Computer Generated Papers

From Ian Sample at The Guardian on how computer-generated fake papers are flooding academia:

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.

The farce is not just that academics are being duped by computers writing “gobbledegook.” It is that there are “dodgy” conference organizers and journal publishers that are ready to accept anything so they can bilk an author. This hoax was a valiant attempt to expose those.

Conferences aren’t free. If you write a paper and have it accepted at a conference, don’t expect any payment. You will have to pay a registration fee to attend the conference and likely pay for your own travel. Most reputable conferences charge a reasonable fee to cover their expenses, which can be substantial, but you do see some conferences with some exorbitant, jaw-dropping registration fees. It is wise to stay away from those.

You can see a similar trend in the proliferation of “open access” journals. These journals are available online for free instead of charing an individual a cover price or a library for a subscription. Instead, they charge the author a publishing fee.

Publishing anything, even “gobbledegook,” for a fee is a predictable result of conferences and journals that exist primarily to generate a profit.

When hoaxes like these get reported in the press, readers assume that authors submit conference papers or journal articles as completed works. They do not. It’s possible that some of the paper proposals submitted as “gobbledegook” had a sound kernel of an idea that could develop into a solid paper with some revisions. A panel chair or an editor will often shepherd a conference paper or a journal article so the author can revise it. But it’s hard to judge whether the conference organizers were duped because they accept anything to generate a registration fee or whether they accepted it with revisions. As the Social Text–Sokal incident made clear, no one expects a hoax.

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