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Pre-print servers fuel conspiracy theories

by on15 February 2021

Data which would be rejected turning up online

A team of boffins has found that data for science papers, which were yet to be carefully reviewed, were turning up online where it was being used to fuel conspiracy theories.

For those not in the know, boffins place their journal manuscripts on a public server prior to formal peer review. This is then kicked around by their fellow boffins who look for holes in the data and the logic.

A research team led by computer scientist Jeremy Blackburn, has tracked the appearance of links to preprints from social media sites, such as 4chan, popular with conspiracy theorists.

Blackburn and a graduate student, Satrio Yudhoatmojo, found more than 4,000 references on 4chan to papers on major preprint servers between 2016 and 2020, with the leading subjects being biology, infectious diseases, and epidemiology.

He said the uneven review process has "lent an air of credibility" to preprints that experts might quickly spot as flawed but ordinary people wouldn't.

Blackburn, an assistant professor at Binghamton University said: "Papers from the preprint servers show up in a variety of conspiracy theories and are misinterpreted wildly because these people aren't scientists."

The executive director of ASAPbio, a nonprofit group that pushes for more transparency and wider use of preprint servers], added:"Preprint servers do not have the resources to be arbiters of whether something is true or not."

MIT Press's Rapid Reviews: COVID-19 journal  recently appended a scathing editor's note to its critique of articles that had been published on pre-print servers saying that while pre-print servers offer a mechanism to disseminate world-changing scientific research at unprecedented speed, they were a forum through “which misleading information can instantaneously undermine the international scientific community's credibility, destabilize diplomatic relationships, and compromise global safety".

Academics, they are *so" precious.



Last modified on 15 February 2021
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