Something is rotten in the state of science
Evidence is accumulating that quality control is a serious issue in academic publishing, which is the key to career advancement for scientists and other scholars. In an age when appeals to "peer reviewed" "settled science" have become standard operating procedure in efforts to impose radical increases in government control over our lives, corruption in the mechanisms for reviewing scientific publications has very real consequences for all of us.
Nature magazine tells us: Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers. Richard Van Noorden writes:
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.
So, how does computer-generated gibberish get published?
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. Nature has not heard anything from a few enquiries.
It would be comforting to believe that the problem is isolated to China, a new major player in world science, and perhaps one where people are catching up by cutting corners. But alas, Cyril Labbé has found otherwise:
Labbé is no stranger to fake studies. 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.
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.
There is a long history of journalists and researchers getting spoof papers accepted in conferences or by journals to reveal weaknesses in academic quality controls - from a fake paper published by physicist Alan Sokal of New York University in the journal Social Text in 1996, to a sting operation by US reporter John Bohannon published in Science in 2013, in which he got more than 150 open-access journals to accept a deliberately flawed study for publication.
We are in deep trouble.
Hat tip: Instapundit