Rooter invades Russia 
There's an amazing new SCIgen story out of Russia. Below is the full story, in the words of the mastermind himself, Mikhail Gelfand. But first, the executive summary:

  • The original Rooter paper, translated into Russian, was accepted into a nationally accredited journal.
  • The paper received mostly positive reviews.
  • After the revelation that the paper was fake, the story became a national news sensation. Mikhail even appeared on radio and TV shows.
  • The Russian word for "rooter" ("Korchevatel", a kind of machine that digs up roots) became synonymous with nonsense and low-quality science.


Now enjoy the story of Korchevatel, as written by Mikhail Gelfand:




To understand it, you need some background. In Russia all Ph.D. (Candidate of Science) and D.Sc. (Doctor of Science, the higher one) degrees, irrespective of an awarding university or institute, have to be validated by the state body called Higher Attestation Commission (HAC; in Russian it is "Vysshaya Attestacionnaya Kommissiya", VAK, or, in Cyrillic, BAK). Several years ago, in an attempt to improve the quality of the defended theses, BAK published a list of "approved" journals, in which the main results of a dissertation had to be published. Other publications sort of do not count. However, this list was immediately infiltrated by inferior journals with no or only superficial peer review, offering fast publication for money. "Journal of Scientific Publications of Aspirants (Ph.D. students) and Doctorants (those working towards the D.Sc. degree)" (JSPAD) is one of them. It was registered in 2006 and carried out an aggressive advertisement campaign in the form of bogus posts at internet forums frequented by students. The posts were written as if by an aspirant who had published in the journal and liked it, but in fact they were posted by the chief editor himself (as seen from the limited set and overall similarity of the nicknames used).



As a result, the journal published about 300 papers in the first year of its existence and about 500 in the second year. At some point it has attracted our attention. By "us" I mean a group of scientists and scientific journalists publishing a young biweekly newspaper "Troitsky Variant" (http://www.scientific.ru/trv/2008/). Firstly, we analyzed the papers published in JSPAD and found a lot of crazy junk. Secondly, we researched the chief editor (internet is a wonderful resource) and found him to be a small-scale business lawyer with no scientific degree from Kursk, a medium-sized region center in the South-West Russia (best known for the largest tank battle of the Second World War). And thirdly, we decided to test the journal peer review procedure using SCIgen.



I took your original Rooter paper and asked colleagues in my institute (A.A.Kharkevich Institute for Information Transmission Problems) to translate it into Russian using their automatic translation program ETAP-3. Then I did minor editing to get rid of usual problems of an automated translation and played with the reference list and acknowledgements. In the references I added some invented papers with funny Russian titles (assuming that a Russian paper with absolutely no Russian references might look strange) and, to be fair with the journal and level the field (skewed after editing the translation), substituted one of the English author names for Softporn. For the same reason, in the Acknowledgements, I placed "thanks to Professor Gelfand who introduced the author to the problem of publication of random texts". The paper was signed by an invented Ph.D. student from a non-existing Moscow institute. In that form the paper was sent to the journal.



The timetable was as follows:

August 6: submission by e-mail.

August 7: notification from the journal and request to pay (NB: before review; I wonder how they were planning to return the money in case of rejection :-)

August 8: scanned copy of the bank slip sent to the journal.

August 11: notification that the paper is sent for the review.

August 13: reviewer's comments (consisting of a number of standard scored points, see below, and highlighting in the original file of sentences requiring editorial changes).

August 15: revised paper e-mailed to the journal.

August 15: notification of acceptance.

September 2: notification that the hard copy of the journal is sent by mail.

September 10: paper appeared at the journal internet site.



The scores were:

actuality: high
the choice of the study subject: correct
setting aims: logical
novelty: excellent
depth: sufficient
structure: good
value of methods: excellent
style: non-satisfactory
practical efficacy: excellent
coverage of literature: excellent



After that, we've published the entire story, together with selected sections of the paper and some additional material (including the results of our research on the chief editor, the Editorial Board of JSPAD, and historical notes about some classical papers turned out to be jokes) in "Troitsky variant" (http://www.scientific.ru/trv/2008/#13). The story has been picked up by a couple of news sites, and then attracted a lot of attention. In particular, it was featured by two of three main TV channels (e.g. http://news.ntv.ru/141780/ with me and the chief editor of JSPAD) and also radio (including "Radio Liberty" that made a mini-series of three interviews with me http://realaudio.rferl.org/RU/2008/10/1 ... U-clip.mp3, the chief editor http://realaudio.rferl.org/RU/2008/10/1 ... U-clip.mp3, and the head of BAK http://realaudio.rferl.org/RU/2008/10/1 ... U-clip.mp3). The story was also featured in a number of newspapers and weeklies, including the Russian version of Newsweek that published a short story with your (not mine, for a change) photograph. The JSPAD editor blamed everything on "Moscow journal mafia" afraid of competition and an unnamed Moscow institute that by an agreement with the journal was reviewing all JSPAD papers (a lie: firstly, the peer-review system does no work like that even in Russia, secondly, no institute is capable of reviewing papers in all sciences from math and physics to biology and engineering to history, sociology and political science, and thirdly, in any case proper reviewing requires more than two days). Needless to say, the paper was promptly removed from the journal site. Still, I have the hard copy of the September issue and backups of the electronic version of the paper are abundant in the Russian internet.



The administrative consequences were rather fast. In two weeks the journal was kicked out from the BAK list. More importantly, at the same time BAK announced requirements for journals willing to be listed (effective Sep. 1st, 2009), which are mainly reasonable and, hopefully, would preclude similar journals from getting in the list. Or, at least, make it more more difficult for them. The editorial board of the journal resigned (at least, the respective link on the journal main page disappeared).



After a while, the story was mentioned in the Russian Wikipedia (http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D0% ... 0%BB%D1%8C) and the Encyclopedia of Russian Internet Folklore (http://lurkmore.ru/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D1%80%D ... 0%BB%D1%8C). It was also a topic of a number of general essays in various periodicals, both computer and general ones. "Korchevatel'" (Russian for Rooter) is now used in internet blogs as a pejorative word for nonsense, gibberish, ravings, low-quality science etc. SCIgen is also rather popular.



At the end of the year, one weekly journal and one newspaper, both with reasonable reputation and circulation, recognized the story as "anti-scientific event of the year" (or is it "scientific anti-event of the year"?).


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