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120 automatically generated gibberish papers made it to journals

Nature and Fox News (not necessarily a complete list) inform us about a story that is both amusing and troubling but one that sheds some new light on the term "peer review".

If you haven't seen that it really works, you should have a look. Go to the website of David Simmons-Duffin of IAS (but he was at Harvard a few years ago; I sold him some furniture when I was fleeing Cambridge) and find the link pointing to the website sNarXiv.ORG (TRF 2010). It looks like just another arXiv.org competitor or a clone but David's website has one huge advantage.




The advantage is that it doesn't need any real humans to operate. The server produces the papers automatically. And they look pretty convincing. David's code generates rather nice titles and abstracts because it was programmed as an accurate enough model of Lee Smolin's brain. Garbage in, garbage out. But it is grammatically kosher garbage that comes out!




There are apparently similar programs that generate whole papers. With such programs, it becomes possible to produce an unlimited number of papers. But 120 such papers have actually made it to printed journals in recent years, we are learning. A short time ago, all these papers were officially retracted by the publishers. Here is

the complete list of wiped articles (Nature)
See one of the abstracts.

Like titles and abstracts of Lee Smolin's papers, the titles are grammatically kosher yet random combinations of buzzwords that have usually nothing to do with each other (or sometimes the relationship is tautological, and therefore vacuous).

As far as I can see, all of them are conference proceedings and most of them are about some kind of computer science but some of those should have been peer-reviewed; see Nature and Fox for more details. Peer review is clearly useless (and sometimes counterproductive) if the "peers" are sloppy, corrupt, assholes, cowards, or some combination of these labels.

The news outlets blame the publication of this gibberish on dwindling standards in sciences and I guess that they are right. This would arguably not happen some decades ago. (Well, but maybe, the reason is that no one had good enough programs to write automatic papers at that time.)

In some fields, the percentage of papers that are gibberish reaches very high numbers. For example, it's been evaluated that 97% of published papers on "climate science" are gibberish. Due to the high percentage, such a failure of a discipline is called the "consensus".

Apple pushes climate skeptic investors to sell the stock

Tidbits, Gizmodo, and CNET inform that after a group of climate skeptical investors asked Cook to unmask the financial figures behind Apple's environmental programs and promise that he would care about the profit while doing these things, Apple boss Tim Cook angrily replied that "those who own the Apple stocks exclusively because of the return on investment and those who consider the environmental or ideological dedication of the company ill-advised should get out of the stock".

He's just talking the talk but no one will walk the walk, of course. It is a silly proclamation. If all climate skeptics actually sold the stock, the stock price would quickly drop to something like 1/2 of its value or deeper. Of course that most of the stockholders hold the company regardless of the environmentalism or other ideologies – indeed, they think that it will produce a profit – and the percentage of the climate skeptics among these majority investors mimics the percentage in the general society, so it is of order 50%.

There is no legal way for Cook to "force them out" (they really co-own Tim Cook himself and they have the right to do so) and most of them will keep the stock because they believe that others will do the same thing and the company will be making profits despite similar ideological outbursts of Tim Cook. But will it? Of course that in principle, Tim Cook could change Apple to another First Solar. Apple promises to run 100% on renewable energy which isn't necessarily lethal for such a company for which (lots of) energy plays a relatively small role. But it doesn't have to be the end of the activities.

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reader ambreen11 said...

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reader Kimmo Rouvari said...

I *really* have to sit on my hands at the moment :-) Typing with ones nose ain't easy, so give me some credit here! In some science fields 100% of currently published papers are gibberish... My nose hurts :-D


reader CentralCharge15 said...

Oh my god, this is so funny! And did you notice the test? http://snarxiv.org/vs-arxiv/
I got "1st year grad student", and the second time, I played randomly, thinking it would call me "a monkey", but it called me an undergraduate student.


reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, a certain percentage of monkeys is statistically guaranteed to become graduate students. As the famous thought experiment indicates, an even smaller fraction of the randomly typing monkeys become Shakespeare.


reader lemiere jacques said...

we need to know the names of the peer reviewers.


reader Pavel Krapivsky said...

