12 scholarly hoaxes, randomly generated articles, and other tricky fun

Everyone loves lists. Just for fun, here’s a (very) loosely-organized list of scholarly hoaxes, randomly generated content, and other interesting tidbits. Some of these I learned about recently, some I’ve known about for a long time.

  1. Theorem of the day—This website creates randomly generated “theorems.”
  2. Rejecta Mathematica—This journal publishes only articles that have been rejected by peer-reviewed mathematics journals.
  3. Justin Zobel’s three nonsensical papers—They were accepted at the 2002 “peer reviewed” SCI World MultiConference on Systemics, Cybernetics, and Informatics.
  4. The Sokal Affair—In 1996 the cultural studies journal Social Text published the article “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” written by NYU physicist Alan Sokal. It turned out to be a hoax; Sokal was testing the rigor of the journal.
  5. Piltdown man—A famous paleontological hoax. A skull and jawbone found in 1912 which formed the definitive link between man and apes was discovered to be a hoax in 1953. Unfortunately, this hoax is used by creationists to try to attack the theory of evolution.
  6. snarXiv—A website made to look like the arXiv website. But all titles and abstracts are randomly generated. Think you can tell the difference? Try arXiv vs. snarXiv.
  7. Ig Nobel awards—The prize honors “achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” (run by Improbable Research, who has a magazine Annals of Improbable Research).
  8. Computer science paper generator—SCIgen is a program that generates random computer science articles, including graphs, figures, and citations.
  9. Wikipedia Hoax—When French composer Maurice Jarre died in 2009 a college student put a phony quote on Jarre’s Wikipedia page. The quote was included in the obituaries in numerous newspapers.
  10. Grant proposal generator—Automatically generates Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant proposals.
  11. Vaccine/autism controversy—Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 article linking the MMR vaccine to autism has since been retracted by the journal that published it and by 10 of the 13 authors. Sadly, its results are still widely believed.
  12. Naked Came the Stranger—A literary hoax. Newsday columnist Mike McGrady and his colleagues (using the pen-name Penelope Ashe) wrote an intentionally bad novel featuring no plot, but many sex scenes. They were trying make a point about literary standards and the tastes of readers. It became a best-seller.
  13. [update: another good one]—The Journal of Unpublishable Mathematics

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