Fake reviews, sure… but fake science journals? Yes, says Science, the current affairs magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Entire Web addresses are hijacked and fake versions of sites are erected, in the hope of stealing their web traffic and users’ credit card numbers:

According to a tip sent to Science, fraudsters are snatching entire Web addresses, known as Internet domains, right out from under academic publishers, erecting fake versions of their sites, and hijacking their journals, along with their Web traffic.

Website spoofing has been around since the rise of Internet search engines, but it’s only in the past few years that scholarly journals have been targeted. The usual method is to build a convincing version of a website at a similar address— rather than—and then drive Web traffic to the fake site. But snatching the official domain is an insidious twist: Unsuspecting visitors who log into the hijacked journal sites might give away passwords or money as they try to pay subscriptions or article processing fees. And because the co-opted site retains the official Web address of the real journal, how can you tell it’s fake?

Science isn’t pristine, of course; it has its share of dodges, scams, and questionable journals. But this is pretty bold.

Still, a physics teacher friend is not surprised. When I mentioned this, she wrote back to say,

I have experienced something like it when, while typing (rather than cutting and pasting) a universal resource locator for a university physics resource, I made a small error, and found myself on a fake site.

One driver is the huge scale of online science publishing. Last year, according to Science, more than 2 million articles were published online by over 20,000 journals. Another is that science journals tend to be run by editors, not entrepreneurs—who might spot poachers more quickly.

This probem points up another way the internet is different from real life. It doesn’t provide the physical cues and clues that help us spot scams.

We can learn to spot them, certainly, but not necessarily by the intuitive methods we might use at a sporting goods shop or a used car lot. So we should be cautious about assuming our usual intuitive methods are some sort of gold standard, thinking “What could possibly go wrong?”

Possibly go wrong? We could set ourselves up for fake news as well as fake reviews, and even fake friends (science researchers have them too, incidentally).

After a while, we will think we are remarkable just for the fact that we really exist.

Next: How to spot fake reviews.

See also: Portrait of a social media addict … Social media addiction is like any other kind; we spend all our time pursuing an imagined happiness that an addiction can never give.

The following brief report addresses a related problem: Many new journals are not fake but their standards are so low that they may as well be:


Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...