Academic Papers Filled With Nonsense–Literally

2168191635_6f1a83b18bApparently, it does not take much Artificial Intelligence to flummox academic scientists.

In 2005, three MIT graduate students developed a simple computer program that generates gobbledygook texts. They then added their names to one of them and submitted it as paper to an academic conference. It was quickly accepted. The heroic hoaxsters then offered the nonsense-generating program, SCIgen,  free for download–and evidently scientists have been making widespread use of it ever since. Two weeks ago  Nature reported that the German academic publisher Springer published 16 papers created by SCIgen.  100 more nonsense papers generated by the program were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

Now befuddled conference organizers and referees–the experts designated to spot nonsense in their own academic specialties–can breathe a sigh of relief. A French researcher has created a program to help them identify papers authored by SCIgen and made it free to download. But such relief may be short lived. One of the creators of SCIgen, Maxwell Krohn, foresees an “arms race” in which ever more sophisticated computers programs are able to spew out better and better fake papers that other computer programs are created to ferret out. Nevertheless, Krohn does not regret his creation in the least, declaring:

I’m psyched, it’s so great. These papers are so funny, you read them and can’t help but laugh. They are total bull*$%&. And I don’t see this going away.

HT to Lew Rockwell. (Photo credit.)


  1. The problem of utter crud entering the ever-increasing mountain of marginally relevant “peer-reviewed” papers is a known quantity since at least the Sokal Hoax. Now, while Sokal tried to imitate meaningless post-modernist drivel – and thus his paper being accepted is actually understandable – the IEEE is supposed to do serious engineering activities.

    Reviewers should really furrow their brows more when there are doubts about a paper’s contents. It means that the reviewers are either phoning it in or are afraid of looking unsophisticated. Either way it’s not good.

    And would really like to know the list of said papers. Seems no-one is saying. Nature reports:

    “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.

    The IEEE would not say, however, whether it had contacted the authors or editors of the suspected SCIgen papers, or whether submissions for the relevant conferences were supposed to be peer reviewed. “We continue to follow strict governance guidelines for evaluating IEEE conferences and publications,” Stickel said.


    In other news:

    “The Grapes of Wrath” are on the U.S. Department of Labor’s list of “Books that Shaped Work in America”:

    Well, Steinbeck totally did not understand the Raw Deal of New Deal. He also thought the Great Depression was the work of the dirty 1%. Now his fictional writings are being used to hail the historically sanitized version of said New Deal. Maybe “1984″ would be a book more relevant to the American Worker these days.

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