Academic fake news: “Information Wars” Part 4 of 4

July 26, 2018
Felicia Smith


Congratulations you have made it to the conclusion of my academic fake news four-part series. So far, I have covered three aspects: predatory journals, fraudulent conferences and faulty textbooks. To wrap up the series I will offer potential solutions to help the noble soldiers fighting on the right side of the Information Wars.

Consumers of forged information, unsuspecting authors, and academic credibility are all victims of predatory publishing. Even though fake journals, conferences and textbooks are multiplying, so too are information troops to help defuse them. So, what can we do about it? There is not one single solution to avoiding academic fake news, altogether. There is, however, lots of help for consumers as they maneuver around the weaponized informational landmines.

Information warriors constantly compile a stockade of solutions. But their munitions pale in comparison to the academic fake news arsenal. Information literacy is high-caliber ammunition that is effective against the enemy’s bombardment. Fortifying consumers and academics with critical evaluation skills is the best defense against academic fake news and the predators who profit from it.

The textbook publisher’s failure to sell their skewed textbooks to California was financially disadvantageous to the publisher. For those motivated by financial gain this trend would be ruinous. While on the subject of money, there is a simple cost-effective solution to dealing with predatory journals and conferences. The simplest solution is to refuse to participate in any pay-to-play shenanigans. Starve the beast. If no one provides content, the publishers have nothing to print. While the author publication fees may be minimal (usually a couple hundred dollars); the ultimate cost to author’s and intuition’s reputations will be devastating and immeasurable.

The following four suggestions will help those who are not familiar with predatory journals and conferences, to better identify warning signs to avoid getting ensnared in their traps:

1. Critically evaluate the journal's website. 

Examine closely the publisher’s website.  Look for sample publications that they produced. A telltale warning sign is grammatical errors. Read their scope; aim/goals and mission statements. Look to see if the subject matter is too broad or wide-ranging. Information warrior’s marching orders dictate that, “If it sounds too good to be true; scrutinize through and through. Sound off! One. Two, Sound off! Three. Four, etcetera, etcetera.”

2. Peer-review policy. 

Is the peer-review process double-blind? Does the peer-review process have an unbelievably fast timeframe? Maybe too fast (less than a week/day).

3. Author publication fees?

Read their website to see if they require author publication fees? This is the biggest giveaway. The sneakier predatory publishers are less forthright about author publication fees. This can be problematic as evidenced by FTC claims of kidnapping against OMICS.

4. Presenter fees?

Scrutinize the conference website. Look for presenter or speaker fees? As a rule of thumb, academics do not pay to present at conferences. Check the location, independently. Most legitimate hotel and conference venues will advertise upcoming conferences, separately, on their own business website. Check the roster of speakers. Look for past conference information. Most legitimate hosts will archive prior conferences and presentation slides. Remember, if they are charging you money, beware. If it sounds too good to be true; then it is probably not true, or put another way, fake.

Not everything in fake academe is so distressing. Yelp, that’s right, sometimes fake news can be quite amusing. People rely heavily on Google for information. As the Dothraki say, “It is known.” A cautionary tale illustrating the pitfalls of Googling it, involved a search for "why are Komodo dragons endangered?" This straightforward inquiry retrieved results blaming fire, volcanoes and even tourism. If that strikes you as odd, it should. Because the source for this Google result was an elementary school student's homework assignment that just so happened to get posted online. For the record, the Wall Street Journal’s article confirmed that Komodo dragons are not, in fact, endangered. So that is yet another example of fake news in academia, courtesy of an elementary student who was unwittingly and unintentionally adding to disinformation. That example is not only funny, it serves as a memorable example to use for when training your information cadets, especially during library workshops.

That type of disinformation is expected using Google, but less so when using Google Scholar. Nonetheless both iterations of Google(s) have been ensnared by academic fake news. Don’t look now but there is no escape. Since there is nowhere to hide, the only option is to stay and fight. Rudimentary rules of engagement are: Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Up to this point, the solutions at the disposal of our information freedom fighters seem inadequate at best, and hopeless as worst. Sometimes, though the solution is embedded inside of the enemy structure. Think Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star by firing torpedoes into its thermal exhaust port. Kaboom!

