List of scholarly publishing stings

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This is a list of scholarly publishing "sting operations" such as the Sokal affair. These are nonsense papers that were accepted by an academic journal or academic conference; the list does not include cases of scientific misconduct. The intent of such publications is typically to expose shortcomings in a journal's peer review process or to criticize the standards of pay-to-publish journals.


  • In 2012, the open-access journal Advances in Pure Mathematics accepted a nonsense paper produced by the computer program Mathgen. Although the paper was accepted, the "author" declined to pay the journal's $500 publishing fee.[1]

Computer science[edit]

  • A paper randomly generated by the SCIgen program was accepted without peer-review for presentation at the 2005 World Multiconference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI). The conference announced the prank of having accepted the article as a non-peer reviewed submission, despite none of the three assigned peer-reviewers having submitted an opinion about its fidelity, veracity, or accuracy to its subject. The three MIT graduate students who wrote the hoax article said they were unaware of the Sokal Affair until after submitting their article. Subsequently, numerous other papers generated by SCIgen have been published in scientific journals or accepted for presentation at scientific conferences.
  • In December 2013, a Pune-based software professional submitted a bogus paper titled "use of cloud-computing and social media to determine box office performance", which was accepted by the Bhubaneswar-based Research Forum for their ICRIEST-AICEEMCS International Conference. The paper's introductory section itself cautioned that it contained some "gibberish" that was auto-generated by software. One section of the paper also includes 19 lines about the 1970s Bollywood film Sholay, and 19 lines from My Cousin Vinny, a 1992 Hollywood film. The incident highlighted a practice where "poor quality papers are accepted from students who are then asked to pay a few thousand rupees to participate in the conferences". After that the management of the event retracted the paper and apologized publicly. The Secretary in an interview described the acceptance as a human error of the coordinators.[2]
  • In 2014 an Australian computer scientist Dr Peter Vamplew submitted a paper to the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology (IJACT) after being angered that the journal would not take his email off its mailing list. The article, titled "Get me off your fucking mailing list", consisted of the phrase "Get me off your fucking mailing list" being repeated for the entirety of the article body. The journal requested the researcher to "add some more recent references and do a bit of reformatting" saying that the article's "suitability for the journal was excellent".[3]


  • Christoph Bartneck, an Associate Professor in Information Technology at New Zealand's University of Canterbury, was invited to submit a paper to the 2016 International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics organised by ConferenceSeries. With little knowledge of nuclear physics, he used iOS's auto-complete function to write the paper, choosing randomly from its suggestions after starting each sentence,[4] and submitted it under the name Iris Pear (a reference to Siri and Apple).[5] A sample sentence from the abstract for the resulting manuscript was: "The atoms of a better universe will have the right for the same as you are the way we shall have to be a great place for a great time to enjoy the day you are a wonderful person to your great time to take the fun and take a great time and enjoy the great day you will be a wonderful time for your parents and kids".[4] The 516-word abstract contained the words "good" and "great" a combined total of 28 times (and is available online).[5] Despite making no sense, the work was accepted within three hours of submission and a conference registration fee of US$1099 requested.[4][5] The incident was compared to an earlier case where Peter Vamplew, from Federation University in Victoria, had a manuscript containing only the phrase "Get me off your fucking mailing list" accepted by the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology.[4][6] ConferenceSeries is associated with the OMICS Publishing Group,[7] which produces open access journals widely regarded as predatory, and has been accused of moving into "predatory meetings".[8] Bartneck said he was "reasonably certain that this is a money-making conference with little to no commitment to science," given the poor quality of the review process and the high cost of attendance.[4]


  • "Who's Afraid of Peer Review?": In 2013 John Bohannon wrote in Science about a "sting operation" he conducted in which he submitted "a credible but mundane scientific paper, one with such grave errors that a competent peer reviewer should easily identify it as flawed and unpublishable", to 304 open-access publishers.[9] 157 journals accepted the paper. There have been some objections to the sting's methodology and about what conclusions can be drawn from it.[10][11]


  • John McLachlan, a professor of medical education, hoaxed the Jerusalem Conference on Integrative Medicine in 2010 with invented nonsense.[12]


Interdisciplinary and cultural studies[edit]

