More Than 120 Published Scientific Papers Withdrawn after Proven to Be Computer-Generated Gibberish

(Science vs. Magic t-shirt now on sale at the NeatoShop)

2 years ago, we learned that a scholarly journal of mathematics had published an article that was computer-generated gibberish without any mathematical meaning. The author--or rather, the person who used the authoring program--was trying to prove a point about how slipshod the peer-review process had become.

Now the scientific publishers Springer and IEEE have withdrawn more than 120 scientific papers from publication. Most of the papers originate in China. The publishers pulled them because a computer scientist developed a program that detects fake papers. Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France ran publication databases through his program. In the journal Nature, Richard Van Noorden describes the results:

Labbé does not know why the papers were submitted — or even if the authors were aware of them. Most of the conferences took place in China, and most of the fake papers have authors with Chinese affiliations. Labbé has emailed editors and authors named in many of the papers and related conferences but received scant replies; one editor said that he did not work as a program chair at a particular conference, even though he was named as doing so, and another author claimed his paper was submitted on purpose to test out a conference, but did not respond on follow-up.

Why do scientists engage in this practice? Because the more frequently a scientist is cited, the more prestige that author acquires. Labbé demonstrated this by creating a fake scholar and giving him enormous prestige:

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.

-via Ace of Spades HQ

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I always inserted a fictitious author/reference into every paper I had to write for college. No one ever questioned it. My prepared answer was that I did it to catch anyone plagiarizing my work. Sure.
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Conference proceedings are a mixed bag. In some fields, there are conference proceedings that are tough to get into and such papers are respected, but there are other proceedings that are not peer-reviewed. A lot of smaller conferences handle the review process within the conference, managed by the organizers who then papers are handed off to a publisher for hosting. So it is up to those organizers to maintain any quality control of what goes into the proceedings, short of things being bad enough to get people to complain to the publisher. It is a different ball game from more established journal review processes (although some of those can suck too).
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