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Busted: 120 gibberish science papers withdrawn — so much for “peer review”

At least 120 computer generated nonsense papers have been reviewed and published in publications of the  Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and Springer, as well as conference proceedings. The fakes have just been discovered by a French researcher and are being withdrawn.

Cyril Labbé found a way to spot artificially-generated science papers, and published it his website and lo, the fakes turned up en masse. In the past, pretend papers have turned up in open access journals–this time the fake papers appeared in subscription based journals. But the man who caught the fakes says he cannot be sure he’s caught them all, because he couldn’t check all the papers behind paywalls.

According to Nature:

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.

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.

One paper was called “TIC: a methodology for the construction of e-commerce”. In the abstract it claimed they “concentrate our efforts on disproving that spreadsheets can be made knowledge-based, empathic, and compact”.

The system IS the problem. Peer review is not rigorous, the incentives are all wrong, but it is given huge social and financial importance far beyond what it is capable of.

Labbé says that the latest discovery is merely one symptom of a “spamming war started at the heart of science” in which researchers feel pressured to rush out papers to publish as much as possible.

These fakes were generated by software and so blatant that they were spotted by software too (did anybody read them?):

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’). A related program generates random physics manuscript titles on the satirical website arXiv vs. snarXiv.

Labbé has been in this game on both sides. He used SCIgen to create 102 fake papers which were published four years ago. He invented a fake author and got the imaginary scientist’s rank up to the the 21st most highly cited scientist. So much for the Google Scholar ranking…

Is it a hoax, or  are real researchers using SCIgen (a program that writes “papers”) as a way of quickly polishing a half done paper, or writing an invented paper? “Most of the papers were submitted to conferences based in China and were published with Chinese affiliations.” We know in China there is great pressure, and many rewards given for scientists to publish.

Science is not process that can be bureaucratized, commodified, bottled and boxed. The success of an idea cannot be measured by a publishing index.

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