back to article Stob latest: IEEE flags dodgy paper

For the past few weeks I've been trying to piece together an explanation for Verity Stob's extraordinary adventure in academia, published here on Monday. Why did the Open University set as a marked assessment for postgraduate students a plagiarized piece of garbage, then admit they hadn't really read it? Why had a prestigious …


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  1. Hollerith

    the curate's egg?

    Can parts of an egg still be excellent if other parts stink? Will any other author who wants to look more innovative and brainy than nature intended feel that 'gee, since nothing bad happens to him and his work still gets cited', why not go ahead with a spot of plagiarism? Glory on the cheap!

    Plagiarism is an ethical crimes. It erodes trust, it steals like a stab in the back, it tears at the fabric of our commonwealth of intellectual culture. It used to be that even a touch of plagiarism resulted in the perpetrator being sent to the outer darkness. But relativism has resulted in an eroding of intellectual standards, both of quality and of honour. If we don't all defend against plagiarism in general, we'll never defeat it in individual instances.

    All hands on deck, or the ship sinks.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Total Twaddle

    Shame we can't also put comments onto the paper which says its also complete twaddle!

    IT? - Cause this paper Ain't.

  3. RW

    Re: Total Twaddle

    So far, however, the IEEE misses perhaps the most important point: that the paper is meaningless gibberish. Even if it was 100% original, it would remain gibberish.

    I shudder to think that within IEEE circles there is a sub-circle that engages in mutual mental masturbation, to the members' great pleasure but to no one else's benefit. Like (cough) business management, investment, psychology, philosophy, and economics, all fields in which objective, provable facts are very scarce.

    Heretofore the engineers (incl. IEEE) and the scientists have largely stuck to practicalities and observables, but now? One has to wonder.

  4. Paul Kinsler Silver badge


    1) An interesting discussion of plagiarism:

    2) "Can parts of an egg still be excellent if other parts stink?" -- yes. An author might do a perfectly good mathematical derivation, but follow it with a dubious assumption and come to the wrong conclusions. Or sometimes a dubious derivation can arrive at a perfectly good answer. I can think of examples of both.

    3) Even if IEEE mark the paper as "bad/dubious", will this markup propagate to agregator sites like WebOfScience or ScienceDirect? Even then, how likely is it that those already citing it ever notice?

    4) "Still widely cited" -- even if the paper gets marked bad in an effective manner, I'd expect citations to continue for some time -- timescales for publishing are usually from months-years, not days or weeks. And then it might get cited negatively (e.g. the claims of X were merely a restatement of Y and Z")

    5) If you want to really stop cites of bad paper X, you'd need journals to check each reference in a submission against a watch-list, and then check whether the cite was still justified (or hand that task over to the reviewer(s)).

  5. Anonymous Coward


    Does this mean we might have a clue to the real identity of amanfrommars? His posts usually make as much sense as that paper...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The citations should provide a rich vein of dodgy articles.

    The OU don't look too good either.

  7. Marvin the Martian

    I can't find it on ISI web-of-science

    Logging in today to the ISI Web of Science database today, I can find the author in a few similarly titled thingies, and the IEEE Software journal (indeed respectable at JCR 1.4 score), but not the two combined. Strange, strange.

  8. Geoff Mackenzie

    @AC, RE: Hmmm

    No, can't be. amanfromMars always cites his source when quoting someone.

  9. The Other Steve

    Widely cited ?

    As far as I can see, any paper that cites the one under discussion is itself automatically suspect since tha authors' ability to select suitable source material is clearly questionable.

    I can think of a couple of subject areas within academia where it is not only de rigeur but practically compulsory to cite such awful word salad (any field that even touches on psychoanalysis of any kind, for instance), but I wouldn't expect to find this happening in any engineering discipline. Not even software engineering.

    Although some of the journals with overlap to cognitive science were a bit dense in this respect, IIRC.

    Then again, it's almost a decade since I've kept up with academic journals thanks largely to my local universities' decision to stop subscribing to them in favour of WSJ. So what do I know ?

  10. Brian Varnell
    Paris Hilton


    While I don't doubt that plagarism occurred, has anyone bothered with contacting the "authors" to see what they have to say? Would be good for a laugh or two at the least.

