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Laura K. and SCIgen

Being at the point of the semester when projects are coming due, and struggling as I am with trying to make my own writing more than just a pro forma fulfillment of the assignment at hand, I'm basking in schadenfreude regarding a couple of recent incidents.

One is the story of Laura K., an undergraduate who solicited a stranger via IM to write a term paper for her. He did so and documented the consequences. The paper, for a comparative religion course, covered "Vindaloo Dharma" under which "if a Shudra watches dharma and greg, it will have a positive effect on his karma". He even threw in a bit of pottymouth just to make it obvious to her prof that Laura K. could not have read the paper at all before turning it in. As engrossing as the prank itself is the back and forth in the comments on the author's blog, a sort of mini-Mahabharata of conflicting opinions on whether it was right to pull this trick on a blatant plagiarist.

In a similar vein but without the troubling moral issues is Badger's story of a graduate comp lit classmate who essentially pulled a Laura K. on the whole class. She turned in a poem "babbling about the meaning of art and how her name was william shatner" which culminated in:


There must be a term for bogus content intentionally included in a text to show that the readers don't get it, sort of like easter eggs in software.

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum of academic writing is SCIgen, an automatic CS paper generator. It produces grammatically correct, properly formatted papers of utter nonsense, complete with charts and graphs. The authors successfully got one of their papers accepted at a conference, WMSCI 2005.

The SCIgen guys say that WMSCI is part of the SCI/IIIS family of dozens of conferences "with no quality standards, which exist only to make money". I heard about this via one of my fellow students who notes that UT hosts an SCI/IIIS-affiliated conference, CCCT '05. The CCCT website appears to have a mechanism for reviewers to access submitted papers, so maybe the accusation that all SCI/IIIS conferences are frauds is false; it would be nice to think that UT was above falling for such a scam.

chuckles 2005.04.16 link


The SCIgen folks aren't the only people who've been testing the validity of the SCI/IIIS peer review process: here's one using human-written gibberish which got three papers accepted.

And as of this writing the IIIS website seems to have been hacked in at least two places. What is this, a movement of h4ck3rz in defense of p33r r3vi3w?

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.04.16
There was an interesting thread surrounding the Laura K incident and academic dishonesty in general over at Making Light (which I recommend in general).

Adam Rice [adamrice cxe crossroads punkto net] • 2005.04.17
How embarassing. I suppose I jumped the gun with a cursory glance of your page. My sincerest apologies. But, still an amazing site.

P. • 2005.04.17
This reminds me of a little application that hit the web a few years ago, n-Gen, an automated graphic design package, where you could literally design a CD cover, a poster, a web site, etc. with the touch of a button. All you had to do was type in your text and choose one of several predominant styles of the period: e.g., neo-Swiss modern, David Carson, Japanese techno-chic, etc. You could generate hundreds of designs in a few minutes.

The thing is, 4 out of 5 times you actually would get a really good design, or at least one that would have been immediately identifiable as cool and ultra-hip.

Even thought the programmers/designers claimed that n-Gen was a sincere tool to help designers "generate rough ideas," you can't help but think it is also a jab at how easily formulaic, even mindless, "hip" design can be.

I guarantee there are still a few n-Gen designed book covers or postcards floating around out there.

By the way the n-Gen website appears to be all but defunct.

Cinque [cinque cxe influxhouse punkto com] • 2005.04.18
I'm fascinated by generators. Been collecting my favorites at

Seb [rather cxe not punkto net] • 2005.04.19
I've got a question. Last week someone offered to pay me to take an exam for them. Would it be mean to play a similar trick on them?

elenamary [elenamary cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2005.04.20
It might be dangerous, Elenamary. Does this potential mark know where you live? And would you plan to keep the money?

Gabriel Suerte [gabriel cxe suerte punkto com] • 2005.04.21
Hooray, I got a mention in Language Log for my question about bogus content to test the astuteness of one's audience. A responder suggests that the German term Nihilartikel may be just the word I'm looking for.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.04.24
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