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YouTube Science Videos Are Riddled With Scams, Plagiarism, and Misinformation

YouTube logo on cracked TV screen, illustration

Siraj Raval, a self-described technology activist, has built a YouTube following of almost 700,000 over the past four years with popular videos like "TensorFlow in 5 Minutes," which explains a popular software platform used in artificial intelligence research, and "How to Make Money as a Programmer in 2018." To keep his audience entertained and engaged, Raval uses flashy graphics, memes, and even raps. The schtick is often referred to as edutainment—a cross between education and entertainment.

Raval's work has recently been called into question. Last summer, for instance, his online course called "Make Money with Machine Learning" turned out to be effectively a scam, and Raval was forced to refund hundreds of students. Around the same time, Raval published an academic paper that was later revealed to be plagiarized.

Raval's case raises questions about qualifications, substance, and accuracy on a platform that is the primary source of extra-scholastic science education for millions of people.

"As one colleague recently said, 'Basically, YouTube is the Wild West,' " says Joachim Allgaier, a sociologist who studies science communication at RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

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