  • The Sokal affair: Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London, wrote a paper titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity",[18] which proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. The paper was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist.[19][20] On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax.[21]
  • The Sociétés hoax: Using a false identity, Manuel Quinon and Arnaud Saint-Martin submitted an intentionally inept and absurd article on the "Autolib'", a small rentable car in Paris, to Michel Maffesoli's Sociétés journal. The article was deliberately incoherent and plastered with liberal quotes and references to Maffesoli and other postmodern thinkers. The article was duly "reviewed" by two people, before being accepted and published in Sociétés without any substantial editing.
  • In May 2017, Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay published an absurd paper in the open access journal Cogent Social Sciences which argued that the penis is best understood not as a biological organ but rather as a social construct. The paper came to an absurd conclusion that the conceptual penis is a "driver behind much of climate change" [22]. The authors' goal was to expose bias towards extreme ideologies in social science and gender studies.[23] Critics of the sting operation argue that it did not demonstrate the existence of such biases, despite the authors' goals of doing so. Phil Torres of Salon, for example, argued that the sting shows only that academic journals that require authors to pay for papers to be published have a financial inclination "to accept papers regardless of quality." He also noted that none of the editorial board members of Cogent Social Sciences have expertise in gender studies.[24] James E. McWilliams criticized the authors' motives, writing that "Boghossian and Lindsay are white men working in the most male-dominated academic fields (philosophy and math) attempting to humiliate through bullying one of the few academic fields dominated by women. In our current political climate—thriving as it does on shamelessness and humiliation—this scenario, as the motives become increasingly transparent, only calls for kind of scrutiny and understanding that gender studies can provide."[25]
  • The "Grievance Studies" affair (also referred to as the "Sokal Squared" Hoax by the news media): Over 2017-2018 Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian wrote 20 hoax articles; at the time the hoax stopped, four papers had been published, three had been accepted but not yet published, seven were under review, and six had been rejected. The papers all focused on what the authors called "grievance studies" related to race, gender, sexuality and other forms of identity. The hoax was revealed and halted after one of the papers in the feminist geography journal Gender, Place and Culture was criticized on social media, and then on Campus Reform, which led a Wall Street Journal editorial writer to investigate and report on it.[26] The paper, which was in the process of being retracted when the Wall Street Journal story broke, referred to dog parks as "petri dishes for canine rape culture". The report also described a paper published in Affilia which contained a reworded excerpt from Mein Kampf.[27]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eldredge, Nate (14 September 2012). "Mathgen paper accepted!". That's Mathematics!. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
  2. ^ "Throw in F-word and become paper tiger". The Telegraph. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  3. ^ Safi, Michael (2014-11-25). "Journal accepts bogus paper requesting removal from mailing list". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hunt, Elle (22 October 2016). "Nonsense paper written by iOS autocomplete accepted for conference". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Bartneck, Christoph (20 October 2016). "iOS Just Got A Paper On Nuclear Physics Accepted At A Scientific Conference". University of Canterbury Human Interface Technology (HIT) Lab, New Zealand. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  6. ^ Safi, Michael (25 November 2014). "Journal accepts bogus paper requesting removal from mailing list". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  7. ^ Beall, Jeffrey (13 October 2016). "Bogus British Company "Accredits" OMICS Conferences". Scholarly Open Access. Archived from the original on 6 November 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  8. ^ Beall, Jeffrey; Levine, Richard (25 January 2013). "OMICS Goes from "Predatory Publishing" to "Predatory Meetings"". Scholarly Open Access. Archived from the original on 5 June 2016. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  9. ^ Bohannon, John (4 October 2013). "Who's Afraid of Peer Review?". Science. 342 (6154): 60–65. Bibcode:2013Sci...342...60B. doi:10.1126/science.342.6154.60. PMID 24092725.
  10. ^ Taylor, Mike; Matt Wedell; Darren Naish. "Anti-tutorial: how to design and execute a really bad study". Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  11. ^ Smith, Kevin. "The big picture about peer-review". Scholarly Communications @ Duke. Duke University Libraries. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  12. ^ "Integrative medicine and the point of credulity". The BMJ. 8 December 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  13. ^ Witkowski, Tomasz (2011). "Psychological Sokal's Style Hoax". The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practices. 8 (1): 50–60.
  14. ^ Witkowski, Tomasz; Zatonski, Maciej (2015). Psychology Gone Wrong: The Dark Sides of Science and Therapy. BrownWalker Press. pp. 259–76. ISBN 1-62734-528-0.
  15. ^ Randi, James. "Sokal Re-created". JREF. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  16. ^ Grivan, Ray. "Polish Sokal-style hoax". Poor Pothecary. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  17. ^ Wanderer in the country of blindfolded (6 November 2007). "Polish 'Sokal hoax'". Random journeys through Science.
  18. ^ Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity
  19. ^ Sokal, Alan D. (28 November 1994). "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity". Social Text #46/47 (spring/summer 1996). Duke University Press. pp. 217–252. Retrieved 3 April 2007.
  20. ^ Bruce Robbins; Andrew Ross (July 1996). "Mystery science theater". Lingua Franca.. Reply by Alan Sokal.
  21. ^ Sokal, Alan D. (5 June 1996). "A Physicist Experiments with Cultural Studies". Lingua Franca. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  22. ^ Lindsay, Jamie; Boyle, Peter. "The conceptual penis as a social construct" (PDF). Open Access Journal: 6 – via
  23. ^ Boghossian, Peter; Lindsay, James. "The conceptual penis as a social construct: a Sokal-style hoax on gender studies". Skeptic. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  24. ^ Torres, Phil (2017-05-22). "Why the "Conceptual Penis" hoax was a bust: It only reveals the lack of skepticism among skep..." Salon. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  25. ^ McWilliams, James (2017-05-31). "The Hoax That Backfired: How an Attempt to Discredit Gender Studies Will Only Strengthen It". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  26. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer (October 4, 2018). "Hoaxers Slip Breastaurants and Dog-Park Sex Into Journals". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Jillian Kay Melchior (2018-10-02). "Fake news comes to academia". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2018-10-05.
  28. ^ Ed Brayton (28 September 2012). "Philosopher Pulls a Sokal on Theology Conferences". Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  29. ^ "Atheist philosopher pulls Sokal-style hoax on theology conference". New Humanist Blog. Rationalist Association. 25 September 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-09-28. Retrieved 15 September 2014.