In Greece, numerous news organizations and the country’s Education Minister have recently learned an uncomfortable lesson about the importance of vetting to determine the legitimacy of self-proclaimed experts in the case of Eleni Antoniadou, who at age 31 has claimed to be an expert on regenerative medicine. Antoniadou has been celebrated for her contributions to science and was even the inspiration for the first Greek Barbie doll when she was named as one of 20 female role models as part of Barbie’s “Sheroes” series. However, when the Greek Education Minister presented Antoniadou with an award for her achievements, it prompted a Greek professor teaching in France to look more closely into Antoniadou’s credentials to determine how it was possible for someone relatively young to have accomplished so much.
In interviews, Antoniadou has claimed to have been: a researcher working for the U.S.-based NASA space program; an expert on regenerative medicine; a maker of cutting-edge artificial organs; an activist against organ trafficking; and a trainer of astronauts. However, Greek Hoaxes, an organization dedicated to uncovering fake news, conducted a close examination Antoniadou’s claims and has concluded that she exaggerated numerous aspects of her biography. The BBC published claims made by Antoniadou and the push-back to those claims by Greek Hoaxes:
Claim: Antoniadou claimed to have worked on the world's first artificial trachea, which was successfully transplanted to a patient.
Counterclaim: Antoniadou was in fact a postgraduate student at UCL and only remotely involved with the surgery. Furthermore, the transplant ended with one of the biggest scandals in modern medicine, covered here by the BBC. The patient died after his body did not accept the transplant. Nonetheless, Antoniadou gave interviews in Greece long after the patient’s death, saying how she had saved the patient's life and how the patient was living a normal life.
Claim: Antoniadou claims to have worked for a number of years as a researcher at NASA.
Counterclaim: Antoniadou attended a 10-week summer school at NASA during which time she took pictures around the NASA facilities wearing clothes with the NASA logo. NASA has denied she works directly for the agency, but has not excluded the possibility that she may be working as a sub-contractor.
Claim: Antoniadou has called herself a PhD.
Counterclaim: Antoniadou in fact holds two postgraduate Masters degrees.
Claim: Antoniadou has represented herself as a successful entrepreneur and CEO of a company called Transplants without Donors, which manufactures artificial transplants.
Counterclaim: Antoniadou’s company does not appear in public records and the internet domain that it owns is inactive.
The example of Eleni Antoniadou illustrates the importance of verifying credentials when assessing the trustworthiness of experts, spokespeople or potential partners. This can be particularly important in the field of academia, in which each discipline can have a distinct and often inaccessible vocabulary, which when deployed effectively can give a veneer of legitimacy to otherwise unqualified individuals. Our earlier blog on assessing the legitimacy of expert witnesses provides several tips that can help researchers determine whether an individual is a credible expert in their field.