Nonsense paper accepted by mathematics journal

by on October 18, 2012 at 2:21 pm in Games, Science | Permalink

Last month That’s Mathematics! reported another landmark event in the history of academic publishing. A paper by Marcie Rathke of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople had been provisionally accepted for publication in Advances in Pure Mathematics. ‘Independent, Negative, Canonically Turing Arrows of Equations and Problems in Applied Formal PDE’…

Each of these sentences [of the paper] contains mathematical nouns linked by the verbs mathematicians use, but the sentences scarcely connect with each other. The paper was created using Mathgen, an online random maths paper generator. Mathgen has a set of rules that define how papers are arranged in sections and what kinds of sentence make up a section and how those sentences are made up from different categories of technical and non-technical words. It creates beautifully formatted papers with the conventional structure, complete with equations and citations but, alas, totally devoid of meaning. Nate Eldredge – the blogger behind That’s Mathematics! – wrote Mathgen by adapting SCIgen, which does something similar for computer science. Papers generated by SCIgen have been accepted for publication at academic conferences and journals that claim to carry out peer review.

The article is here and it also excerpts from the referee reports, for instance:

We can’t catch the main thought from this abstract. So I suggest that the author can reorganise the descriptions and give the keywords of this paper.

For the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.

Andrew' October 18, 2012 at 2:26 pm

“Sh—y first drafts,” as they say.

Frequent Reader October 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Do you have a job?

Dwyane Carter October 18, 2012 at 4:10 pm

He just likes chillin on this MR sh*t.

Andrew' October 18, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I comment too much on about 1/2 of the posts. Does Tyler have a job?!?

Emily October 18, 2012 at 11:51 pm

This is part of his job.

prior_approval October 19, 2012 at 1:18 am

The director of the Mercatus Center is undoubtedly pleased to showcase the metrics of this blog to illustrate the reach of the center’s attempt to influence public discourse, which is the center’s stated purpose.

And just like MRU, this blog is extremely portable – no GMU resources seem to be directly used for either (well, if whois, traceroute, and the fact that a newly hired Mercatus Center employee seems to handle MRU tech support are reliable indicators).

Universities are fine places to enjoy a wide degree of freedom – as long as the external funding continues, that is.

Rahul October 19, 2012 at 4:43 am

Assuming all you say is true; yet where’s the crime? What’s bugging you?

Andrew' October 19, 2012 at 7:14 am

“This is part of his job.”

No, it’s part of his career.

Claudia October 19, 2012 at 7:28 am

Who knows and who cares?

What people do with their time is their problem…unless there’s a negative externality (hard to imagine on a blog other than slander). My quality of life and productivity would fall if this comment section or blog was occurring out loud, in person in my office, but it’s not. It’s entertainment and there are lots of other options.

Cliff October 19, 2012 at 9:49 am

More crying from prior_approval because someone he disagrees with tries to influence public discourse. How terrible! Too bad we’re not in Germany where they would presumably be locked up for having different opinions than you (I assume, since you have a huge hard-on for Germany 100% of the time).

Frequent Reader October 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

I’m with Claudia. No hard feelings, Andrew’. Just impressed by your vitality.

Bill October 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Sometimes I wonder if that software program which created the non-sense math article has been modified to use economics jargon to write economics blog posts.

Miles October 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm

…or blog comments.

Bill October 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

that is a fictional school. the whole thing is satire.

Jordan Eldredge October 19, 2012 at 2:03 am

But at least it’s a famous fictional school. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USND_at_Hoople)

david October 18, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Open access gives the journal a greater incentive to pick more tolerant peers, since it can’t monetize readership and has to monetize more from publication. There’s no mechanism by which peer review is actually ensured to be of some minimal quality, sadly.

improbable October 18, 2012 at 3:10 pm

The problem being pointed out here is the growth of open-access journals with very low standards, which try hard to look legitimate. A response to the fact that their customers are now the authors seeking CV points, not the libraries.

There’s a blacklist here: http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/ , and “Scientific Research Publishing” is most certainly on it.

Zephyrus October 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Is it that crazy? Any sufficiently advanced computer program is a proof.

John B. Chilton October 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Fictional school? How dare you! Its most famous product is Professor Peter Schickele.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USND_at_Hoople

Bill Benzon October 18, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Someone has not heard of Peter Schickele, a real person who teaches fictitious musicology at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._D._Q._Bach

Unsympathetic October 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I’m not sure how this is news. Anyone can assert that their magazine is “peer reviewed” – but that doesn’t mean those peers doing the reviewing are actually good at their job. However, in all professions there’s an “A” list of journals which are actually difficult to get articles accepted into, such as Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series B. Publications in the rest of the magazines don’t count for anything even when professors are getting reviewed for tenure. If nobody profit$ from publishing this article, nobody benefits from having the article published, and no political agenda is advanced… what’s the point ?

Matt Flipago October 18, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Your C.V. for people trying to be professors with tenure. A crappy journals publication looks decent to tangentially related fields and if nothing else is on your C.V..

Jonathan October 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm

What I like about this is than an actual peer review was generated and the process took ten days. Why not just accept the paper as is and take a check for $500?

mulp October 18, 2012 at 4:46 pm

How would the $500 be divided among the agency which are the people seeking a free journal of articles?

$500 to the first reader? $10 to the first 50 readers? $500 to the first author to cite the paper? $500 split equally among all the readers in the first year? $500 split among all the authors who cite the paper in the first year?

The only payments involved for this and the other journals of scirp.org is for the cost of any print copy paid for, with unlimited electronic copies free. Normally, not only must you pay to read papers even electronically (although many academic connected organizations adopt the socialism of levying costs on all according to their means to provide free access according to their needs – institutional subscriptions) but authors are expected to pay according to their means (by the socialism of for-profits voluntarily paying large tributes).

