Thursday, February 27, 2014

So much for peer review

The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.

Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers.

Among the works were, for example, a paper published as a proceeding from the 2013 International Conference on Quality, Reliability, Risk, Maintenance, and Safety Engineering, held in Chengdu, China. (The conference website says that all manuscripts are “reviewed for merits and contents”.) The authors of the paper, entitled ‘TIC: a methodology for the construction of e-commerce’, write in the abstract that they “concentrate our efforts on disproving that spreadsheets can be made knowledge-based, empathic, and compact”. (Nature News has attempted to contact the conference organizers and named authors of the paper but received no reply*; however at least some of the names belong to real people. The IEEE has now removed the paper).

How to create a nonsense paper

Labbé developed a way to automatically detect manuscripts composed by a piece of software called SCIgen, which randomly combines strings of words to produce fake computer-science papers. SCIgen was invented in 2005 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge to prove that conferences would accept meaningless papers — and, as they put it, “to maximize amusement” (see ‘Computer conference welcomes gobbledegook paper’). A related program generates random physics manuscript titles on the satirical website arXiv vs. snarXiv. SCIgen is free to download and use, and it is unclear how many people have done so, or for what purposes. SCIgen’s output has occasionally popped up at conferences, when researchers have submitted nonsense papers and then revealed the trick.

Labbé does not know why the papers were submitted — or even if the authors were aware of them. Most of the conferences took place in China, and most of the fake papers have authors with Chinese affiliations. Labbé has emailed editors and authors named in many of the papers and related conferences but received scant replies; one editor said that he did not work as a program chair at a particular conference, even though he was named as doing so, and another author claimed his paper was submitted on purpose to test out a conference, but did not respond on follow-up. Nature has not heard anything from a few enquiries.

“The papers are quite easy to spot,” says Labbé, who has built a website where users can test whether papers have been created using SCIgen. His detection technique, described in a study1 published in Scientometrics in 2012, involves searching for characteristic vocabulary generated by SCIgen. Shortly before that paper was published, Labbé informed the IEEE of 85 fake papers he had found. Monika Stickel, director of corporate communications at IEEE, says that the publisher “took immediate action to remove the papers” and “refined our processes to prevent papers not meeting our standards from being published in the future”. In December 2013, Labbé informed the IEEE of another batch of apparent SCIgen articles he had found. Last week, those were also taken down, but the web pages for the removed articles give no explanation for their absence.

Ruth Francis, UK head of communications at Springer, says that the company has contacted editors, and is trying to contact authors, about the issues surrounding the articles that are coming down. The relevant conference proceedings were peer reviewed, she confirms — making it more mystifying that the papers were accepted.

The IEEE would not say, however, whether it had contacted the authors or editors of the suspected SCIgen papers, or whether submissions for the relevant conferences were supposed to be peer reviewed. “We continue to follow strict governance guidelines for evaluating IEEE conferences and publications,” Stickel said.

A long history of fakes

Labbé is no stranger to fake studies. In April 2010, he used SCIgen to generate 102 fake papers by a fictional author called Ike Antkare [see pdf]. Labbé showed how easy it was to add these fake papers to the Google Scholar database, boosting Ike Antkare’s h-index, a measure of published output, to 94 — at the time, making Antkare the world's 21st most highly cited scientist. Last year, researchers at the University of Granada, Spain, added to Labbé’s work, boosting their own citation scores in Google Scholar by uploading six fake papers with long lists to their own previous work.

Labbé says that the latest discovery is merely one symptom of a “spamming war started at the heart of science” in which researchers feel pressured to rush out papers to publish as much as possible.

There is a long history of journalists and researchers getting spoof papers accepted in conferences or by journals to reveal weaknesses in academic quality controls — from a fake paper published by physicist Alan Sokal of New York University in the journal Social Text in 1996, to a sting operation by US reporter John Bohannon published in Science in 2013, in which he got more than 150 open-access journals to accept a deliberately flawed study for publication.

Labbé emphasizes that the nonsense computer science papers all appeared in subscription offerings. In his view, there is little evidence that open-access publishers — which charge fees to publish manuscripts — necessarily have less stringent peer review than subscription publishers.

Labbé adds that the nonsense papers were easy to detect using his tools, much like the plagiarism checkers that many publishers already employ. But because he could not automatically download all papers from the subscription databases, he cannot be sure that he has spotted every SCIgen-generated paper.


New noise on climate change: A winning issue for Republicans

The Democrats think that climate change is going to be a winning issue for them in 2014 — and, if they handle it correctly, this could be a winning issue for the Republicans.

You know, nothing comes out of the Obama White House by mistake. Everything is planned, analyzed, and focus-group tested.

