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  1. Abstract The systematic substitution of direct observational data with synthesized data derived from models during the stock assessment process has emerged as a low-cost alternative to direct data collection efforts. What is not widely appreciated, however, is how the use of such synthesized data can overestimate predictive skill when forecasting recruitment is part of the assessment process. Using a global database of stock assessments, we show that Standard Fisheries Models (SFMs) can successfully predict synthesized data based on presumed stock-recruitment relationships, however, they are generally less skillful at predicting observational data that are either raw or minimally filtered (denoised without using explicit stock-recruitment models). Additionally, we find that an equation-free approach that does not presume a specific stock-recruitment relationship is better than SFMs at predicting synthesized data, and moreover it can also predict observational recruitment data very well. Thus, while synthesized datasets are cheaper in the short term, they carry costs that can limit their utility in predicting real world recruitment.