Jonathan October 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I’m not sure I understand what you mean. The original article points out that the reason the article didn’t get published is that scirp.org wanted $500 to publish it. Granted, they might also get a revenue stream from readers, but the $500 fee to publish is what I was discussing. If you’ll publish any crap for $500, why go though the charade of (a) generating a “peer review” which makes suggestions and (b) waiting for the benighted soul who gets the peer review to make edits? I suppose if you thought you might actually gernate some reader fees on the other end you might have some incentive, but, really?

Artie Z. October 18, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Because the journal could not charge $500 for a non-peer reviewed article. There are institutions at which faculty need to publish “peer-reviewed” articles to stay academically qualified – if you don’t have some minimal number and go up for post tenure review (which is mandatory in some places) they can have you teach more classes (or larger classes) and I have heard it is possible that they can revoke tenure. So if you needed 3 “peer-reviewed” articles in some time span and only had 2, spending $500 to get a quickly “peer-reviewed” article is most likely very worthwhile; a non-peer reviewed article would not be worth anything to a faculty member in that situation.

Jonathan October 19, 2012 at 8:45 am

I clearly am not explaining myself well. I am saying that the Journal could claim to be peer-reviewed. For that matter, it could be actually peer reviewed. The review would consist of the following anonymous review. “Great stuff. I recommend immediate publication.” If you were a real stickler, maybe a sentence or two explaining why the article was so great. This would be a win-win-win. the author wins, because he gets a peer-reviewed publication for tenure review without pesky edits. The Journal wins, because they get their $500 sooner. The reviewer wins because he doesn’t have to do any real work.

Urso October 19, 2012 at 10:41 am

Because they have PRINCIPLES, that’s why.

Rich Berger October 18, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I wonder who wrote ObamaGen.

david a October 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm

So much for the sokal hoax.

Vernunft October 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Not…so much. Or at all.

Willitts October 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm

For decades, professors have been publishing beautifully formatted papers with a conventional structure, complete with equations and citations but totally devoid of meaning. And they get tenure for doing it. Some of them get Nobel prizes.

Rahul October 19, 2012 at 1:14 am

Tenure, yes; but who got a Nobel?

DK October 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Surely some economists did.

Matt October 18, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Maybe this just shows that there has been more advancement in our math paper producing software area than we thought there was.

dave smith October 18, 2012 at 4:57 pm

This is a brilliant, Tyleresque comment. Bravo.

mulp October 18, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I gather the point of this criticism is:

… the free market of knowledge must be controlled by a governing central authority of elite gatekeepers because knowledge consumers can not be trusted to correctly determine the truth from the lies, the honest from fraudulent…

Thus all authors must pay the burden of taxes and regulation (taxes levied by universities, journals, professional societies, et al, regulations defined by universities, professional societies, journal, et al)???

I note the people who submitted the paper committed fraud by failing to honestly disclose the actual author, thus subject to full sanctions by scirp.org including a knowledge “death sentence”. No laws can prevent crime; they merely attempt to provide some just retribution for crime, in the public interest and in some cases for the victims.

Andrew' October 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm

“No laws can prevent crime”

I like that.

TMC October 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm

MulpGen seems to be functioning.

Rich Berger October 19, 2012 at 6:52 am

It’s a fairly simple program.

Jim K October 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm

“Accepted on the basis that it be rewritten to make sense” is something less than a ringing endorsement.

Saturos October 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm

I’m predicting this won’t get the same reaction as the Sokal hoax.

more info here October 19, 2012 at 12:05 am

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prior_approval October 19, 2012 at 1:22 am

More truly inspired meta commenting from what is either computer generated or manually created spam.

This comment section has depths of wonder.

ErlindaHumiston October 19, 2012 at 2:14 am

Keep functioning ,splendid job!, six pack shortcuts review, 396,

eddie October 19, 2012 at 11:55 am

Indeed, keep functioning!

Steve Sailer October 19, 2012 at 2:52 am

“University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople”

That’s from P.D.Q. Bach, right?

zbicyclist October 19, 2012 at 10:10 am

Right. From which we might infer two things:

(1) not much checking of anything, if you can be listed as being from a fictitious university. I might as well claim to be from Oxbridge University or Confused State.

(2) the review process in math is indeed blind, and doesn’t pay attention to the “old boy” connections of those submitting papers.

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Nic October 19, 2012 at 5:47 am

Do you know the infinite monkey theorem? I wonder if, given enough time, one of this generators could eventually prove something.

Andrew' October 19, 2012 at 7:16 am

We can test the infinite monkey hypothesis by computer simulating a lot of monkeys.

Andrew' October 19, 2012 at 7:17 am

Sadly, that paper would get published.

robert October 19, 2012 at 8:35 am

Tyler! My friend is a published mathematician and when I presented him with this tidbit, he informed me that Advances In Pure Mathematics is an “unreputable knock-off” of the esteemed Advances In Mathematics and its sister journal Advances In Applied Mathematics.

Thought you might be interested.

Urso October 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

Splitters!

Jason October 19, 2012 at 11:33 am

This is the free market at work! Fake people from fake schools want to publish fake papers. The market responds with fake journals and fake reviewers.

Mark Thorson October 19, 2012 at 3:11 pm

You’ve got that backwards. Real people from real schools want to publish but can’t. The market responds with fake journals and fake reviewers. Then fake people from fake schools submit fake papers, presumably for their own amusement.

Scott October 19, 2012 at 8:44 pm

The reviewers are not all fake: some are dupes.

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