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Want to publish science paper? Just use a random word generator

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Just what is required to get published in scientific publications? How much education? How much specialized training? How much field work? How many PhDs?

Well, all you need is electricity and the ability to use a computer.

Conference proceedings removed from subscription databases after scientist reveals that they were computer-generated.

Richard Van Noorden reported, Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers (Nature, February 24, 2014 AD). Note, they are not refusing to publish them rather, they already published them and are withdrawing them. The report is subtitled, “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” [emphasis added].

Indeed, someone perched atop an imitation ivory tower has figured out how to access the internet and…well, that’s all folks, publish your [un]scientific papers in supposedly reviewed publications at will!

Van Noorden’s report notes:

“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” [emphasis added].

Springer advertises itself as the “Publisher of professional and scholarly books, journals and encyclopedias in nursing, gerontology, psychology, and social sciences.”

IEEE, which stands for Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineer, and advertises itself as “The world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology.

That’s so adorable! These are the publishers of papers spat out, literally, randomly.

It is funny, and sad, because it is true but:

“Among the works were, for example, a paper published as a proceeding from the 2013 International Conference on Quality, Reliability, Risk, Maintenance, and Safety Engineering…(The conference website says that all manuscripts are ‘reviewed for merits and contents’.) The authors of the paper, entitled ‘TIC: a methodology for the construction of e-commerce’, write in the abstract that they ‘concentrate our efforts on disproving that spreadsheets can be made knowledge-based, empathic, and compact’” [emphasis added].

As it turns out:

“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’ (see ‘Computer conference welcomes gobbledegook paper’).”

And one would think that a computer scientist with a bunch of, like, fancy book learnin' and high tech gadgets would not be required to identify random poppycock. No, one would think that, at least, one of these, like, smart guys, and stuff, would just be able to read some such paper and say, “Doe not compute!”

“A related program generates random physics manuscript titles on the satirical website arXiv vs. snarXiv….SCIgen’s output has occasionally popped up at conferences, when researchers have submitted nonsense papers and then revealed the trick…

‘I wasn’t aware of the scale of the problem, but I knew it definitely happens. We do get occasional e-mails from good citizens letting us know where SCIgen papers show up,’ says Jeremy Stribling, who co-wrote SCIgen when he was at MIT…

‘The papers are quite easy to spot,’ says Labbé, who has built a website where users can test whether papers have been created using SCIgen…Shortly before that paper was published [Labbé’s paper describing his detection technique: Labbé, C. & Labbé, D. Scientometrics 94, 379–396 (2013)], Labbé informed the IEEE of 85 fake papers he had found. Monika Stickel, director of corporate communications at IEEE, says that the publisher…‘refined our processes to prevent papers not meeting our standards from being published in the future.’ In December 2013, Labbé informed the IEEE of another batch of apparent SCIgen articles he had found. Last week, those were also taken down, but the web pages for the removed articles give no explanation for their absence.”

Cyril Labbé should set his skills towards ascertaining just how many US government bills are randomly generated. One thing is certain; most politicians vote for or against them without even reading them.

“Ruth Francis, UK head of communications at Springer, says that the company has contacted editors, and is trying to contact authors, about the issues surrounding the articles that are coming down. The relevant conference proceedings were peer reviewed, she confirms — making it more mystifying that the papers were accepted” [emphasis added].

Well, clearly they get the paper, read it and say, “Well, that sounds smart; s-okay with me!” Or, they get paid to edit and review papers which they do not bother editing or reviewing.

“Labbé 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]. Labbé 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 Labbé’s work, boosting their own citation scores in Google Scholar by uploading six fake papers with long lists to their own previous work2.

So a person who does not even exist, publishing randomly generated papers became the world's 21st most highly cited scientist. This means that people were buttressing their own work by citing random babble, “Thus saith Ike Antkare!”

“There is a long history of journalists and researchers getting spoof papers accepted in conferences or by journals to reveal weaknesses in academic quality controls — from a fake paper published by physicist Alan Sokal of New York University in the journal Social Text in 1996, to a sting operation by US reporter John Bohannon published in Science in 2013, in which he got more than 150 open-access journals to accept a deliberately flawed study for publication.”

So, in this one report alone, we learn of over 30 published conference proceedings (jibber-jaber), sixteen papers by Springer (gobbledegook), over 100 were published by the IEEE (babel), 102 fake papers by Ike Antkare (gibberish) and over 150 open-access journals (poppycock). But fear not…or so we are told:

“Labbé emphasizes that the nonsense computer science papers all appeared in subscription offerings. In his view, there is little evidence that open-access publishers — which charge fees to publish manuscripts — necessarily have less stringent peer review than subscription publishers. Labbé adds that…because he could not automatically download all papers from the subscription databases, he cannot be sure that he has spotted every SCIgen-generated paper.”

So, now you know how to become one of the most cited science writers in history: use a random word generator while taking bong tokes in your mom’s basement!

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