Physicist fighting for the truth

Academic hoaxes are eroding the credibility of the scientific community in Russia. Physicist Andrei Rostovtsev is fighting for the truth.

Many cases of academic fraud have been revealed in Russia during the past few years. This represents just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2013, physicist Andrei Rostovtsev returned to Moscow from Germany and decided to reveal the extent of the cheating. He developed a system that can compare and examine academic articles and studies automatically. This was the beginning of the Dissernet network.

So far, Dissernet has revealed nearly 6,000 cases of suspected academic plagiarism. In the most flagrant cases, articles were copied word-for-word, with only headings or individual terms changed.

 “One study on the chocolate industry had been plagiarised in its entirety, and only the word 'chocolate' replaced with the word 'beef'. The resulting fake dissertation on the meat industry was used to acquire a doctorate in economics," Rostovtsev explains.

Dissernet’s statistics show that cheating is most common in fields which are highly corrupt in Russia: economics, education and law.

Academic hoaxes have been perpetrated by heads of higher education institutions, leaders of local government and politicians. There are an innumerable amount of different ways to cheat: degrees are bought, titles and peer-reviews are faked, and statistics and research data are fabricated.

“It’s a structural problem and a sign of the weakness of our academic institutions,” Rostovtsev explains.

In smaller towns, some members of the Dissernet network have lost their jobs due to political pressure.

 “In Moscow and St Petersburg we have so far been able to work in relative anonymity. However, there’s no knowing what the future will bring," sighs Rostovtsev dejectedly.

The Russian academic world has become more open in recent times, thanks partially to Dissernet.

 “Our goal is not just to reveal problems and failures, but to help the academic community stabilise and improve. Dissernet is a project for the future,” Rostovtsev states.

Professor Andrei Rostovtsev visited the University of Helsinki’s Aleksanteri Institute on 15 November.

This article was published in Yliopisto magazine, vol. Y/10/16.