Friday, April 15, 2005

MIT students pull prank on conference

This was in today's "Science & Space" section on CNN.com. I think some of the academics reading will enjoy this, and other people too... (and you know who you are)

MIT students pull prank on conference
MIT students pull prank on conference

Computer-generated gibberish submitted, accepted

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- In a victory for pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a bunch of computer-generated gibberish masquerading as an academic paper has been accepted at a scientific conference.

Jeremy Stribling said 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 "context-free grammar," charts and diagrams.

The trio submitted two of the randomly assembled papers to the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), 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.

 

4 comments:

J.Bro said...

Well I'll be pissed if APSA turns my proposal down now! Although it felt a little like random gobbledygook when I was writing it.

Theo said...

See, I wish those MIT kids didn't take the time to do this. Yeah, it doesn't speak well for the conference if gibberish is accepted, but how often is gibberish submitted?

When you become a professional at anything, the people evaluating you (also professionals) just assume that they can count on a certain basic level of competence. There's a level of trust there, and it would be difficult to be productive if it wasn't there. And the professionals evaluating other professionals assume that if those people they are evaluating have made it that far, they can be trusted.

So they count on you submitting something at least of "A" material in the high-school English class sense, and that prevents them from having to act like high school English teachers. Given that, there still can be some ambiguity; you will receive quesitons and criticism from your peers at the conference.

And how many papers took years to understand anyway? The really great papers are only going to be partially understood from a first reading and slightly more understood from a presentation. It takes real work with the subject to get a deep understanding of the really useful material.

So I think these MIT students have used a prank to send the wrong message about academic conferences. They were doing it to bolster their own egos (and I've noticed that recent hits to my blog have been from people searching for the last names in the article) and have unnecessarily weakened an (important?) institution because of it.

Theo said...

Alright, so I guess what some people would call "gibberish" is frequently submitted to conferences...

And there are plenty of researchers who are willing to do faux research when they don't have real research ready by conference time, okay. But if there isn't much real research available, can you blame the conferences for accepting them to fill the time? (yes, I know, it sends the wrong message; if your gibberish can be accepted, why not just submit gibberish? I would argue that it's because you cannot make a career out of just getting accepted to conferences and never being referenced after that, and I would also argue that years of pure gibberish will destroy a conference)

Sometimes you have to work in baby steps to cross disciplinary lines to expand a field into a new area. Because of this, work straddling disciplinary lines may appear foolish, contrived, and without any useful point. You can't concentrate on that. You must concentrate on whether it really does bring one area closer to another, because once you actually cross that line, everything from that other area suddenly applies, and that's powerful. This is precisely why much care needs to be taken on that line... and why research there is both very exciting and very boring.

Theo said...

More similar sentiments available at:

Convulsive Space: Hurray for the pranksters!