Obfuscation Patterns in Academic Papers

These techniques seem to work, since I stumble quite frequently upon them in papers accepted at important venues:

  • misleading claim — come up with your own definition of a widely accepted term, preferably in a way inconsistent with the intuition and the general understanding of the term. Then claim spectacular results that happen to be true only with respect to your definition.
  • marketing pitch — use data irrelevant to the scientific discussion. Bonus: cite a dubious, hard-to-verify source with a non-existent methodology. Ex: “Problem X costs more than Y gazillion $$$ per year (hence our work is of epic importance)”.
  • over-sophistication —  use overly sophisticated terms for techniques or ideas that would otherwise be simple to understand (especially if it makes them look better). Ex: “heuristics” [1] sounds a lot better than “hack”.
  • no limitations — there are no limitations to your work, only things that are either out-of-scope or left for future work.
  • outsourcing problems — outsource large portions of the hard problems in your area by “leveraging” (see over-sophistication) existing work from a different domain with a complex literature, just to make sure that nobody can grasp all the dependencies of your paper.
  • biased evaluation — perform experimental evaluation designed to make others look bad. Even better if the evaluation is not reproducible, because you fail to disclose your source code, detailed algorithm or input set.

[1] heuristics (noun — hyu’-ris-tik): algorithm that does not work.


6 thoughts on “Obfuscation Patterns in Academic Papers

  1. Always thought that heuristics were something that works for very specific things but yet you can’t prove why it works ;). Coz sometimes it’s not even an algorithm at all.

    I have another one for you: statistical modeling aka rubbish (dixit a math friends of mine) :).

    It’s all about PR nowadays.

    1. another definition for heuristics would be: something for which there is no way to know when it works and when it does not. And don’t even get me started on statistical modeling.

  2. This is a pity that most people think that heuristics are magic silver bullets that solve complex problems while they usually consist in big hacks which seems to work in practice.

    I don’t say that heuristics are bads, I also use heuristics myself. But when you are using hacks you should tell the truth about it.


    1. Of course they are magic silver bullets, they are even features. As in: “our product uses sophisticated heuristics”.

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