Science publisher fooled by gibberish papers

2014-02-27 17:31
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Paris - Publisher of science journals Springer said Thursday it would scrap 16 papers from its archives after they were revealed to be computer-generated gibberish.

The fake papers had been submitted to conferences on computer science and engineering whose proceedings were published in specialised, subscription-only publications, Springer said.

"We are in the process of taking down the papers as quickly as possible," the German-based publisher said in a statement emailed to AFP.

"This means that they will be removed, not retracted, since they are all nonsense."

The embarrassing lapse was exposed by French computer scientist Cyril Labbe of the Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble.

He also spotted more than 100 other "nonsense" papers unwittingly published by the New York-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the journal Nature reported.

Labbe, 41, has been exploring how to detect fake papers written with a programme called SCIgen.

The programme cranks out impressive-looking "studies" stuffed with randomly-selected computer and engineering terms.

One example generated by SCIgen: "Constant-time technology and access points have garnered great interest from both futurists and physicists in the last several years. After years of extensive research into superpages, we confirm the appropriate unification of 128-bit architectures and checksums."

The "paper" comes complete with fake graphs and citations - essential features in scientific publishing - that in SCIgen's case includes recent references to famous scientists who died decades or centuries ago.

The programme was devised in 2005 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They used it to concoct meaningless papers that were accepted by conferences. The researchers later revealed the hoax and exposed flaws in safeguards.

"We are looking into our procedures to find the weakness that could allow something like this to happen, and we will adapt our processes to ensure that it does not happen again," said Springer.

Labbe spots the frauds by searching for telltale SCIgen vocabulary.

The papers detected by Labbe were submitted to conferences between 2008 and 2013.

In some cases, he told AFP, a paper's introduction was rewritten by a human hand to appear more authentic at first glance -- a veneer presumably aimed at fooling superficial scrutiny.

In 2010, Labbe used SCIgen to create 102 bogus papers by a fictitious scientist and added these to the Google Scholar database, an index of science prestige.

For a time, "Ike Antkare" ranked 21st on the database's list of most-cited scientists in the world -- higher than Einstein, who ranked a lowly 36th.

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