Ming the Mechanic:
Automatic Academics

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Automatic Academics2005-04-13 23:59
picture by Flemming Funch

Some clever grad students have used an automatic computer science paper generator to create a gibberish paper, which they've gotten submitted to a conference. They now plan on randomly generating a gibberish speech which they can go and deliver there.

Now, I generally think such pranks are hilarious, and very useful in blowing the cover of people who take themselves too damned seriously, but who accept things that look and sound right, but which aren't. I remember examples like a comedian succeeding in passing himself off as a doctor and giving a speech at a medical conference, saying nothing but gibberish, and nobody noticed. And there are those guys who made a fake WTO website and managed to be invited to conferences where they created quite a havoc.

And, hey, that paper is pretty damn good. I don't understand a word of it, even though I understand most of the words. But it kind of sounds like it is saying something, and it is kind of a lively read. There are a few akward sentences that might give it away, but they're well hidden. I don't know what kind of expert one has to be to catch that this isn't real, as it isn't entirely clear what it is talking about in the first place. And that is probably one of the factors that let's things like that slip through. Lots of people are experts in a particular field, but not in many others, and they have no time to check everybody's references. So if you hear something that isn't exactly in your field, and it sounds like that kind of things should sound, you think it is real.

But now I notice that their agenda actually is to put down a certain type of conference which they regard as fake, because they accept papers that aren't reviewed. Which, for that matter, it says clearly on their website, so it isn't really that big a caper to succeed in submitting a paper. Anyway now I notice, somewhat to my horror, that the conference they would like to embarrass is the Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics. Which I don't know, so I can't make any statement about whether it really just is fake conference for money making purposes as they say, but I notice that I know some of the affiliated organizations and a number of the people listed as advisory board members, so I would guess it is what it says it is.

Systems thinking is probably a field that some hardcore scientific types would love to debunk. And they might feel they have an easy time at it in a multi-disciplinary setting where organizers are trying to be open to different types of views, and where it isn't a criterion that everything you say has to be proven years ago. For that matter, systems thinking doesn't necessarily go well with the approach of taking things apart into their components and analyzing them and proving them and peer reviewing them. And it is full of angles and possibilities that easily can be ridiculed by materialist folks who'd like such things to not exist. The Gaia Theory, morphogenetic fields, implicate order, synergetics - there'd be plenty of folks who'd find all of that to be utter nonsense. Evolution would be in the same category if it didn't happen to be juxtaposed with creationism.

One of the items listed from the hoaxers' site is the wellknown "Sokal Hoax". Which was a physicist who wrote a paper he meant to be utter nonsense, and got submitted to some prestigious scientific journal, based on his own considerable reputation, in order to then embarrass them. Except for that his article is pretty good, and not as utterly nonsensical as he pretends. But it refers to a bunch of these things that the author considers new age nonsense, like morphogenetic fields. So he considered that anybody who'd accept that he'd write about such things and not be up in arms about it would be a complete idiot and worthless academic.

Which reminds me of a caper that "Amazing" Randi did once. He's a stage magician who's a wellknown materialist "sceptic" who tries hard to disprove that anything supernatural exists. Often by the approach that if he can make some kind of magic trick or hoax that does the same thing as what somebody says they can do, they were obviously frauds too. Anyway, he had gotten an ally to pose as a channeler at some kind of new age expo. The guy put on a show of going into a trance and delivering some very general mumbo jumbo about the world changing and spiritual influences. And the audience seemed quite happy with it all, which was taken as a success by Randi, in showing that they're all gullible idiots. Anyway, the joke about it is that after Randi's ally triumphantly announced on the stage a little later that it was a hoax and he was just faking it, nobody really minded. The audience thought it was fun too, and they thought the channeling had been pretty good, whether he thought he faked it or not. Because it really didn't matter at all, unless you had some kind of point to prove. The result mattered.

So, in case that conference there is really for people who're into systems thinking and informatics, I think they might actually enjoy and appreciate the joke of somebody delivering a randomly generated paper and a speech. It certainly is a good comment on how human systems work. The ways in which false information often is accepted provides some insights into how systems work.

Better targets might be the types of folks who really take themselves too seriously, and who would freak out and be greatly embarrassed by being hoaxed like that.

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14 Apr 2005 @ 05:01 by Pax Nortona - A Blog by Joel Sax @ : Fifteen Nowhere Facts
[{link:http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com/index.php?p=3211|trackback}]: So little time, so much to know  

14 Apr 2005 @ 15:10 by jazzolog : Professor Irwin Corey
may have been the Stateside comic to whom you're referring, Ming. He was a master of this back in the day...and I believe still may be alive. In college, in a senior tutorial on the philosophy of science, the whole class came up with a Renaissance "thinker" named Saltincelli (which means "saltshaker" in Italian) and had our professor briefly baffled. That was fun...but of course other well-known college pranksters never give it up. Take George Bush for instance...PLEASE!

PS Does the illustrator above (TAP) know he's misspelled "losers"---or is it a prank?  

14 Apr 2005 @ 18:29 by jerryvest : Gullible
Aren't we all a bit gullible, especially when we trust someone to always tell us the truth--like our parents and teachers? I asked one of my spiritual teachers once -- How do we know when we are telling the truth to our children, especially since we have not embodied the Truth or Laws that operate us?

He responded by telling me to become the Truth and I'll not be confused. :)  

14 Apr 2005 @ 20:08 by Quirkeboy @ : The "Sokal Hoax"
I read Sokals explanation as to why he did the experiment.. he says that he did it to prove that theres alot of lazy academics..and lax standards.. but he also says it is POLITICALLY motivated.. he intentionally filled the fake paper with references that were Left leaning.. including the conclusion of the paper that politics should overshadow scientific truth.... and therefore he seems to assume that because the paper was accepted and published it shows that the periodical is lazy, stupid, AND POLITICALLY BIASED.
Now.. as a scientist he should be the first to realize that.. yeah.. maybe the editors are lazy.. maybe even stupid.. but unless he tries to submit a LEGITIMATE RIGHT LEANING paper that gets rejected..it does not make them politically biased.  

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