120 scientific papers written by computer program are withdrawn

25 Feb 2014

Some 120 scientific papers that had been featured in some of the world’s most respected journals have been taken offline after they were found to have been written by computer programs.

According to Nature, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, discovered the fraudulent papers. He saw they were clearly written using computer software and were entirely ‘gibberish’.

Of the 120 fake papers found, more than 100 of these were attributed to the American-based Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), which is highly regarded in the engineering field. Another 13 papers were published in Springer, a German-based research publication.

Both organisations have responded to Labbé’s discovery of the papers and have confirmed they will now be removing them from their databases.

Paper generator

The phony papers were created using a piece of software called SCIgen, created by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to prove a point: that someone could produce a paper that is meaningless but would be accepted by a scientific conference.  

By simply typing a list of names into the generator, a scientific paper that would seem legitimate to the untrained eye is created in a split second, but is clearly gibberish to any scientist in the know.

Labbé has since created a webpage that will allow people to upload a paper they suspect to be false and his own fakery detector will tell them whether it was a SCIgen-generated document.

While the IEEE has taken the fake papers off its website, it has yet to confirm whether the authors of these pieces have been contacted directly by the group and whether the vast majority of the Chinese authors cited are actually credible scientists.

As the editorial team for Siliconrepublic.com, we must say a lot of work went into our own scientific paper …

SCIgen paper

Formula image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic