industry should not be left to the mercy of these selfish people. .

    • Bacon Sausages link to cancer:This was the World Health Organization recommendations. ie UN need I say more. The reason I became involved in climate change is because, based on their science and their recommendation I became Diabetic, Obesity, High Blood Pressure Serious Heart Problems and Sever Arthritis all based on unproven science. I was on a whopping 6 meds a day I am drug free for 18 month. Please view you will see how the fix is in re Paris. you can start at the 26 min mark which will inspire you to view all.

      • Russell, your comments are interesting. I had an elderly lady friend who was taking 14 different tablets a day ostensibly to ease her severe arthritis problem. As she felt worse over time she was prescribed more different drugs to ease her pain. She got so depressed by the whole business that she decided that she would not take any more tablets, and would you believe, she felt considerably better for ten years prior to her recent death of old age.
        I myself have been anti tablets/drugs for over 50 years, and would only be persuaded to take them in a life or death situation.

    • Writes George Lawson:

      The trouble these researchers/scientists create when they falsify facts just to get press coverage and justify their grants is that they can have devastating effect on the businesses of those associated with the subject of the research.

      The effects are far more invidious than this.

      Because “peer-reviewed literature” is received as “drop-dead reliable” by almost all those working in the various disciplines of science (if one submits a manuscript to an academic journal, one is expected not only to support each factual assertion therein with the citation of what is considered a trustworthy source with a good reputation – for example, in my case [I’m a physician] a report of investigatory research published in a “high-impact” journal like The Lancet or Oncology or NEJM – but also to provide either a hard copy of the cited reference with attention drawn to the specific passage “with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was” or a PDF of said element – similarly marked – as an email attachment).

      ANYTHING “these researchers/scientists create when they falsify facts to get press coverage and justify their grants” – even if it’s later retracted by the journal which had published such charlatanry – rings down throughout the sciences like a tolling cathedral bell through the streets of the town, and distracts many, many more published “peer-reviewed” articles and textbooks from adherence to factual reality.

      The effects of duplicity (and failures – deliberate or inadvertent – in the error-checking function of peer review) are not only pernicious as regards “the businesses of those associated with the subject of the research” but in fact afflict and impair everyone working in the sciences, from Chief of Department on a university faculty to the technicians sweating down in the bilges of a commercial laboratory in Teaneck, New Jersey.

      The pathology multiplies and spreads.


      Any wonder that when I was reading through the Climategate emails this time in November 2009, I wanted personally to get my hands around the throats of every lying bastard among “the consensus in client” and squeeze until the particular perpetrator of this malicious mischief had become suitable for the embalmer’s art?

      The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability — not the validity — of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong.

      — Richard Horton, Med J Aust 2000

  47. I don’t understand auto-moderation. For example, the word “fra*d” will send your comment to moderation even if you are quoting the post itself! Or if the word is embedded in a link. And yet, the topic of discussion here at wuwt is often the “f-word”. It is often about deceit, scam, chicanery, duplicity, and hoax. What is wrong with using the F-Word to describe Fra*d?

    • markstoval justifiably complains:

      I don’t understand auto-moderation. For example, the word “fra*d” will send your comment to moderation even if you are quoting the post itself! Or if the word is embedded in a link. And yet, the topic of discussion here at wuwt is often the “f-word”. It is often about deceit, scam, chicanery, duplicity, and hoax. What is wrong with using the F-Word to describe Fra*d?

      Bah. I’m on “permanent double-secret probation,” so everything I post gets automatically “moderated.” It’s a mockery, but what can be done? There are entirely too many fainting goats masquerading as human beings infesting the blogosphere, and everything must apparently be reduced to bland pap in order to prevent these hircine specimens from going into screaming hissy-fits at the least little provocation.

      It’s like forking manure. One hopes the composting process will find some acceleration, but the stench must be borne regardless.

      Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

      — Theodore Dalrymple

      • Sorry to hear you are on double-secret probation. I have had those sorts of troubles myself in times past. I suppose I should have guessed since I often find myself in agreement with your comments when I see them.

