The Singapore Sting: Why an activist published a fake paper on ‘LGBTQ+ child acceptance’

Teo Yu Sheng

Last spring, the Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science published a provocative paper stating that left-handed mothers in Singapore treat their LGBTQ+ children better than do right-handed moms. 

Except the paper, “Left-Handed Mothers and LGBTQ+ Child Acceptance in Singapore: Exploring the Link through Early Life Rejection,” was fake, a sting, designed to cast shade on anti-gay science proliferating in Singapore. 

The data were fabricated, and so were the authors, Jin Rabak and Hen Guai Lan. Their purported employer, Simisai University? A bogus institution with a name concocted for laughs: in Singaporean English, “simisai” means “what the shit.” 

Retraction Watch has covered many sting operations. Most of them involve a scientist submitting fake data for publication so they can expose predatory journals that host junk science to collect publication fees. 

In this case, the person behind the sting, Teo Yu Sheng, is a Singaporean activist who founded a website and company called Heckin’ Unicorn that celebrates queerness. Inspired by comedian John Oliver’s fake church, Teo created a fake paper he hoped would help discredit bad-faith arguments from American conservatives that Singaporeans were using to advocate for a ban on same-sex parenting. 

Two papers cited in these arguments had been published in the Journal of Education, Society and Behavioural Science. So Teo, a self-described “science nerd,” hatched a plan.

“I was just reading up on all of the things that people were citing as evidence that queerness is wrong or bad,” he told Retraction Watch. And then he got the idea to submit a fake paper to the journal, “Just to prove that it’s just bullshit, that anyone can send random shit and it’s gonna get published.”

Teo says he wrote the manuscript in three days. After edits from friends, he sent it to the journal on March 5, according to emails obtained by Retraction Watch. 

Nine days and a $140 fee later, the journal published the article with minimal changes and no questions about the data, methodology or the authors’ background. The only significant change: the journal had revised the paper’s submission date from March 5 to January 8. 

Teo was furious:

It’s one thing to publish anything without caring whether it’s true or not, but it’s another thing to actively lie. They said that they received it in January. Unless they have a time machine, that’s just impossible.

M. B. Mondal, the journal’s publisher, said the date change was a “typo-error by the proof editor.” She says that the journal retracted the article several months later on October 16, 2023:

We became aware of the problem of the fake paper from different internet forums/blogs around the last week of September 2023. Exact date I can not remember. After careful review by the expert committee, the article was retracted.

Mondal declined to elaborate on what “careful review” meant.

The paper is no longer available on the journal’s website, and its abstract has been replaced with the sentence, “This article is Retracted.”

However, a PubPeer user flagged the article’s retraction in December, at which point the abstract read, “This article is under investigation.” When asked what the journal was investigating two months after the retraction, Mondal also declined to comment. (The journal’s publisher, ScienceDomain International, has previously come under scrutiny for publishing suspect science.)

Teo learned the paper had been retracted from the PubPeer notification; the journal had not communicated with him about the retraction. He published videos and a lengthy article in September describing his fake paper and its problems, as well as discussing why the articles he sought to undermine were also scientifically flawed. He admitted that he has no formal scientific training, but was taught how to analyze scientific papers in school.

Teo says his lack of expertise make the journal’s flimsy standards all the more damning: 

It took nine days to get it published. It took me on and off about a year to research and write down why the science was wrong. So that gives you a sense of how quick it is to turn out rubbish and get it published, and how much more difficult it is to go through the details and explain why something doesn’t make sense. It’s significantly more difficult to debunk false information than it is to create conspiracy theories of fake scientific evidence or knowledge.

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3 thoughts on “The Singapore Sting: Why an activist published a fake paper on ‘LGBTQ+ child acceptance’”

  1. So, essentially, a predatory journal published a non-scientific PDF with random information. What is the novelty?

  2. Well, I got my first refereeing request from a Sciencedomain journal today. I see this publisher doesn’t seem to turn up much on Retraction Watch as yet. They’d like a reply in 6 days and helpfully mention that if I don’t reply in 48 hours they’ll move on to someone else. So my usual practice of not replying to spam refereeing requests will work just fine here.

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