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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 10th, 2014 @ 10:53pm

    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.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 12:46am

    this is beyond delicious into whatever is next.

     

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  3.  
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    KeillRandor (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 3:10am

    Oh dear...

    Is it bad that the first thought of mine was a lolcats picture?:

    I'm in ur filez, re-searchin' ur research...

    http://cheezburger.com/8101897984


    (And now the word search just looks really weird to me for some reason, lol.)

     

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  4.  
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    fairuse (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 4:36am

    Re: Oh dear...

    Purrfect.
    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.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 4:51am

    Many conservatives love to hate science and this adds fuel to their fire. Giving proof to an "I told you so" maniac is like giving a booze to an alcoholic.

     

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  6.  
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    any moose cow word, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 6:12am

    Re:

    And yet despite how ridiculously low the bar for getting published seems to be, certain conservative "scientist" still can't even pass over it. Apparently their papers can't even pass for computer generated gibberish.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 6:56am

    Re:

    No never mind that the scientific community keeps making it easy.

    Science or Religion... the human element is what makes it corrupt, NOTHING is immune and based on your comment, I would tend to believe you would be one of the corrupt in the name of science.

     

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  8.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:18am

    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.

     

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  9.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:42am

    creating a web-based program to help publishers scan for SCIgen gibberish

    He should have made a program that actually gets a human to read them.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 7:48am

    Prepare SCIgen 2.0 to thwart the program so these morons actually have to read them. Perhaps they can't be bothered to read them because they are illiterate?

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 8:54am

    Re:

    I hope so. Clearly they need to be made bankrupt as an example to other corporations what happens when you engage in fraud.

     

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  12.  
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    PRMan, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 10:51am

    Re: Re:

    Because once somebody calls you a "creationist" (whether you are one or not) you get put on the science journal no-fly list for all eternity.

    Watch "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" by Ben Stein sometime if you would like to see this in action.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 11:59am

    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.

     

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  14.  
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    Knight Fell, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 12:05pm

    Yep.

    And that explains the contents of most patents.

     

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  15.  
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    beltorak (profile), Mar 11th, 2014 @ 12:15pm

    Artificial Inanity programs

    Has anyone read Anathem by Neal Stephenson? I am laughing and crying at the same time over here!

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 4:51pm

    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.

     

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  17.  
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    Dan T., Mar 12th, 2014 @ 8:54am

    So tell us again how the vital need for researchers to sign over the copyright to their papers in order for them to be paywalled by huge corporate publishers is necessitated by the super-important role those publishers serve as gatekeepers organizing the peer review that ensures high quality?

     

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  18.  
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    Pragmatic, Mar 13th, 2014 @ 7:01am

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

    @ That One Guy, you win the internet for referencing Apocalypse Now.

    We really need to call these people to account for what is basically fraud. They're supposed to read the papers and review them. That's not happening.

     

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  19.  
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    pons, Mar 13th, 2014 @ 7:03am

    Gibberish

    Reading papers in a range of fields for some years I have not noticed any difference....

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2014 @ 1:23pm

    [gibberish]
    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.
    [/gibberish]

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

     

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