U.S. Scientific Conference Falls for Gibberish Prank
By Greg Frost
April 16, 2005
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A bunch of computer-generated gibberish masquerading as an academic paper has been accepted at a scientific conference in a victory for pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Jeremy Stribling said on 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 nonsensical text, charts and diagrams. The trio submitted two of the randomly assembled papers to the World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, 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 journal Social Text.
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.
"We were tired of the spam," Stribling told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that his team wanted to challenge the standards of the conference's peer review process. 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 "randomly generated talk." So far, they have raised more than US$2,000 over the Internet.
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