Thursday, February 27, 2014

Twilight of the gods

Chesterton, as in so many other areas, had our number when he said that if you preface your statement with "Don't you know that scientists say..." then people will readily accept whatever outlandish nonsense you make up. More and more people are realizing the truth of that:
Springer and IEEE will be removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a researcher found they were computer-generated gibberish.
For a layperson, looking at scientific papers can be an exercise in humility. We know most of those words, and surely they make sense in some capacity, but high concept research uses, by necessity, some very complicated language.
Apparently not even the publishers of these papers are as adept as we thought at gauging their meaning, as the work of one researcher reveals. Computer scientist Cyril LabbĂ© of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, spent two years examining published research papers, and found that computer-generated papers made it into more than 30 conferences, and over 120 have been published by academic publishing houses — over 100 by the the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and 16 by Springer.
The papers were generated by a piece of free software called SCIgen, developed in 2005 by scientists at MIT. SCIgen randomly generates nonsense papers, complete with graphs, diagrams and citations, and its purpose was to demonstrate how easily conferences accept meaningless submissions.
At this point, the only sane response to people who appeal to "the consensus of the scientific community" or who demand "peer reviewed evidence" is to laugh in their face.

h/t: Vox

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