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.

This Just In: Tax Cuts Work!

Raised, as I was, by socialist parents during an era where kids sang Woody Guthrie songs during elementary school assembly, I’ve always pretty much been the poster child for a “tax and spend liberal.” I’ve always been okay with taxes, and may be one of the few willing to pay more particular if they serve civic needs and aim towards fairness.

So I am shocked, shocked to find out that cutting taxes–and allowing superstars crafty loopholes (literally)–does fuel economic growth and artistic innovation. To wit: Abba’s essence of the 70’s look, a product of tax policy!

From a Guardian report on their new book:

And the reason for their bold fashion choices lay not just in the pop glamour of the late 70s and early 80s, but also in the Swedish tax code.

According to Abba: The Official Photo Book, published to mark 40 years since they won Eurovision with Waterloo, the band’s style was influenced in part by laws that allowed the cost of outfits to be deducted against tax – so long as the costumes were so outrageous they could not possibly be worn on the street.

The tax scofflaws in one of their less outrageous get ups.

Now we know what Grover Norquist will be wearing (and listening to) if he manages to drown the US Government in a bathtub.

Returns are Easy! Just like Zappos?

Andy Borowitz has inside story on the baffling purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos:

SEATTLE (The Borowitz Report)—Jeff Bezos, the founder of, told reporters today that his reported purchase of the Washington Post was a “gigantic mix-up,” explaining that he had clicked on the newspaper by mistake.
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“I guess I was just kind of browsing through their website and not paying close attention to what I was doing,” he said. “No way did I intend to buy anything.”

He should be extra careful now. “You might also like Detroit, Fabrice Tourré, or the U.S. Congress. Look at what we’ve recently added to your wish list!”

Silly Words: George Carlin’s Literary Advice

Because we could all use a laugh today: George Carlin’s “Join the Book Club Today!” K-Tel meets Book of the Month:

His voice has that unctuous “buy now” quality evoking bad local TV ads, and such great titles! My faves: “Fill Your Life With Croutons” and the “The Wrong Underwear Can Kill.”

There is a fun list of vanity press books at Just the titles are enough to make you smile at the enduring truth from Ecclesiastes “of making many books there is no end.”

Latawnya The Naughty Horse Learns To Say No To Drugs
The Shadow Mouse of Everjade
Night Travels of the Elven Vampire

As yet, though, Amazon has no evidence of George Carlin’s promised “Why Jews Point.”

News from the Studio

Gramophone shares the distressing news that “Great Voices Sing John Denver” is not, in fact, an Onion headline, but an actual CD slated for release in June. Opera stars like Plácido Domingo, Danielle de Niese, René Pape, and Thomas Hampson assay the artistic heights of mountain mommas.

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Full marks for the cover though, you have to give them that. For a preview, one can find Domingo and Denver “dueting” on “Perhaps Love” on YouTube, a link you can find for yourself.

Next up no doubt: Alfie Boe records Rückert-Lieder, available for cheap if you order it with “Rammstein in the Cole Porter Song Book.”

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