The virtual monkeys come close to reproducing Shakespeare, see
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8789894/Monkeys-at-typewriters-close-to-reproducing-Shakespeare.html
I heard that all experiments with real monkeys ended up with monkeys defecating on the keyboard without typing a single letter...


reader Dilaton said...

Hahaha very funny, and a hint that the review method proposed by Ron on PhysicsOverflow my be better indeed (stay tuned) ... :-)

I have to admit that reading certain papers and books often makes me chuckle (and writing down a smileys at the edge of the page) because sometimes it is too funny in a cool way or exciting how theoretical phyicists formulat things at times ... ;-)

The same happens with TRF articles ... NO, I am NOT painting smileys with Tipex on my screen when Lumo makes me LOL or chuckle with agreement ... :-P !


reader Smoking Frog said...

I wonder if a program could be written to create convincing fake Lubos Motl essays. Well, convincing to some people.


reader Dilaton said...

CentralCharge15

They will most probably ban me now for two years, because of the discussions here

http://meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5562/2751

and here

http://meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5563/2751


in which case I will import all my questions to my offline site and delete my account.
To the second question concerning the astrobiology question, Emilion Pisanthy has given an immensely nice answer lining out a good compomis. Of course his answer has already attracted downvotes ...


Just wanted to let you know in advance, I let me drag in too much because I was feeling not well enough to to something more reasonable :-/


reader Dilaton said...

And on a final note, experts and people with a deeper technical knowledge are definitively no longer needed or wanted there. It is not only considered politically incorrect, but even deemed to be an insult to mention the objective fact that not everybody is equally knowledgeable or interested in advanced theoretical topics at a deeper technical level.

http://meta.physics.stackexchange.com/questions/5562/big-list-resource-questions#comment16269_5564

What is the political term for such a society with strong egalitarism ... ah I know, communist ! Seems even though the company that runs the site is located in the US, communism has taken over there ... :-D.

If my comments are annoying they can just be ignored, I simply have to type stuff to not go nuts as Uncle Al at times ... ;-)


reader Dilaton said...

Hi Anna,

are you interested in helping once more with this ?

http://physics.stackexchange.com/review/reopen/35725

But beware the horrible corresponding meta discussion here too, which is really disgusting

http://meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5562/2751

I really dont know where they finally want to go with their oppressive SE political overmoderation. See also how Dmckee is capable of brutally nullifying community decisions :-/

http://meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5563/2751


reader Dilaton said...

@CentralCharge15
And now David Z has locked for the Xth time a question that was at the verge of being community reopend and deleted all votes, as V.Morretti, a Physics and Mathematics Professor (!) has cast a 4th reopen vote.


I urge everybody to get out of the personal soap box of the mods + their disciples and and leave them alone. Despite its name, Physics SE is clearly no longer for physicists and students and even the word and opinion of professors is openly spitted on.


The dominating politiciians+ dictatorial mods treat the site as a platform to persue their obscure sect goals (whatever they are), which have nothing to do with the site being helpful or useful for physicists and serious students.


reader Redrum said...

Dilaton. Why don't you dilate yourself?


reader anna v said...

it is no longer open for reopens! sorry. It got three, open (morreti, deminsion10, wetsavana) and two keep closed (john r and waffle...) .

well, if it gets too regimented we just stop participating and let it drift downriver.


reader Dilaton said...

Yes I saw that it was just after my message locked by David Z once again abusing his mod power and deleting all the votes (yours would have been the 5th).

In the meantime Manishearth is looking for support on MSO to get rid of the people who disagree with the clique of despotic and their power abusing mods and their followers in the review queues. You can just look at his horrible MSO question, where he claims that people who disagree with the dominating dilettants and politicians in the review queues are abusing their powe,r, should be called trolls and treated accordingly, etc...

Seems it has become to regimental right now, as the dominating clique is obviously looking for an Endlösung to get rid of all the reasonable people who speak up against the despotic political overmoderation and try to counteract it. They prepare cleaning their soap box so to speak ...


reader CentralCharge15 said...

Yes, exactly, they realised they could not blatantly oppose community decisions without severe opposition, so they decide to make it official a policy to ban everyone who opposes them. This will get rid of both the community decisions, and the severe opposition.


