Science: How To Fake It

So you want to publish a fake science paper. Of course you do. Who doesn’t? But how do you go about it? Well, it’s a lot easier than you think. Just follow these simple steps…

Step 1: Pick a Subject
This is important. You’ll need to choose something that’s both popular and wrong. Things like “sticking needles in your skin cures disease” or “pets can telepathically detect when their owners are coming home” are pretty good. For this tutorial, though, we’ll use “common objects can bring you good luck” as an example.

Step 2: Prepare Your Experiment
Your experimental setup, of course, depends on the subject you’ve chosen. For this one, we’ll need a pair of dice and a bunch of objects to serve as good luck charms. The more the better. We want to run lots of trials, so gather up everything you can find: four leaf clovers, horse shoes, that pebble you found last week, Gerald your pet hamster, whatever happens to be lying around.

Step 3: Run Your Trials
Here’s where the magic starts. What you want to do is run lots and lots of trials, each with a small sample size. This will increase your chances of a false positive.

Step 4: Hunting The Wily Anomaly
Taken as a whole, your data will look pretty mundane. The chances of rolling, say, double sixes are 1 in 36, so you’re going to get about 2 or 3 per 100 rolls, give or take. Your results probably fit fairly well onto a bell curve, with most of the data points clustered in the middle and a few outliers on either side. But wait! If you rename some of those outliers “anomalies”, you’ve suddenly got a phenomenon!

Step 5: Writing Up Your Results
Now, if you were to write up all these trials in a single paper, it’d be obvious that those “anomalies” are just noise in the data. You need to get rid of all those pesky negative results. But you can’t just throw them out. That would be unethical. But wait, what if you write up each trial as a separate paper? So instead of one paper with 40 trials showing no significant results, you’ve got 39 papers with no significant results and one paper that shows Gerald is one lucky hamster! All you have to do now is not submit the papers with negative results. There’s nothing unethical about not submitting a paper for publication, right? People do that all the time. Awesome! Now you can publish your marginally positive results with a clear conscience.

Step 6: Publishing Your Paper
Avoid the major journals. They have a nasty habit of actually reading papers before they publish them. Not to worry. There are plenty of journals who’ll be more than happy to accept whatever you give them. Worst case, you can buy your way onto the review board of a journal, or even start your own!
Pro Tip: Use science-y jargon to hide the true nature of the paper. “The Effects of Mesocricetus Auratus on Stochastic Processes” is pretty good. “My Hamster Gerald is a Good Luck Charm”, not so much.

Step 7: Peer Review
Ha ha! Just kidding. No one’s going to review your paper. Any reasonably competent scientist is going to see right through your fakery at first glance. And the cranks will take it at face value because it supports what they’ve been trying to prove all along. You’re perfectly safe.

Step 7 (for real this time): Publicity
Immediately after publication, send a press release to the news media. Most of them will publish it verbatim. Heck, some of them don’t even have a science desk anymore, so they pretty much have to take your word for it. And honestly, a lot of them don’t really care if it’s true, as long as it’s interesting. If your idea is compelling enough, the news will spread like wildfire.

But surely someone will notice it’s fake, you say. Sure, but by the time that happens, the news will have been copied and pasted into every newsfeed on the planet. No one’s going to care about or even notice a dissenting opinion. Remember what Mark Twain said: “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” And that was in the 19th century. Now we’re in the information age and lies have laser-guided, turbocharged rocket pants! You’re home free!

Oh, and that Mark Twain quote? It was probably Charles Spurgeon who really said that. But there are 5000 Google hits attributing it to Twain and only 100 for Spurgeon. Kinda proves the point, doesn’t it?

And that’s all there is to it. If you follow these steps, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a fraud. Congratulations! Now get out there and fake some science!

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Steve D

Steve D

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.


  1. March 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm


  2. March 24, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    You left out step 8: Profit.

  3. March 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    An excellent guide.
    Consider it peer-reviewed.

  4. DoubtingT
    March 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    An excellent guide.
    Consider it peer-reviewed.

  5. March 25, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Love this!

  6. April 6, 2011 at 7:19 am

    This just in from xkcd:

  7. May 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Very preliminary, not much more than a rumor at the moment but there’s a chance this will be adapted into an “instructional” video.

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