Layers and layers of peer-review: Two publishers of scientific journals have withdrawn 120 papers which they have discovered were nothing more than computer-generated gibberish.
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. …
Labbé developed a way to automatically detect manuscripts composed by a piece of software called SCIgen, which randomly combines strings of words to produce fake computer-science papers. SCIgen was invented in 2005 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge to prove that conferences would accept meaningless papers — and, as they put it, “to maximize amusement” (see ‘Computer conference welcomes gobbledegook paper’). A related program generates random physics manuscript titles on the satirical website arXiv vs. snarXiv. SCIgen is free to download and use, and it is unclear how many people have done so, or for what purposes. SCIgen’s output has occasionally popped up at conferences, when researchers have submitted nonsense papers and then revealed the trick.
The real story here is that many of these gibberish papers were peer-reviewed by actual scientists who are supposedly experts in their fields and should have spotted the fakery immediately. That they didn’t suggests another level of corruption. Either they don’t really bother to peer review the papers they are asked to peer review, or they knew what was going on and were part of the game.
That this kind of stuff happens repeatedly in many fields of science should make us all very skeptical of any controversial scientific claim that carries with it any political component. This doesn’t mean that all published material is fake, only that we must not take anything on faith. Controversial results had better be bomb-proof before we accept them willingly.