“Tortured” phrases used to fool plagiarism detectors now infest scientific papers

Are you a researcher working in Counterfeit Consciousness? It’s the hottest area in computer science! Perhaps Manufactured Acumen, as they call it. Or Synthetic Perspicacity? Whatever it is, don’t call it Artificial Intelligence, or the rest of the text you swiped might be spotted by turnitin. Nature:

Further investigation revealed that these strange terms — which they dub “tortured phrases” — are probably the result of automated translation or software that attempts to disguise plagiarism. And they seem to be rife in computer-science papers.

esearch-integrity sleuths say that Cabanac and his colleagues have uncovered a new type of fabricated research paper, and that their work, posted in a preprint on arXiv on 12 July1, might expose only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the literature affected.

To get a sense of how many papers are affected, the researchers ran a search for 30 tortured phrases in journal articles indexed in the citation database Dimensions. They found more than 860 publications that included at least one of the phrases, 500 of which were published in a single journal: Microprocessors and Microsystems.

The most interesting thing is that, despite the the obvious laziness, there seems little evidence of academic fraud. The difficulty of translating complex language to English seems to be the proximate cause of the plagiarism: authors are boilerplating existing passages they know are formally correct, but their grasp of English isn’t good enough to rephrase it themselves or to spot inappropriate word substitutions made by machines.

Compare to those bizarre sextortion emails that talk knowingly about your crimes, in language similarly mangled by a deranged thesaurus in hopes of avoiding spam detectors.

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Rob Beschizza