Furthest Right

How “Science” Gets Easily Gamed

From a recent autopsy of a gamed publication:

Here is an account of one type of cheating that I am aware of: a collusion ring. Although the details of this particular case have not been publicly disclosed, the program chairs who discovered and documented the behavior spent countless hours on their analysis. The issues are complicated, but I have no reason to doubt their conclusions. Here is how a collusion ring works:

  • A group of colluding authors writes and submits papers to the conference.
  • The colluders share, amongst themselves, the titles of each other's papers, violating the tenet of blind reviewing and creating a significant undisclosed conflict of interest.
  • The colluders hide conflicts of interest, then bid to review these papers, sometimes from duplicate accounts, in an attempt to be assigned to these papers as reviewers.
  • The colluders write very positive reviews of these papers, perhaps even lobbying area chairs through back channels outside the view of the other reviewers.
  • Colluders occasionally send threatening email messages to non-colluding reviewers if the colluders discover their names and believe the non-colluding reviewers can be influenced.
  • Some colluding reviewers temporarily change their names on the online conference management system during the discussion process, perhaps to avoid getting a reputation for supporting weak papers.

The outcome of this attack, if undetected and successful, is that some authors are rewarded with paper acceptances for very unethical behavior. Given that many conferences have to cap the number of accepted papers due to limits on the number of papers that can be presented at the conference, that means other deserving papers are being rejected to make room. The quality, and perhaps even more importantly, the overall integrity, of the conference suffers as a result.

We know that science becomes subverted regularly by careerism as well as industry lobbying, but to this we can add cheating as individuals attempt to promote their own credentials at the expense of scientific quality.

While this example from computer science may seem glaring, likely there are many others, most covered up when they get discovered, lest the publications involved take a hit to their reputations for having been gamed.

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