        I find that those of us (just taking about myself here, not necessarily you) who are convinced by the laws of physics and thermodynamics that CO2 can not do what the IPCC, James Hansen, and even the lukewarmers think it does are often not as welcome here as even the alarmists. (because the alarmists are so obviously wrong and real skeptics have the laws of science on our side? who know?)

        Anyway, hang in there. Many see your posts when they are paroled.

      • The wonderfully maladroit dp links to a draw from The Onion and then adds as a remonstrance to me:

        Not your first rodeo, Doc.

        Wonderful. This schlemiel really, truly, and sincerely is as gullible and cement-headed as impressions lead all and sundry to surmise.

        Or perhaps he refers to the scrambling desperate assholery of that particular Web site’s self-invested “we” in seeking to draw an apology for my action on a purely charitable impulse when it was readily presumed that one of them had assumed that said bit from The Onion was a genuine news item.

        Tsk. dp doesn’t know how to handle Social Justice Warriors at all, does he?

        The third thing to remember when undergoing an SJW-attack is to never apologize for anything you have done. I repeat: do not apologize. Do not say you are sorry if anyone’s feelings were hurt, do not express regret, remorse, or contrition, do not say anything that can be taken as an apology in any way. Just in case I am not being sufficiently clear, do not apologize!

        Normal people seek apologies because they want to know that you feel bad about what you have done and that you will at least attempt to avoid doing it again in the future. When SJWs push you for an apology after pointing-and-shrieking at you, what they are seeking is a confession to bolster their indictment. They are like the police down at the station with a suspect in the interrogation room, badgering him to confess to the crime. And like all too many police these days, the SJWs don’t really care if you did it or not, they’re just looking for a confession that they can take to the prosecutor.

        Be aware that once they have launched an attack on you, they will press you hard for an apology and repeatedly imply that if you will just apologize, all will be forgiven. Do not be fooled! I have seen people fall for it time and time again, and the result is always the same. The SJWs are simply looking for a public confession that will confirm their accusations, give them PR cover, and provide them with the ammunition required to discredit and disemploy you. Apologizing will accomplish nothing more than hand them the very weapons they require to destroy you.

        — Vox Day, SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police (2015)

    • If the moderators see the context of the stop word is acceptable the comment will be posted. The stop words list is a limitation of WordPress. It is a simple pattern match and has no intelligence. Use your own.

      • Writes dp:

        The stop words list is a limitation of WordPress. It is a simple pattern match and has no intelligence.

        Wrong. There is an undeniable “intelligence” behind it, whether “The stop words list” is a consequence of a pervasive and Gadarene litigiousness in these United States or simply moral cowardice writ into policy by the proprietors of WordPress (their property; their right, but either purposefully “politically correct” or simply contemptibly craven nonetheless).

        Such a “pattern match” had been deliberately written into the operating software, and what had been written in can be written (perhaps opted?) out. Not all Web logs cybernetically “moderate” their comments to suit either Mrs. Grundy or the Social Justice Warriors.

        My chief concern is the kind of prejudice rooted in the fear of being thought illiberal. Such attitudes are dangerous and intellectually dishonest.

        But then, political correctness is by definition dishonest and is, I believe, the most insidious doctrine to plague the Western world since those abominable soul mates communism and fascism with which it has more in common than its dupes seem to realise.

        It cannot face truth; it rejects what is, simply because what is does not suit what the politically correct thinking ought to be.

        — George MacDonald Fraser (2008)

      • Tucci – I’m beginning to agree with you and suspect your claims regarding Anthony’s policies have merit. My only regret is he hasn’t banned you entirely. One can still hope.

      • In response to my contention that “…whether “The stop words list” is a consequence of a pervasive and Gadarene litigiousness in these United States or simply moral cowardice writ into policy by the proprietors of WordPress (their property; their right, but either purposefully “politically correct” or simply contemptibly craven nonetheless).

