Friday, April 22, 2005

In this week's Nature.

I was going to post on 2 short news features in Nature this week. PZ Myers beat me to one, but I don't know if anyone has talked about the second.

Ever wonder if anyone reads your abstract that you submit for a meeting if there are an unlimited number of spots? Well, some crafty computer scientists at MIT decided to find out. The wrote a computer program to generate a scientific article and submitted it for presentation at a professional meeting.

Most graduate students would be delighted to have a paper accepted for presentation at an international scientific conference. But Jeremy Stribling, a computer-science graduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, wasn't sure whether to be amused or alarmed.

His paper, "Rooter: a methodology for the typical unification of access points and redundancy", co-authored with Daniel Aguayo and Maxwell Krohn, was accepted for the 9th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), to be held in Florida, in July. But Stribling didn't write it; he let a computer do it.

Stribling and his colleagues have developed an 'automatic computer-science paper generator' that cobbles together articles adorned with randomly generated graphs. The 'results' are totally spurious.

The MIT researchers say they hoped to cause "maximum amusement" by aping the jargon of the less illustrious papers in computer science. But they also had a more serious goal: to test whether such meaningless manuscripts could pass the screening procedure for conferences that, they feel, exist simply to make money.

'Rooter' passed the test: the WMSCI accepted it, albeit without peer review. The paper claims, among other things, that "the famous ubiquitous algorithm for the exploration of robots by Sato et al. runs in Omega((n+log n)) time".

The name of that conference has some serious jargonization! I don't know how abstracts were reviewed for this conference, but from my experience it's typical to either submit your paper as either a talk or poster presentation. Abstracts that are submitted as posters for meetings that I attend always get accepted, and I honestly don't know if they get reviewed. Basically, if you want to present a poster at a meeting, you can present a poster. I don't know if this is different in other fields.

For most of the meetings I attend, abstracts submitted for talks go through a review process in which only the best ones are presented orally. The remaining submissions are relegated to posters. I assume that only the abstracts submitted for consideration as talks get critically reviewed. As you can see, it's quite easy to present at the meetings I want to go to if you just want to present a poster.

I don't typically attend meetings that are put on just to make money. There isn't enough money in my field for people to take advantage of us! Maybe if I worked in cancer research (where there is loads and loads of money thrown around) I would be tempted to spend some of it on shitty meetings. Currently, though, I never spend more than $100 to register for a meeting (grad student discounts are nice) and that money goes toward putting on the meeting. I can hardly see the meetings I attend as money making scams -- usually they scrape by with just enough money to put the meeting on.


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