Gibberish-Loaded Fake Papers Are Flooding Academia And A New Cat And Mouse Detection Game Is Afoot

from the gyre-and-gimble-in-the-wabe dept

At the beginning of the year, Mike pointed out the strange and funny tale of Navin Kabra, an entrepreneur in India. Kabra started wondering if the requirement frequently placed on students in India to have two papers “published” at various conferences was little more than a huge scam, designed largely to get students to pay the fees for the submissions and the conferences. Despite claims that these works are “reviewed by panelists from a panel of international experts using a double-blind review methodology,” Kabra didn’t think they were actually even being read.

To go about proving his theory, he started using the science gibberish-generating SCIgen app to submit papers to conferences. It’s worth noting he didn’t even try to make the papers sound coherent or logical, burying entire paragraphs referencing things like The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy or using dialogue from movies like My Cousin Vinnie. In numerous spots within the papers he clearly admits that a nonsense generator is writing the text:

“As is clear from the title of this paper, this paper deals with the entertainment industry. So, we do provide entertainment in this paper. So, if you are reading this paper for entertainment, we suggest a heuristic that will allow you to read this paper efficiently. You should read any paragraph that starts with the first 4 words in bold and italics – those have been written by the author in painstaking detail. However, if a paragraph does not start with bold and italics, feel free to skip it because it is gibberish auto-generated by the good folks at SCIGen.”

His two bogus papers were accepted (one he paid to have published), and Kabra hoped at the time that his experiences would build awareness of the issue. Apparently that hasn’t been the case. As it turns out, the practice isn’t just occurring in India — it’s happening everywhere, and has been seemingly spreading for some time. This week it was revealed that just two publishers, Springer and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), had published more than 120 bogus papers packed with nonsense:

“Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbe 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 Labbe, say that they are now removing the papers.”

Labbe has one-upped Kabra’s exposure attempts by also publishing fake research of his own; research that helped him fairly easily boost his reknown in the Google Scholar database:

“Labbe is no stranger to fake studies. In April 2010, he used SCIgen to generate 102 fake papers by a fictional author called Ike Antkare [see pdf]. Labbe showed how easy it was to add these fake papers to the Google Scholar database, boosting Ike Antkare’s h-index, a measure of published output, to 94 — at the time, making Antkare the world’s 21st most highly cited scientist. Last year, researchers at the University of Granada, Spain, added to Labbe’s work, boosting their own citation scores in Google Scholar by uploading six fake papers with long lists to their own previous work.”

He’s taken things one step further, creating a web-based program to help publishers scan for SCIgen gibberish, the technical specifics of which he has published with Springer. With this story now starting to see broader traction, it’s probably safe to assume publishers are quietly pretty busy reviewing the archives to determine just how embarrassed they should all be. We’ve essentially just witnessed the evolution of a new generation of cat and mouse bullshit creation and detection, something somebody should clearly write a preferably-factual and coherent research paper on.

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Comments on “Gibberish-Loaded Fake Papers Are Flooding Academia And A New Cat And Mouse Detection Game Is Afoot”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning, smells like hilarity

I can’t be the only one thinking this, but it seems the ‘prestigious publishers’, in cahoots with the (likely kickback receiving) ones pushing for students to have works published brought this on themselves, by on one hand insisting that students and academics get published, while at the same time being completely indifferent to just what was published.

So really, they only have themselves to blame for the egg they now find covering their faces, and if they want to fix the mess they caused, they might have to (gasp!) do their jobs, rather than just handing it off to a computer to ‘read’ and judge.

fairuse (profile) says:

Re: Oh dear...

New Rule to keep handy.

You should read any paragraph that starts with the first 4 words in bold and italics ? those have been written by the author in painstaking detail.

I scrolled to the beginning of this story to see if it started with that code. Well, one never knows when scan reading if a visual clue was overlooked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Academic librarian here:

I can assure you that plenty of religious-minded researchers get their papers published. The trick is that the papers have to be about science. As illustrated in the above feature story, it doesn’t even always have to be good science. The “problem” is that once you insert magic/imaginary friends into the equation, it ceases to be science. But guess what? Those papers can still be published, too, you just have to shelf them in the Bs instead of the Qs.

Academia has a good many faults, but Ben Stein’s so-called documentary is not a very accurate picture.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, I am corrupt for science – how very astute of you.

Why just the other day I noticed an object fall to the ground and thought – you know what? – due to scientific method I can predict the velocity at which it traveled and the force it exerted upon the object it struck. This knowledge filled me with the power of corruption, Woohooo.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

Will Springer and IEEE be offering refunds to universities library systems for the fraudulent publications? After all, the peer review system is their biggest selling point over open access. I hope some librarian makes a case that their proceeds were fraudulently obtained, because the publishers didn’t even try to fulfill their reason to exist in the supply chain.

Anonymous Coward says:

In a study it was concluded that Hollywood accounting is the cause of our economic crisis. Now we have Hollywood publishing. Oh mc donald had a farm, ee ya ee ya oooh. and on his farm he had a politician. ee ya ee ya ooo. With a lie lie here, and a lie lie there, here a lie there a lie, everywhere a lie lie. oh mc donald no longer has a farm. According to another study the lawyers took it all. The lawyers and politicians and lobbyists. They ruined everything.

There, now that I have published my gibberish I want my noble peace prize.

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