  11. Alan Johnson

    Shocking but unsuprising

    The plagarism aspect of the paper is not a concern compared to it being nonsense. It would not worry me if a paper is wrong, if it states something clearly, but it must say something. The fact that the IEEE does not seem to recognise this as a big problem.

    The OU is worse. I cannot believe anyone sets a paper for students as part of standard course work without reading it. The lesson to the students is that you can hide behind obscure language and a confusion between incomprehensibility and profundity. The OU should be discouraging rather than encouraging this.

    I could be smug because I am not a member of the IEE but I am sure the bodies I am a member of are just as bad.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's there

    I just downloaded this paper from IEEEXplore (our uni has an unlimited subscription) and I can confirm that the aforementioned notice has been added to both the abstract and the actual pdf of the article.

  13. Nano nano


    - topical comment of the day -

    Basing your academic research on plagiarised junk is kind of analogous to basing your banking credibility on collateralised debt obligations.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Now it will get more citations!

    OK - it will get cited as what not to do - Along with the guy from Bell Labs (Schon) - but it will get more citations.

  15. Mad Hacker
    Thumb Up

    Thanks for pointing out Stob wrote something useful

    After reading the first few articles Stob wrote (Rotting Dog Blog or some such) I purposefully always avoided anything by him. I found his articles to be rather irrelevant, childish, and not funny (though obviously intended to be.)

    Anyway, I never would've have read Stob's original article if Andrew hadn't reported on it, so thanks Andrew. As for Stob keep up the good work. Actual reporting... amazing.

    Also, so any article that cites this dodgy one, um, wouldn't those authors be suspect as well? I mean, it was gibberish. Who cites gibberish? Did we uncover a network of plagiarizers who boost each others credit by citing each others work?

  16. Anonymous Coward

    The 'scientific journal' system rotten to the core

    This was just one random paper... how much 'junk' is out there getting published due to :

    - pressure on individuals / departments to spew out large numbers of papers to justify their budgets/grants (as if the number of papers an academic publishes is more important than the usefulness of _what_ they publish)

    - journals needing to get their quota of papers to fill up each months issue and justify their outrageous subscription fees

    *tin foil hat on* the whole idea of furthering humanity's supposedly shared scientific knowledge by publishing in a plethora of expensive and often obscure / difficult to obtain journals could of course be due to a conspiracy to simultaneously prevent those of us outside of academia from accessing these 'secrets' and also keep the journal's gravy train rolling

  17. Simon

    Who wrote this???

    I find it interesting that the second 'author' of this appalling document, Rahul De, singularly fails to list this document as one of his published works on his personal web page

    Did he actually contribute to the paper, or did TR Madanmohan also steal an author to validate his drivel, or has Rahul De tried to disassociate himself from this???

  18. Steve Bush

    @Mad Hacker

    Stob is the other sex

  19. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    @AC: The 'scientific journal' system rotten to the core

    Bullshit. Trashing a system because of one bad paper is hardly "scientific," is it now.

    There are rotten papers out there, simply because science is done by human beings. Never underestimate the ability of even the most learned person to make a complete pig's breakfast out of something. However, you clearly do not know how well the BIG journals are off for submissions. I have published several papers in IEEE journals, notably Trans PAMI and Trans Image Proc. (TIP), and even after acceptance of the paper (after rigorous reviews in all cases I encountered) it may take many months to publish, simply because of a backlog of papers. Clearly, they do not have ANY problem filling their quota.

    I do not read IEEE Software, but I have found papers with serious errors even in TIP. In this case, the paper at first reading seemed fine, and only when you implement their methods and try to replicate their findings do you find the problem. Such a test is beyond what is usually done in peer review (you do not have the time). I only do that if I find the paper suspect at first and second reading.

    So, peer review is not perfect (nothing is in the sublunary), but it is the best we can do.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    It wasn't plagiarism

    It was alphabetti spaghetti! They should be sued by Heinz! The fuckers just massaged the text and added a few bits to produce incomprehensible bollocks!

    Paris, 'cos she knows how to massage bollocks...

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