        “Such a “pattern match” had been deliberately written into the operating software, and what had been written in can be written (perhaps opted?) out. Not all Web logs cybernetically “moderate” their comments to suit either Mrs. Grundy or the Social Justice Warriors” we now have dp expressing his scrabbling filthy little inner censor-wannabe with his opinion that my:

        …claims regarding Anthony’s policies have merit. My only regret is he hasn’t banned you entirely. One can still hope.

        Now, out of what mephetidic recesses of (envious?) obliterative viciousness did that little spurt of venom emerge?

        Censors are infused with the sentiment of moral indignation – a dangerous and misleading sentiment because, by blinding those who voice it to the real reasons for their indignation, it makes them puppets whose fears can be manipulated for ends and purposes they do not foresee or intend.

        — Cary McWilliams, Censorship: For And Against (1971)

        [??? .mod]

      • For people who wish to understand the problem of running an open access blog go have a look at wp-shield, a WordPress plugin that uses stop words as well as heuristic methods to scan comments as part of the approval process. It is not the only plugin that does this and does not appear to be the one used here, but is typical of what these auto-screeners do. They are a necessary tool because comment bots are large in number, economical, and work faster than moderators can scrub undesired comments and do so with an acceptable error rate. And comment spam bots are not the the only concern. There are people who through ignorance or cunning cross the line that says liable be found beyond here and not dealing with the problem preemptively can cost a blogger his livelihood or worse.

        And be careful of Tuccii78 – he’s been reading the big dictionary again.

      • Confirming that sensitivity about his illiteracy gives him to hate and snipe at those with greater facility of expression, we’ve got dp proving that the Green Monster is more than an architectural phenomenon, whining:

        And be careful of Tuccii78 – he’s been reading the big dictionary again.

        Tsk. Insofar as “the big dictionary” pertains, that’s Stedman’s Medical, and I got through that before I’d finished third year. I’d swallowed the largest edition of Webster’s in the library by the 8th grade, when I was my parochial school’s great hope for a victory in the big regional spelling bee.

        Who bothers going back, except on the principle of “доверяй, но проверяй”?

        Language is my whore, my mistress, my wife, my pen-friend, my check-out girl. Language is a complimentary moist lemon-scented cleansing square or handy freshen-up wipette. Language is the breath of God, the dew on a fresh apple, it’s the soft rain of dust that falls into a shaft of morning sun when you pull from an old bookshelf a forgotten volume of erotic diaries; language is the faint scent of urine on a pair of boxer shorts, it’s a half-remembered childhood birthday party, a creak on the stair, a spluttering match held to a frosted pane, the warm wet, trusting touch of a leaking nappy, the hulk of a charred Panzer, the underside of a granite boulder, the first downy growth on the upper lip of a Mediterranean girl, cobwebs long since overrun by an old Wellington boot

        — Stephen Fry

  48. “science is based on trust” This statement is very revealing. Trust is a synonym of faith which is what I thought was the ‘enemy’ of science.

    • Sure; I trust that I can replicate your published results, using your published data and methods.
      I trust myself to be the first person I am likely to fool.
      I trust my ability to be mistaken.For my pattern seeking mind will invent patterns at need.

      See scientific method is based on trust.

  49. If this tool were perfected it would become another tool for the writer, not the publisher, used like a spell checker, grammar checker, or reading level checker. The purpose would be to better conceal fraud. Can you imagine who the customers of such a tool would be?

    Consider this: 1) Can you imagine a science editor self-admitting they need such a tool? Wouldn’t that be a kind of career death to admit you can’t spot fraud? Isn’t that actually a requirement of being an editor? 2) Can you imagine a science writer claiming they believe they can conceal fraud even though they have no training to do so? (Note to self – that last part may be false.)

    To eliminate fraud you have to put fraudsters and their co-conspirators in jail and make a big deal about how their betrayal to science destroyed their families and careers (It also makes more sense than giving them better jobs with more responsibility as is the norm today). They may not care about their families, but a career death hurts to the brittle bones of these egoists. And that is why there will never be an effort to clean up their act.

