April 17, 2005

Conferences as Scams

For some reason I kept getting mailed about a conference called "Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics." Perhaps it is the name, as Systemics is a company I have something to do with... But a brief look at the conference left me wondering whether it really existed; and later on I noticed other strange conferences popping up in Florida with similar weird appearances, and similar spam techniques. And, today, Levi pointed me at this: All is answered!

MIT students pull prank on conference
Computer-generated gibberish submitted, accepted
Thursday, April 14, 2005 Posted: 7:29 PM EDT (2329 GMT)

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- In a victory for pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a bunch of computer-generated gibberish masquerading as an academic paper has been accepted at a scientific conference.

Jeremy Stribling said Thursday that he and two fellow MIT graduate students questioned the standards of some academic conferences, so they wrote a computer program to generate research papers complete with "context-free grammar," charts and diagrams.

The trio submitted two of the randomly assembled papers to the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), scheduled to be held July 10-13 in Orlando, Florida.

To their surprise, one of the papers -- "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy" -- was accepted for presentation.

The prank recalled a 1996 hoax in which New York University physicist Alan Sokal succeeded in getting an entire paper with a mix of truths, falsehoods, non sequiturs and otherwise meaningless mumbo-jumbo published in the quarterly journal Social Text, published by Duke University Press.

Stribling said he and his colleagues only learned about the Social Text affair after submitting their paper.

"Rooter" features such mind-bending gems as: "the model for our heuristic consists of four independent components: simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the study of reinforcement learning" and "We implemented our scatter/gather I/O server in Simula-67, augmented with opportunistically pipelined extensions."

Stribling said the trio targeted WMSCI because it is notorious within the field of computer science for sending copious e-mails that solicit admissions to the conference.

The idea of a fake submission was to counter "fake conferences...which exist only to make money," explained Stribling and his cohorts' website, "SCIgen - An Automatic CS Paper Generator."

"Our aim is to maximize amusement, rather than coherence," it said. The website allows users to "Generate a Random Paper" themselves, with fields for inserting "optional author names."

"Contrarily, the lookaside buffer might not be the panacea..."

Nagib Callaos, a conference organizer, said the paper was one of a small number accepted on a "non-reviewed" basis -- meaning that reviewers had not yet given their feedback by the acceptance deadline.

"We thought that it might be unfair to refuse a paper that was not refused by any of its three selected reviewers," Callaos wrote in an e-mail. "The author of a non-reviewed paper has complete responsibility of the content of their paper."

However, Callaos said conference organizers were reviewing their acceptance procedures in light of the hoax.

Asked whether he would disinvite the MIT students, Callos replied, "Bogus papers should not be included in the conference program."

Stribling said conference organizers had not yet formally rescinded their invitation to present the paper.

The students were soliciting cash donations so they could attend the conference and give what Stribling billed as a "completely randomly-generated talk, delivered entirely with a straight face."

They exceeded their goal, with $2,311.09 cents from 165 donors.

Posted by iang at April 17, 2005 02:42 PM | TrackBack
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