Last June when President Obama presented his Climate Action Plan at Georgetown University, some environmentalists hailed it. In response, Frances Beinecke, the then-president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “The president nailed it.” The Huffington post reported that some environmental groups were wary that “Obama would follow through on the ambitious goals he laid out. Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity described it as too little, too late.”

But, environmentalists haven’t been “thrilled with the administration’s record.” In January, 18 groups sent Obama a strongly worded letter telling him that he “needs to address climate change more aggressively.”

Obviously, Obama heard the complaints — making clear which group of constituents holds sway: billionaire environmentalist donors who believe Democrats have wavered on climate issues or the economically hard-hit middle class he claims to champion.

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration announced the creation of seven “climate hubs” — which the New York Times called: “a limited step” but said it “is part of a broader campaign by the administration to advance climate policy wherever possible with executive authority.” It is unclear what these “hubs” are or will do, but the stated goal is “to help farmers and rural communities respond to the risks of climate change, including drought, invasive pests, fires and floods.”

Washington Examiner columnist Ron Arnold calls the new hubs “propaganda spigots” and cites Steven Wilmeth, a southern New Mexico rancher, who said: “It’s another one of those ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’ deals. All I can say is, ‘Don’t help me.’ We hear the talk, but they’re not telling us what regulatory burdens these climate hubs will add to the overwhelming load we already carry.”

Then on February 14, President Obama announced a new $1billion “climate resilience fund” that “would go to research on the projected impacts of climate change, help communities prepare for climate change’s effects and fund ‘breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure.’”

In the Washington Post, Ed Rogers called the proposal “tired and unimaginative” — “part of a cookie cutter approach to our problems: It’s called the billion-dollar give away.”

Secretary of State John Kerry has received a lot of attention for his February 16 fear-mongering comments (reported to be the “first of what is to be a series of speeches on the topic this year”) in Indonesia during which he called climate change a “weapon of mass destruction” — the “world’s most fearsome.” He told the students, civic leaders, and government officials gathered at the U.S. funded American Center: “Because of climate change, it’s no secret that today Indonesia is…one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the entire way of life that you live and love is at risk.” He then, according to CNN, announced “$332 million in funding through the Green Prosperity program to help Indonesia tackle unsustainable deforestation and support clean-energy projects.”

Kerry also derided scientists and citizens who challenge global warming’s scientific validity: “We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts. The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand. We don’t have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.”’s Ed Morrissey responded: “The demand to stop asking questions and testing the theory isn’t science-based; it’s political. The more that politicians demand that people stop questioning their use of the hypotheses of AGW for their preferred policies of top-down control of energy production, the more obvious those politics become.”

James H. Rust, retired Georgia Tech engineering professor, told me: “I take great offense to the Secretary of State of the United States berating his citizens on a foreign soil. I recall no such incidents occurring in the past.” He added: “Kerry’s remarks are a political attempt to convince the American people to adopt policies to reduce fossil fuel use and lead the world on introducing a world-wide protocol similar to the expired Kyoto Treaty.” Regarding Kerry calling climate change “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” Rust quipped: “Can his memory be so short not to remember the thousands who have died due to the war on terror that stretches back to at least 1983 when 241 marines were killed in a Lebanon barracks; trillions of tax dollars spent on a war that is nowhere near finished?”

On February 17, the New York Times (NYT) reported that billionaire Obama donor Tom Steyer plans to spend as much as $100 million during the 2014 election cycle to “pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers.” Steyer has been critical of Democrats who waver on climate issues. The NYT reports that Steyer’s new fund-raising push “signals a shift within the environmental movement, as donors — frustrated that neither Democratic nor Republican officials are willing to prioritize climate change measures — shift their money from philanthropy and education into campaign vehicles designed to win elections.”

Working with Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, Steyer created his political organization NextGen Climate—a 20-person operation that includes a super PAC that the NYT says is “among the biggest environmental pressure groups in the country.” NextGen Climate spends millions of dollars to find climate-sensitive voters and in television advertising to try to persuade them. NextGen asked supporters for input on congressional candidates to target in its next ads. The list included vulnerable Democratic incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Steyer’s efforts should scare Republicans as he’s been successful in buying previous elections into which he has waded when he “burst onto the national political scene” in 2013.  According to the NYT: “He spent $11 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia and millions intervening in a Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts.”

However, I see all of this Democratic emphasis on climate change as an opportunity for Republicans — if they handle it correctly.

The January electricity price index was just released and revealed that the cost of electricity has hit a new high — which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the year. reports: “During the year, the price of a KWH of electricity usually rises in the spring, peaks in summer, declines in fall, and is at its lowest point in winter.”

