3 Feb 2011


Football fans can easily recall a few faked falls during important matches. Quite often a faked fall is sufficient to change the result of a match.

At the recent meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, Robbie Wilson reported a study on faked falls at football matches.[Science 2011;331:280] Among 2800 falls, only 6% were definitely deceptive dives, i.e. no contact between the players. At first sight, this figure appears surprisingly small. However, it makes perfect sense. According to game theory, if faked falls occur more commonly, the general scrutiny of dives would change, making the cost-benefit ratio less attractive.

Secondly, the closer to the goal, the more likely a fall was deceptive. This is because of the high payoff of creating a scoring opportunity. Besides, when it was closer to the goal, the success rate of faked falls was high. Free kicks or penalty kicks were offered to the attacking side in 80% of the time.

The observation can be extrapolated to other situations such as scientific publications.

1. Although faked works do occur, thank God they should be rare events.
2. Faked works are stimulated by payoffs. Since the payoff from a single scientific publication is usually small and the result of being caught is devastating, young researchers are at highest risk of crossing the line.

What if there is a sudden increase in the number of less established researchers? This is the worrying bit.

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