Academic Gibberish: There’s an App for That!

ApparentlyScreen Shot 2014-02-26 at 8.50.47 AM some of the nonsense that makes it into conference proceedings is not the work of weary academics with unfortunate prose styles,  it’s just computer-generated gibberish. A report on the Nature Web site has the embarrassing disclosure that scientific and technical publishers are now pulling over 100 fake papers that got through “review for merit and content” despite being computer-generated garbage. (How did they pass peer review? Does one computer algorithm just check another computer’s output to make sure it’s “quality gibberish”?)

From the opening of the piece:

The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.

Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers.

Later in the piece, there’s this delicious bit of how to:

How to create a nonsense paper

Labbé developed a way to automatically detect manuscripts composed by a piece of software called SCIgen, which randomly combines strings of words to produce fake computer-science papers. SCIgen was invented in 2005 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge to prove that conferences would accept meaningless papers — and, as they put it, “to maximize amusement”

I’m surprised that it wasn’t “fake social-science” or “fake lit crit,” after all, the knock-offs being so difficult to tell apart from the real product. I hope the software is still in development, and we’ll have modules soon for fake “Judith Butler” or “Slavoj Žižek.”

P.S. Wikipedia discloses that it’s been going on for years! Academic Spam.

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