True to the law of supply and demand, rising electricity prices in the U.S. have not been inevitable. According to, following WWII, the U.S. was rapidly increasing its electricity generation capacity. In the 1950s and 60s the price remained relatively stable. However, since 2007, the U.S. has decreased its electricity production; while the population has increased by more than 14 million people — almost all with multiple electronic gadgets running simultaneously.

The 2007 benchmark is important because 2006/2007 is when the global warming scare began to influence public energy policy — this is the time frame when states passed laws requiring more-expensive renewable energy be part of the total energy portfolio (laws that set up the rationale for the $150 billion of tax-payer dollars being spent of green energy projects). It is when the war on coal began.

The report states: “The Monthly Energy Review also indicates that a large part of the decline in U.S. electricity generation has come from a decrease in the electricity produced by coal—which has not been replaced by a commensurate increase in the electricity produced by natural gas or the ‘renewable’ sources of wind and solar.”

The decline in electricity production — slightly supplemented by more expensive renewables—has directly caused the price spike. And Obama’s climate change policies are shuttering more and more coal-fueled power plants — even after they’ve spent millions on pollution controls. We can expect continuing higher electricity costs heading into the 2014 election.

Recently, I received a phone call from an irate woman. She told me she’d been searching the Internet for someone who could help her and found me. She explained that she was an unemployed, single mom living in an 800 square foot apartment. She said she didn’t turn on her heat because she couldn’t afford it. When she got her electric bill, she noticed that it had a line item: $1.63 for green energy — about which she declared: “I don’t give a *!%# about green energy! I am so mad at PNM for making me pay for green energy that I don’t want!”

I explained that it wasn’t the utility company’s fault. They are just following the law by incorporating renewables into the portfolio. It is the lawmakers who deserve her wrath — from the local and state representatives all the way up to the president.

I do not know if this woman is a Democrat or a Republican. But I do know she represents the exact type of voter Obama claims to champion. The exact type of voter his climate change policies are hurting. These voters “don’t give a *!%# about green energy”—they care about the rising cost of electricity.

The Democrats own “climate change.” The Democrats are hurting their own.

If the Republicans are smart enough to capture the anger of voters — like the woman who called me — and feature it in television ads, the Democrats climate change emphasis could be a winning issue for Republicans. (BTW, Karl Rove, I have the callers’ phone number. Maybe you could feature her in an ad.)


Academics "Prove" It's Okay To Lie About Climate Change

From "hide the decline" to the "hockey stick" to Rush Limbaugh, the debate over climate change is fraught with accusations that the other side is willfully lying about the facts in order to win. Now there are two academics out with a paper justifying lying about climate change in order to convince global governments to "do something" about it.

Fuhai Hong and Xiojian Zhao, economists at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology respectively, are publishing a paper in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics called "Information Manipulation and Climate Agreements," which argues that manipulation of information by the media will "enhance global welfare" by inducing countries to agree to environmental accords (IEAs).

We show that the exaggeration of climate change may alleviate the problem of insufficient IEA participation. When the mass media has private information on the damage caused by climate change, in equilibrium they may manipulate this information to increase pessimism regarding climate damage even though in actual fact the damage may not be that great. Consequently, more countries will be induced to participate in an IEA in this state, thereby leading to greater global welfare ex post.

The article purports to prove, with an economic model, that the urgency of climate change and the necessity of international agreement makes it okay to lie about the projected consequences of climate change.

Progressives have advocated lying in order to get their way before, but this model is actually different from fighting lies with more lies; these two economists advocate lying even when assuming that the entire debate to this point has been entirely honest on both sides due to the asymmetric information problems and game theory involved. Now, they don't advocate "lying" - they merely propose "information manipulation," "accentuation" and "exaggeration" on the part of the media in order to enhance global welfare.

This isn't to suggest that all progressives advocate lying to further their political ideology, or even that it's particularly widespread beyond these two professors. But it's out there: there are academics who so vehemently believe that the urgency of action on climate change is so great that it justifies mass deception and lying in order to win, and are prepared to go to complex theoretical proofs in order to "prove" it.


The 'Absurd Results' Power Grab

Can the EPA simply rewrite a law to suit its policy goals?

The Obama Administration's penchant for rewriting the law via regulation will get a major test on Monday when the Supreme Court hears a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's "carbon endangerment" rule. This case is especially significant because it will determine whether the agency can rewrite its own previous rewrite of the Clean Air Act to bypass the normal channels of democratic consent.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 and its 1990 amendments never mention carbon dioxide as a pollutant. Though global warming has nothing to do with "clean air," the environmental lobby sued to force the EPA to regulate CO2 emitted by cars and other "mobile sources." In 2007, in Massachusetts v. EPA, a 5-4 majority sided with the greens, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the liberals.