After everything else has failed, the only option is to summon all of the information military’s firepower. This brings me to the last weapon still remaining. It may be last but it the exact opposite of least. In fact, it is the supreme solution. This solution of last resort is guaranteed to eviscerate the academic fake news permanently, root and stem. What is this magic bullet you ask? Let’s just say it is information-powered shock and awe. Because predatory publishers are profit-driven, the secret to their demise has been staring us in the face this whole time. That’s right, the ultimate solution is to hit them where it hurts, a.k.a. in their pocketbook. To attack the coffers of academic fake news is to unleash the information warrior’s ultimate weapon. Bankrupting predatory publishers is the most crucial military tactical operation needed to deploy in order to win the final battle, at long last. This is the nuclear option in the Great Information Wars of the 21st Century. Warning! This is not a drill. That’s right, we are at DEFCON 1.


In closing, my four-part series on academic fake news discussed three main aspects: predatory journals, counterfeit conferences and toxic textbooks, along with suggested solutions to fight against these relentless falsehoods. Hopefully my solutions will help academic information consumers navigate the potentially lethal fake news landscape thus avoiding the detonation of misinformation landmines.

The Great Information Wars of the 21st Century wages on. It is dismaying to learn how many academic fake news mercenaries have been detected in journals, conferences and textbooks. There are simple solutions at the disposal of authors considering where to submit their scholarship; for speakers who want to present at accredited conferences and for people who value historical exactitude.

Predatory publishers’ weaponization of information is purely profit driven. There doesn’t appear to be evidence that their intentions are purely evil.  They do not seem to be plotting the destruction of scholarship, in an underground volcanic lair. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about sinister textbooks that advocate for the inclusion of provable fallacies, while simultaneously pushing for the exclusion of unflattering truths. The motivating force driving the incursions into textbooks, while profit-driven, also includes blatant discrimination. This accusation may seem harsh, but after all this is war!

It is vital that educators and conscientious academic employees ensure that the dominant culture accurately, archives the lives, culture and contributions of all people generally, but underrepresented minorities, specifically. Fakeness in academic textbooks has shape-shifting abilities. It takes on many different forms. It is not limited to falsified and misleading accounts of history, but also takes the form of active omission or exclusion of pertinent information.

Academic fake news is purposefully and stealthily weaponized information. Fake news manifests itself in numerous was, in academia. It has invaded every aspect of information seeking life, spanning all levels of education. Predatory journals can have dangerous impacts especially in the field of science. There are mass casualties of this academic fake news war, most noticeably is the recipients of these falsities. If bogus science spreads as trusted data, people and the environment will be inevitably harmed. There is also collateral damage, the most concerning is scholastic credibility. Fake news is a hot topic. Yet a majority focuses on news media or politics. Fake news is rarely used to describe the predatory, informational terrorism in academic settings.

Disincentivizing involvement with predatory publishers is one possible way to fight back. This will require an intense educational campaign to prevent innocent academics from falling unwittingly into these concealed traps. Surely if academics know better, they would do better. These predators are stealthy and highly skilled at this type of fake news guerilla warfare.

Predatory publishers are increasing in number exponentially. They manipulate naïve consumers by producing journals with names that have been hijacked from similar sounding reputable brand names. To further complicate matters, predatory journals have begun buying legitimate journal companies. So, does that mean that the previously legitimate journals will not be classified as fake by association? This cocktail of truth and falsehood complicates consumers’ ability to discern real scholarship from fictitious drivel. Because this is part of the Information Wars, this is no ordinary cocktail, this is an academic fake news Molotov cocktail.

My four-part series discussed predatory publishers, in three main aspects: those profiteering from fake journals; those deploying money making schemes in the form of fictitious conferences; and finally, those falsifying history by advocating for dubious lessons in textbooks. My series includes solutions, some more extreme than others, to battle academic fake news. I would like to close with a summary of the three aspects discussed, but I will do so, rhythmically.

In the academic fake news dog eat dog world of

publish or perish;”

there are complicit survivalists willing to 

“pay to publish.”


In the academic fake news society

where counterfeit conferences make money by offering phantom presentations;

By participating

academic employees damage both - - their institution’s and their individual reputations.


In the academic fake news country,

where discrimination plagues housing, jobs, and schools. It is unthinkable to further pervert our classroom’s fundamental tool,

the textbook.

To do so could only be described as invidious, ignominious, opprobrious, and louche.

Translation: “that is NOT a good look!”


Click here to read the first post in this series.





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