This week, news broke that two large scientific publishers are pulling more than 120 articles from their databases. The reason for the cull? It turns out the papers were more or less spam.
According to Nature News, the rogue papers were singled out by Cyril Labbé, a French computer scientist, and created using a piece of software called SCIgen, which combines words and phrases to produce plausible-sounding computer science papers. The program was built by MIT researchers in 2005 to prove that some scientific conferences were willing to accept papers that weren't much better than gibberish.
Turns out they were more right than they knew.
The 120 papers in question were published by the German-based Springer and the U.S.-based IEEE in the proceedings of conferences that mostly took place in China, Nature News reports. One conference where bogus papers figured was the 2013 International Conference on Quality, Reliability, Risk, Maintenance, and Safety Engineering, which was held in Chengdu. One paper was titled "TIC: a methodology for the construction of e-commerce," and included this fishy-sounding description in the abstract: "[we] concentrate our efforts on disproving that spreadsheets can be made knowledge-based, empathic, and compact."
That's right, a paper trying to prove that spreadsheets can't be made empathic.
“The papers are quite easy to spot,” Labbé told Nature News. He's even made a website where users can upload suspicious papers to see whether they were created by SCIgen. According to Labbé, there's currently a "spamming war started at the heart of science," with researchers under immense pressure to get as many papers published as quickly as possible.
Nature News was able to confirm that at least some of the papers had real authors' names attached to them, although it's not clear whether those authors were in on the scam — nor, for that matter, who might be behind the papers, or why. Most of the authors were affiliated with Chinese institutions, and it appears that they snuck by lax conference organizers and editors.
Via Nature News