Fabrication is inventing material—saying you found it in a research source, when in fact you thought it up on your own.
The Ashland Statement
Fabrication is the intentional falsification or invention of research, data, citations, or other information. Examples of fabrication include:
- Citing information not taken from the source indicated.
- Including in a reference list sources which have not been consulted.
- Inventing or altering data or source information for research or other academic exercise.¹
4 Reasons Students Fabricate
- You are lazy or you waited until the last minute. You didn’t do your homework and the paper is due tomorrow. So you make up some material and hope that the teacher is ignorant enough to buy it.
- You don’t know how real academic people work. You think professors and researchers sit in their offices, stare at the ceiling, and just come up with stuff: “Oh, I suppose the current unemployment rate in Ohio is about 40%. Sure seems like a lot of people I know are out of work.”² Don’t shoot from the hip and invent things. Teachers will look up the facts for themselves (especially if your claims are wild or you are writing in an area of the teacher’s expertise) and your paper goes down the drain. NOTE: Some politicians spew out numbers without any clue about the truth in an attempt to stir up emotions in their audience; do not imitate them.
- A related idea is cherry-picking your sources. This happens when you search out information that supports your partisan thesis but ignore everything that might disprove it. For example, if your thesis is that people with a certain hair color are stupid, a cherry-picking approach would dig up material to support that hair color idea (and perhaps not be too worried about the quality of the sources) while ignoring legitimate information which shows that hair color and intelligence are unrelated.
Fabrication in the public space
Some sources, such as government statistics offices, try very hard to be impartial and show the facts as they are. Some, such as major newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, or Los Angeles Times for example) and major broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, CBS) know that their reputation rests on actually telling the truth, so they verify facts by using several sources before they publish.
However, in addition to politicians, many content-suppliers (for example, InfoWars, Breitbart, and Fox “News”) are in the business of inflaming emotions and supporting their political agenda at any cost, so they will present any string of words that will excite their fan base, and truthfulness is not very important to them.
As a scholar, you need to learn how to evaluate sources and not to imitate those who will sacrifice truthfulness in an attempt to gain their goal.
- You assume that you personally know everything there is to know—and that your guesses are absolute truth. Several of my students, after reading an article by Paul McHenry Roberts, complained that the comment, “There was one case where a high school star was offered a convertible if he would play football for a certain college” was obviously untrue because they had never
heard of such a thing. As a matter of fact it did happen. The college was Kansas University, the student was Wilt Chamberlain, the year was 1955, and the car was an Oldsmobile.³ The Roberts article was written in the mid 1950s, so this was hot current news for Roberts; the fact that it all happened 45 years before you were born doesn’t make it less true. The fact that you never heard of it and cannot imagine it happening doesn’t make it less true. When you put out your guesses and assumptions as if they were facts, you are fabricating.
- You don’t read too well. Time for some humility. If you know your reading is rocky and unreliable, you need to get some help. Discuss the text with a roommate, a Writing Center staff person, or your teacher. People who grade papers crucify you if you misstate facts.
- If Andrew Sullivan says he discovered he was gay, don’t tell us that he decided to become gay.
- If April Fulton writes that Greg Walton “studies how to correct the belief that we are alone in our fears of being left out,” don’t tell us that Fulton says, “we are alone in our fears of being left out.” (That’s totally opposite of the point made by both Walton and Fulton. You left out the “studies how to correct the belief that” part.)
Misrepresentation and fair quotation
It’s often possible to pull a string of words out of a paragraph and quote them so they say something entirely different from what the author intended. Doing so is also a form of academic dishonesty.
In the Bible, Psalm 53:1 says, “There is no God.”
The fuller context of those words is in the rest of the verse: “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts; there is no one who does good.”
¹Ashland University. “Ashland University Academic Integrity Policy.” Administration: Ashland University, Ashland University, 2 Dec. 2011, www.ashland.edu/administration/sites/ashland.edu.administration/files/Academic%20Integrity%20Policy_9-1_0.pdf. Accessed 25 Nov. 2017.
²According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ohio has been hovering in the 5% range.
³I did not know this one either, but it seemed worth checking out, so I used Google to search for “college basketball, convertible, recruiting, scandal." I knew the approximate date Roberts wrote his article, and I simply dug through a dozen or so Internet hits. That’s how research works.