Pantani-Contador Spanish experiment tricks Google Scholar  screenshot

Pantani-Contador Spanish experiment tricks Google Scholar


The great Google has been tricked by Marco Alberto Pantani-Contador, a fake researcher created by genuine Spanish researchers from Granada and Navarra universities. This kind of news should shock everyone except for those in the academic world. Google Scholar's search method happens not to be as good as it ought to be because it judges the quality of an academic paper predominantly by the number of cites it receives.

This way of thinking encouraged Nicolás Robinson García, Daniel Torres-Salinas and Emilio Delgado López-Cózar to create an academic paper divided into a group of six articles with a totally ridiculous referencing to 129 scientific papers in each one of them. The content of these papers made no sense at all, having been translated directly from Spanish to English using the Google Translator web tool. What’s the trick behind all this? The secret lies on the references. Google Scholar ranks papers according to the references it contains and the citations it receives, in other words, by analyzing papers’ bibliometrics. Through this bibliometrics method, papers can be determined to be more or less relevant, or at least that was Google’s intention.

Original authors, Emilio Delgado López-Cózar, Nicolás Robinson García y Daniel Torres‐Salinas. Source: UGRdivulga
Original authors, Emilio Delgado López-Cózar, Nicolás Robinson García y Daniel Torres‐Salinas. Source: UGRdivulga

Pantani-Contador’s case

A letter addressed to Science magazine’s director alerts us to how easy is to trick this tool just by creating a fake paper and using the flaw of the bibliometrics analyzing method for your own benefit. This letter narrates how researchers at two Spanish universities published an article in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, talking about the weakness of analysis by Google Scholar Metrics and Google Scholar Citations. These two search engines are extending their importance in the academic world, but their relevancy weak spots have been uncovered.

This experiment shows how easy it can be for anyone with basic knowledge to manipulate Google Scholar’s tools

Once the fake paper was created and uploaded to a personal website of the University of Granada, Google indexed it and included that paper in its search results. This was very profitable for the works related to this Pantani-Contador paper. Their relevance on Google’s tool increased exponentially, mostly on new researchers’ work since their citation rate increased 56-fold because of the six papers. The bibliometric indicators of the main authors increased notably just as the 51 scientific publications and the 47 researchers directly related to the fake paper in the references section.

Author’s words

According to Emilio Delgado López-Cózar, professor of the University of Granada “this experiment shows how easy can be, for everyone with basic technological knowledge, to manipulate Google Scholar’s tools, so used on scientific communicative world”. It is true that nowadays, with international academic collaborations, the number of papers has sharply increased, and the purpose of this kind of tool is to rapidly find relevant information for researchers.

The same researcher points out that “The compulsive obsession” that now exists of using cites as a measure of relevance is “an easy way for simple, free and universal products like those created by Google, and which are quickly used throughout the world, but which also have a lack lack of control, to push researchers to create fake results”. López-Cózar explains that if this kind of fraud can't be avoided “it can at least be prevented or hindered”.

One of Pantani-Contador
One of Pantani-Contador's detailed author growth


Pantani-Contador’s paper reveals how tricky the academic world can be since no one can judge a publication’s quality by citations alone. The authors of this fake paper claim that these kinds of works require specialists for granting the correct relevance for each paper. Google Scholar has a long way to go before it becomes the tool they want it to be.