That ruling merely held that the EPA could declare carbon a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, not that the agency must, but President Obama's climateers have taken it as a license to regulate carbon across the economy. Beyond tailpipes, they've moved to emissions from so-called stationary sources, mainly power plants but also heavy industry such as factories and cement makers.

Problem is, the Clean Air Act is one of America's largest and most prescriptive laws, with little provision for executive discretion. If the EPA decides to regulate something, Congress in the statute tells the EPA how the agency must regulate for its many specific clean-air programs.

Since the Clean Air Act was never designed to address CO2 and greenhouse gases are unlike the pollutants the law was meant to address, the stationary source programs would wreak economic havoc if applied to carbon. The statute mandates that the EPA regulate emissions above the specific numerical threshold of 100 tons of a conventional pollutant like sulfur dioxide or ozone. But ubiquitous carbon is released in quantities many orders of magnitude larger than 100 tons, and thus in practice the rule would sweep up some six million schools, hospitals, farms, churches, office buildings and even some large homes.

The incredible thing about Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, which consolidates six related lawsuits, is that the EPA agrees with all that. The agency argues that following the law as written would be "unrecognizable" to the Congress that enacted the law and claims that enforcing the law would be an "administrative impossibility." The other doctrine the EPA is asserting is known as "absurd results," meaning that the literal interpretation of the statute would lead to irrational or unreasonable outcomes.

The executive branch has always used the absurd results doctrine to make minor adjustments or to justify not enforcing a legal provision. And this is what the EPA should have done to avoid crowbarring carbon into what it admits is an unworkable regulatory framework. Instead, for the first time the agency is using the legal theory to arrogate the power to revise plain statutory language. Instead of 100 tons for carbon, the EPA unilaterally invented the new limit of 75,000 tons.

The Supreme Court is merely being asked to vacate the stationary source rule-making, not to revisit Mass v. EPA, alas. All the challenge asks is that if the EPA decides to regulate CO2, then it must obey the rule of law and regulate CO2 as the Clean Air Act instructs.

The White House is trying to avoid doing so because the political pros know that stationary source permitting by the EPA's own estimates costs as much as $125,120 and can be delayed for as long as 10 years. Democratic voters attend church and own small businesses too, and the political backlash would be fierce.

The White House could have persuaded Congress to adopt a new round of clean-air amendments, or to pass cap and trade. It tried the latter in 2009-2010 and failed. Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, must decide if federal regulators can assume the power to rewrite laws on their own without the authority granted by Congress. That would be the most absurd result of all.


British Labour party backs Green  totalitarianism

At PMQs Ed went on the attack over Owen Paterson’s sceptical comments about climate change. The line of questioning reminded Guido of the Green Party’s recent totalitarian demand for a purge of climate change sceptics from ministerial and adviser positions in government. A Labour spokesman has confirmed to Guido that Miliband backs a similar ban.

    “The qualification for being in a Labour government is rationality and believing in clear scientific evidence.”

Anyone working in a Labour government would be required to accept the party’s position on climate change. Anyone who doesn’t won’t be allowed to join. Dissenters will be exiled…


The eco-hysteria of blaming mankind for Britain's floods

Blaming storms on human industry is as backward as blaming them on gays

What a laugh we all had a few weeks ago when that UK Independence Party councillor, David Silvester, said floods in England were caused by gay marriage. Remember the merriment? The eccentric (I’m being polite) Silvester wrote to his local newspaper in Oxfordshire to say that the reason we are ‘beset by storms’ is because PM David Cameron acted ‘arrogantly against the gospel’ by allowing gay people to get hitched, and the internet exploded into guffaws. Silvester became the subject of witty memes, mocking tweets, and searing newspaper critiques. He was eventually ditched by UKIP. Everyone asked the same question: ‘In the twenty-first century what sort of person seriously believes that natural calamities like floods can be blamed on allegedly “sinful” behaviour?!’

Well, now we know. Now, as flooding in the south-west of England has intensified in recent weeks, we know that it isn’t only strange men who take the Bible literally who see floods as some form of payback or punishment for humanity’s deviant behaviour – so do the supposedly rationalist, secularist sections of society, the very people who just three weeks ago will have had a good old hoot bashing backward Silvester’s moralisation of floodwaters. Even the right-on moralise the weather today, treating it almost as a sentient force, a lecturing force, a vengeful force, and viewing hard rains and gushing waters as a slap on the wrist to wicked mankind – no, not for being gay, but, in essence, for being greedy.