    Case in point: Why is Peter Gleick still called a scientist? How can he have anyone’s trust? Why hasn’t the scientific community punted him out of it? Because the rule of golden rules is whoever owns the gold makes the rules. The scientific community has no interest in self-improvement.

    • Perspicaciously, dp writes:

      If this tool were perfected it would become another tool for the writer, not the publisher, used like a spell checker, grammar checker, or reading level checker. The purpose would be to better conceal fraud. Can you imagine who the customers of such a tool would be?

      Ouch. Nice pick-up. In this light, I can readily foresee a market for this kind of software among high school, college, and especially grad school matriculants all over the planet.

      You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do – and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time.

      — Ray Bradbury

  50. I’ve found the easiest way to tell when a scientist is lying is that they use absolute numbers when they are high (11,944 abstracts/12,465 papers) but they switch to percentages (97%)when the numbers are low (75 of 77 actual scientists) without citing the absolute numbers that the percentage was derived from. Another ‘tell’ is when they use backwards logic to say things like, “0.7% of the papers explicitly denied a human cause, therefore 99.3% must agree that there is only a human cause”. Which of course negates the possibility that there are other answers, or that sometimes we don’t know the answers.

  51. Some wonderful lecturer would be scheduled to give a lecture, at great expense to the university, we students knew was mostly BS. Before the event, buzzword checksheets would be printed up and smuggled to the attending students throughout the auditorium, beyond if it were broadcast. As the wonderful lecturer would say each buzzword, you could see intense students “making notes”, which really impressed the university brass who thought we were very attentive. As the lecture continued, suddenly, someone would shout, “BINGO!” and stand up all excited. The rest of the crowd would groan and the lecturer, still too naive to figure out what was going on would drone on and on, ad nauseum, as more and more attendees fell asleep, their dreams of winning a night with a co-ed, shattered….

    This wasn’t our idea. Its roots are in the halls of the finest engineering school on the planet, MIT and its Model Railroad Club Hackers….

  52. About scientists ‘sex up’ their data… it reminds me of the resignation letter (October 6, 2010) to the American Physical Society, of the distinguished professor of Physics, Hal Lewis, and the following extract from that letter:-

    When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago).

    How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’être of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs. For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

    It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

  53. I was talking to someone yesterday about all the “lies” that (sic) “scientists” have thrust on us over the years, ie, eggs, whole milk, beef fat and CO2 were a real no-no for years but now we find that this research wasn’t correct and those type of fats aren’t necessarily bad for us, and neither is CO2?

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a very low opinion right about now where (sic) “scientists” in general are concerned. I believe the MAJOR problem is government funded studies which push certain outcomes and if that isn’t achieved then the MONEY stops!

    So lets face it, in the end it IS all about the MONEY and government needs to GET OUT of the science business!

    • “Lone Gunman

      November 27, 2015 at 5:45 am”

      In terms of fat in diets, we have been led down a path of lies. Look up “French Paradox” in terms of diet and rich fatty foods. They have some of the best health records in the EU zone.

  54. Meanwhile back at warming HQ-

    ‘Researchers have found long-term warming in the Pacific and Indian oceans played a role in making Queensland’s 2011 floods far worse than they otherwise would have been.
    The research, published in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters, found the “warmer background state” in the water around Australia increased the likelihood of the extreme rainfall….

    “Many past studies have found a global warming link to heat extremes,” she said.
    “This study is one of the first to show how ocean warming can impact a heavy rainfall event.
    “As we come into climate change talks in Paris, this research offers yet another incentive for countries around the world to take action to forestall global warming.”‘

    But but our esteemed ex Climate Change Commissioner Tim Flannery told us global warming would reduce rainfall so much so that what rain did fall wouldn’t create enough runoff to fill our dams and then the floods came.
    You need to get your heads together and get your stories straight guys.

  55. The Sokal affair comes to mind. ‘Transgressing the
    Boundaries Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics
    of Quantum Gravity’ Alan Sokal’s hoax article that was
    published in a post modern journal.

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