How Computer-Generated Fake Papers are Flooding Academia

'I've written five PhDs on Heidegger just this afternoon. What next?' Photograph: Blutgruppe

‘I’ve written five PhDs on Heidegger just this afternoon. What next?’ Photograph: Blutgruppe

More and more academic papers that are essentially gobbledegook are being written by computer programs – and accepted at conferences

 writes:  Like all the best hoaxes, there was a serious point to be made. Three MIT graduate students wanted to expose how dodgy scientific conferences pestered researchers for papers, and accepted any old rubbish sent in, knowing that academics would stump up the hefty, till-ringing registration fees.

It took only a handful of days. The students wrote a simple computer program that churned out gobbledegook and presented it as an academic paper. They put their names on one of the papers, sent it to a conference, and promptly had it accepted. The sting, in 2005, revealed a farce that lay at the heart of science.

But this is the hoax that keeps on giving. The creators of the automatic nonsense generator, Jeremy Stribling, Dan Aguayo and Maxwell Krohn, have made theSCIgen program free to download. And scientists have been using it in their droves. This week, Nature reported, French researcher Cyril Labbé revealed that 16 gobbledegook papers created by SCIgen had been used by German academic publisher Springer. More than 100 more fake SCIgen papers were published by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Both organisations have now taken steps to remove the papers.

Hoaxes in academia are nothing new. In 1996, mathematician Alan Sokal riled postmodernists by publishing a nonsense paper in the leading US journal, Social Text. It was laden with meaningless phrases but, as Sokal said, it sounded good to them. Other fields have not been immune. In 1964, critics of modern art were wowed by the work of Pierre Brassau, who turned out to be a four-year-old chimpanzee. In a more convoluted case, Bernard-Henri Lévy, one of France’s best-known philosophers, was left to ponder his own expertise after quoting the lectures of Jean-Baptiste Botul as evidence that Kant was a fake, only to find out that Botul was the fake, an invention of a French reporter.

Just as the students wrote a quick and dirty program to churn out nonsense papers, so Labbé has written one to spot the papers. He has made it freely available, so publishers and conference organisers have no excuse for accepting nonsense work in future….Read the rest>>>

The Guardian

• This article was amended on 27 February 2014, to cite Nature as the source of the story


One Comment on “How Computer-Generated Fake Papers are Flooding Academia”


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