Ghosts of Sokal

Three MIT graduate students — Jeremy Stribling, Daniel Aguayo, and Maxwell Krohn — wrote a computer program to autogenerate a “research paper” entitled, “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy.” They submitted it to the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI). It was accepted.    (IML)

The CNN article about their accomplishment noted that it was reminiscent of the infamous Alan Sokal hoax. Sokal submitted a fake paper to a postmodern scholastic journal, Social Text (not to be confused with Ross Mayfield‘s company), and the paper was accepted. Sokal wanted to show that postmodernism was a farce, but what he ended up demonstrating was that peer review was incredibly flawed.    (IMM)

The “Rooter” paper isn’t the first fake paper to be accepted at a scientific journal or conference, but it’s the first to my knowledge that was computer-generated. It’s not that hard to point out the problems with peer review. What’s more interesting to me are effective alternatives that challenge our assumptions. Wikipedia is an obvious example, but is a much more compelling one.    (IMN)

In any case, many thanks to Jeremy, Daniel, and Maxwell for giving me a good chuckle. Please donate to their cause so that they can deliver a randomly-generated talk at the conference.    (IMO)

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