Son of Sokal: Conference Accepts Bogus Paper

MIT grad students use computer program to generate substance-free paper -- with plenty of jargon and graphs -- and a conference accepts it.
April 18, 2005

Most of us associate spam with penis enlargement and get-rich-quick schemes. But many graduate students in computer science are being driven crazy by e-mail appeals to send papers to academic conferences that they believe exist primarily to make money.

Three graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology decided to do something about it. They created a computer program that would link together random scientific phrases, graphs and charts -- and they used the program to submit a bogus paper to a conference, which accepted it. Now that the graduate students are sharing their program, the bogus paper, and their acceptance letter with the world on a Web site, the conference has uninvited them and unaccepted the paper. But the students think they have made their point.

Jeremy Stribling, one of the graduate students, said in an e-mail interview: "That the paper was accepted tells us that no one read the paper before the acceptance notification deadline, or that if someone did read it, they did not care to write a review of it." He said that the paper -- "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy" -- "should have seemed obviously fake to anyone in computer science within a few sentences."

Stribling and his team have also added to their Web site links to documents about a 1996 hoax in which Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University, had a fake article accepted in the journal Social Text.

The victim of the hoax this time around: The 9th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, to be held July 10-13 in Orlando. In a statement reacting to the hoax, conference organizers said that they knew of several hoax papers that had been submitted, and that at least one had been rejected. The statement said that at the deadline for setting the program, there were several papers that had not been reviewed, and that organizers believed it would be "unfair" to reject them, so they were accepted with the idea that they would be described as non-reviewed papers.

"In our opinion, and it has been our experience, the acceptance of a small percentage of non-reviewed papers does not significantly decrease the quality level of a conference, in fact, it could well increase the probability of not refusing a good paper with a content differing from established paradigms," the statement said.

While Stribling and his partners have been uninvited to the conference, they have not given up hope of attending. They are now offering to pay the registration fee of anyone who has had a paper accepted to the conference so they can show up instead.


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