Exterminate All Rational Academic Publishing

Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a 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.

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, held in Chengdu, China. (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". [...]

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 MIT to prove that conferences would accept meaningless papers -- and, as they put it, "to maximize amusement". SCIgen is free to download and use, and it is unclear how many people have done so, or for what purposes. SCIgen's output has occasionally popped up at conferences, when researchers have submitted nonsense papers and then revealed the trick.

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4 Responses:

  1. Jeremy Leader says:

    The hacker news discussion of this linked to another paper that was submitted to the same spamference that inspired SCIgen. It reminded me of "exterminate all rational testaments".

    For some reason, when I first read the mailing list paper late at night, the way my PDF viewer progressively rendered the scatter-plot data points in Figure 2, combined with its axis labels, pushed me over the edge into uncontrollable giggles.

  2. Pavel Lishin says:

    Wow, check your bio-privilege, folks. What next, computer generated novels can't be sold on Amazon?

    • Jeremy Leader says:

      They were rejected for being "computer-generated nonsense". Which part was the real issue, "computer-generated" or "nonsense"? I remember back in the 70s and 80s, there was controversy about the validity of things like the proof of the 4-color theorem and the classification of finite groups, because of their reliance on computer-assisted proofs, but I think there's less of that prejudice against computer involvement these days in many fields.