Two Stanford Researchers Are Anti-Semantic

Two Stanford University communications researchers have shown that fraudulent publications and authors’ linguistic obfuscation are correlated, p < 0.05. David M. Markowitz & Jeffrey T. Hancock, “Linguistic Obfuscation in Fraudulent Science,” 35 J. Language & Social Psych. 435 (2016); Bjorn Carey, “Stanford researchers uncover patterns in how scientists lie about their data,Stanford Report (Nov. 16, 2015) [Carey, below]

Stanford Professor of Communication, Jeff Hancock, and graduate student David Markowitz observed that there are repeating patterns of expression in the language used by scientific fraudfeasors. They hypothesized that scientific fraudfeasors would signal their duplicity in their linguistic expressions as well. These authors created a linguistic obfuscation index based upon the prevalence of jargon, abstraction, positive emotion terms, and readability. They then compared the obfuscation index scores of 253 papers retracted for fraudulent data with 253 unretracted papers, and 63 papers retracted for reasons other than fraud. Not surprisingly, Hancock and Markowitz found differences, with fraudulent papers having higher obfuscation scores, and generally more jargon.

As Markowitz explained:

We believe the underlying idea behind obfuscation is to muddle the truth. *** 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.”

Carey. Professor Hancock acknowledged that there remained a high error rate in their obfuscation analysis, which needed to be lowered before automatic linguistic analyses could be useful for detecting fraud. Hancock also acknowledged that such the use of such a computerized linguistic tool might undermine the trust upon which science is based. Id.

Well detecting fraud might undermine trust, but look where trust has gotten us in science.

Trust but verify.

I cannot wait until I proffer the first expert witness rebuttal report in litigation, to show that my adversary’s expert witness has crossed the obfuscation line.

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