Over the past week, as more and more towns and areas in England have become flooded, the hunt has been on for proof that it’s the fault of manmade climate change – that is, of man himself, of polluting, thoughtless, fossil fuel-using man. So former Conservative environment secretary Caroline Spelman says the floods should be a ‘sharp reminder’ to climate-change sceptics that they are wrong and stupid – ‘what is happening now relates to what we were doing two decades ago’, she said, referring to humanity’s increasing emission of greenhouse gases. Nicholas Stern, treated by many greens as a god-like oracle warning us all of future manmade doom, says the floods were caused by ‘human activities’. From the fawningly faithful reporting of his words, you could be forgiven for thinking Moses himself had published some new tablets about man’s wrongdoings. Other observers say man’s behaviour, his emission of CO2, is ‘loading the dice’ of nature’s fury, making floods more likely and more epic. One says our ‘wild weather’, the reason ‘people’s lives and properties [are] at stake’, is because of manmade climate change.

Labour leader Ed Miliband explicitly moralised the weather yesterday, when he told the Observer that ‘people’s homes, businesses and livelihoods [are] coming under attack from extreme weather’, as if the weather were some kind of military force. ‘The science is clear’ as to why this is happening, said Miliband – because man’s activities have rattled the climate and we are now ‘sleepwalking into a national security crisis’ (there’s that militaristic metaphor again). One broadsheet columnist bizarrely makes a link between the floods and human behaviour that he clearly just doesn’t like, suggesting our ‘extreme weather’ could be down to ‘the undeniable waste of energy in British cities, where office lights shine through the night and supermarkets pump out hot air at open entrances and cold air in their freezer sections’. This is pretty blatantly just another variant of blaming man’s bad behaviour for floods, albeit a more PC version than David Silvester’s – the more secularist flood-exploiters see storms as a consequence of industry, of the thoughtlessness of office bosses, of the electricity use of big, fat supermarkets, where the more religious flood-exploiters see them as spin-offs of gay behaviour.

Ah, the allegedly rationalist ‘man causes floods’ lobby will say, but we have science on our side whereas Silvester just had the made-up stories of the Bible. Do they really have science on their side? Some pretty high-calibre experts have actually said there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to draw any direct line between climate change and particular floods or weather events. And as more sensible heads have pointed out, levels of rainfall in England have long been pretty unpredictable, and parts of England have always been prone to flooding. To declare that these floods are definitely a product of manmade climate change, of ‘human activities’, of ‘what we were doing two decades ago’, is as fact-lite and driven by underlying moral prejudices as was Silvester’s claim that gay marriage stirred up the storms.

Yet across the media, blogosphere and Twitter, numerous people are hunting high and low for some graph or factlet that might ‘prove’ that climate change – which is, of course, just code for man’s exploitation of natural resources for the purposes of economic and industrial growth – is to blame for these floods. These individuals are driven by precisely the same urge as Silvester was: a longing to marshall the weather to their pet cause of chastising mankind for what they view as his immoral behaviour. Even if scientists did find some connection between climate change and general increased rainfall, we should remember two things.

Firstly, it would still be the case that the urge to draw a direct line between our industrialised, relatively comfortable lives and natural disaster, between supermarkets and floods, between the fact many of us live in buzzing cities and the recent outbursts of stormy weather, would be a fundamentally moralistic rather than scientific project, motored way more by personal distaste for human behaviour than by anything remotely resembling scientific fact.

And secondly, mankind more than has the capacity to protect against increased rainfall and floods, to build new towns and cities that can withstand such natural whims, by making use of the very ‘human activities’ – ambition, growth, exploitation of natural resources – that the eco-miserabilist lobby sneers at and blames for every natural disaster that befalls us.

Every time floods happen these days, eco-obsessives say the same thing: they are punishment for ‘our unsustainable lifestyles’ (a Guardian writer in the year 2000); they offer a ‘glimpse of a possible winter world that we’ll inhabit if we don’t sort ourselves out’ (a green author, 2007); they are a sign that ‘Poseidon is angered by arrogant affronts from mere mortals like us’ (Mark Lynas in his book Six Degrees). Rough translation? Mother Nature is punishing us for being bad, for being arrogant, for failing to ‘sort ourselves out’ and to behave in a fashion that the eco-meek lobby considers correct and pure. No amount of pseudo-scientific chatter or grasping at graphs that supposedly reveal the ‘truth’ of these floods can disguise the fact that, like Genesis before them, and David Silvester last month, these green-leaning politicos and campaigners are using weather to warn us out of our wickedness. Who’s backward now?



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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