Oh, how I wish I could see the moderator-only chat rooms.


reader Dilaton said...

If you find a means to access the mod only chat room, please tell me ...
I am really curios to know what Qmechanic thinks about Physics SE turning into a despotic dictatorial sect ...

And have you seen Manishearth calling explicitely the community disagreeing with a mod and/or more generally the dominating political clique, a failure of community moderation in response to Emilio Pisanthy in the the astrobio meta thread ?
This officialy seals the deal that there exists no community moderation at all on Physics SE. There is no point for reasonable physics inclined people to go into the review queues, the mods + political clique despotically suppress people who just want to live in peace and learn and do physics, anyway. So they can do their dirty business of stiffling innocent users and shooting down good questions on their own...


reader Dilaton said...

@CentralCharge15

Reading again through this discussion about astrobiology

http://meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5563/2751

and the thread

http://meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5562/2751

started by tpg2114 running to the mods with the agenda of enforcing his point of view by all means and more generally bringing knowledgeable people, who vote in the review queues from a physics/physicist point of view and refuse being abused as blind mechanic political robots, into trouble (which he succeeded in)

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/223704/184300

I think there is no point in visiting the review queues anymore. The recent discussions have made it cristal clear, that something like community moderation does not exist on Physics SE. And nothing can be done about this; not even by the best people and even well known physicists. The number of reasonable people in the review queues has nicely increased during the last few weeks, but this is all moot with the majority of the moderators behaving like trolling despotic dictators who permanently nullify community decisions and now even seriously threat people to be banned for disagreeing in the review queues.

Posting physics questions/answers there has become unthinkable since they started to abuse the homework issue (darn, my stupid post about the ongoing flood of low-level and homework questions probably helped triggering this too) to stigmate and prevent higher-level advanced topic technical questions too.
And speaking honestly, not even passively (without even being logged in) reading nice interesting posts (which I once enjoyed during lunch break when there is no nice TRF article to read), that can in principle still be found, is feasable as when scrolling through the list it is not possible to avoid taking note of the increasing number of wrongly closed questions too from the corner of one's eye, which is upsetting etc ...

So maybe it is even time to stop clicking that URL (Lumo will hopefully keep posting about nice answers he writes here), what do you think ?


reader Justin Boston said...

Do you think the fact that Al Gore sits on the board of directors has anything to do with his "green" rant? I own a 2013 MacBook Pro that doesn't get the energy star of approval because everything is strapped into place and not upgradeable (and difficult to recycle), e.g., RAM, CPU, SSD drive, VRAM, etc... Maybe Gore is the little devil whispering in Cook's ear to be Eco-friendly whilst the shareholders are the little angels asking Cook to show them the money.


reader Harrison Hopson said...

Well that was a fairly.. well thought out perspective. Now let me elucidate some of your confusion in Bucky's thinking.

First of all, it is not that his society frees 99.99 percent of the world from work. His society frees 100 percent of the world. I encourage you to study his theories in ephemeralization, that is, to do more with less. If you are busy with other affairs, I'll explain it briefly. Today we can design machines that turn light into matter and synthesize Gold. I was once ridiculed for wanting the best for my species by a market worshipper who stated "We can't all have beachfront homes and dine on caviar."
I'm sorry if you think similairly, because you're wrong. Everyone can have everything. The only problem I see in endless consumption is doing everything we want before we die, because there is in fact so much to do.

Give me the world, and I shall give it back tenfold. You fail to see the potential for infinite wealth I could offer you. Everyone on this planet could have a dozen mansions made of god damn diamonds. The only thing that stands in our way is you, and your train(wreck) of thought. I am not impressed with the bitter musings of free marketeers. There is no limit to what we can have on this planet or indeed in this universe. You just don't want us to be wealthy. You need losers to consider yourself a winner. Realize it or not, that makes you a loser. And a fiend. Your way of thinking will be your downfall. Peace.


reader Harrison Hopson said...

Money is not a development of bartering. Bartering is what societies fall back on when money fails. There is no natural barter society. Literally every example of the primitive barter economy capitalists and market economists portray, Keynes for example, is a fantasy land that has never and will never exist. Study anthropology properly or get out of the way.


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