A mini-Sokal hoax: abstract of physics paper written by computer, and in complete gibberish, accepted for conference on physics

In the famous Alan Sokal hoax, now twenty years old, a physicist got a bogus, post-modern paper accepted by the pomo journal Social Text. Now the tables are turned—sort of. This time, as the Guardian reported yesterday, a non-physicist hoaxed a physics conference by submitting an abstract, immediately accepted, that was written almost completely by computer. It was complete gibberish, proving that nobody looked at the paper, and that the conference was probably just a garbage meeting designed to make money.

I didn’t know what iOS autocomplete was, but apparently it’s an Apple program that can be used to finish written text with stuff that’s generated by computer (correct me if I’m wrong).  And a professor used it to write an entire paper. From the Guardian:

Christoph Bartneck, an associate professor at the Human Interface Technology laboratory at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, received an email inviting him to submit a paper to the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics in the US in November.

“Since I have practically no knowledge of nuclear physics I resorted to iOS autocomplete function to help me writing the paper,” he wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “I started a sentence with ‘atomic’ or ‘nuclear’ and then randomly hit the autocomplete suggestions.

“The atoms of a better universe will have the right for the same as you are the way we shall have to be a great place for a great time to enjoy the day you are a wonderful person to your great time to take the fun and take a great time and enjoy the great day you will be a wonderful time for your parents and kids,” is a sample sentence from the abstract.

It concludes: “Power is not a great place for a good time.”

Bartneck made a video, posted in his website, showing how he did it:

But wait! There’s more!

Bartneck illustrated the paper – titled, again through autocorrect, “Atomic Energy will have been made available to a single source” – with the first graphic on the Wikipedia entry for nuclear physics.

He submitted it under a fake identity: associate professor Iris Pear of the US, whose experience in atomic and nuclear physics was outlined in a biography using contradictory gender pronouns.

The nonsensical paper was accepted only three hours later, in an email asking Bartneck to confirm his slot for the “oral presentation” at the international conference.

“I know that iOS is a pretty good software, but reaching tenure has never been this close,” Bartneck commented in the blog post.

The conference itself, to be held in Georgia in mid-November (see link above), looks pretty dicey. For one thing, read its call for abstracts:

And, as the Guardian notes:

The International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics. . . is organised by ConferenceSeries: “an amalgamation of Open Access Publications and worldwide international science conferences and events”, established in 2007.

It also has a $1099 speaker registration fee.

The Guardian describes what Bartneck wrote as a paper, but it’s actually an abstract of a paper, complete with a bogus diagram and a phony photo of the author. You can see it here, and I’ve put a screenshot below:


I get invitations all the time from bogus organizations that invite me to submit papers or give talks on forestry, molecular biology, immunology, and all sorts of things for which I have no credentials at all. There are a lot of organizations out there preying on scientists who, I guess, think that going to such meetings gives them professional credibility. And it must work, or why would these meetings and journals continue to exist?

h/t: Barry

Caturday felid trifecta: Maine Coon Cats, how to be a cat, and Sampson, a 28-pound monster cat who is not fat

One of the world’s most beautiful cat breeds is the Maine Coon. Over at Bored Panda, photographer Robert Sijka shows some magnificent shots of these beasts. (See more of his cat photographs here.)

Sijka always saw cats as majestic, almost mystical beasts, and now he came up with a way to share that image with the rest of us: “My passions are cats and photography, I do my best to combine these two things as good as possible,” the photographer shares on his website. And he managed to combine those passions perfectly in his royal-like Maine Coon portrait series.

He got the inspiration from a “photo of Dolce Vita and De La Loo – two of the most majestic black Maine Coons… photographed beautifully on a simple black background”, Robert told Cat Behaviourist. And ever since that moment, he was creating these mesmerizing portraits himself.

There are more at the site; here are just four:






At Boredom Therapy, the duo of Lisa Swirling and Ralph Lazar from Last Lemon show 25 panels of instructions on “How to be a cat.” (Note: there are three pages.) Here are a few panels:






I think we’ve met the giant Samson before, but Bored Panda (a reliable source of felid amusement) has more pictures.

Meet Samson, a 28 lbs (~13 kg) Maine Coon from NYC who is larger than most bobcats. This furball is around 4 feet in length and has even been dubbed “the largest cat in NYC.” In fact, he might even be the largest cat in the world. The current Guinness World record holder passed away in 2013, and he measured at 4.04 feet.


“Samson is a very sweet but a tough cat, who fits the term gentle giant very well,” Jonathan Zurbel, Samson’s owner, told Love Meow. “He is not fat or overweight but a strong Husky sturdy cat,” the cat dad said. “He waits by my (bedroom) door and comes in first thing in the morning to sit on my belly. He is very kind and sweet and a very well behaved cat. He is a dream cat.”



h/t: Ginger K.

Readers’ wildlife photographs

A year ago, reader Benjamin Taylor went on a camping trip around southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia) and took lots of photos. I’m continuing his series today, and his captions are indented. There are bonus kittens!

 Tawny eagle (Aquila rapax). africa-0299


A white-backed vulture (Gyps africanus) on its nest.


Common impala (Aepyceros melampus), Chobe National Park, Botswana.


Camp kittens!


African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) wading in the Chobe River.


Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Chobe National Park, Botswana.


Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), Chobe National Park, Botswana.



Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s October 22, 2016, and National Nut Day, which I’ll following by having a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. It’s also International CAPS LOCK DAY. Finally, this is the day in 4004 BC on which, according to Archbishop James Ussher’s famous calculation, the world was created!

On October 22, 1879, Thomas Edison tested the first long-lasting incandescent light bulb, using carbonized thread as a filament. It lasted all of 13.5 hours before going dark. In 1895, an express train failed to stop at the Gare Montparnasse, producing this result:


Amazingly, only one person was killed: a woman outside the station hit by falling masonry. In 1962, John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba, bringing on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest American has come to nuclear war. Two years later, Jean-Paul Sartre received the Nobel Prize in Literature, and refused it. (Do you think Bob Dylan will?).

Notables born on this day include Daniel Boone (1734), Sarah Bernhardt (1844), Curly Howard of the Three Stooges (1903), Timothy Leary (1920), Annette Funicello (1942♥), the first love of many young boys, including me, Deepak Chopra (1946; he turns 70 today, but of course he will never die because of his health regimen), and Jeff Goldblum (1952; surprisingly, several women have told me they find him very sexy). Those who died on this day include Pretty Boy Floyd (1934), Jane Dornacker (1986), Albert Szent-Györgyi (1986), and Soupy Sales (2009). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Cyrus have apparently joined the ambulatory school of philosophy:

Cyrus: Everything is very complicated.
Hili: Yes, but sometimes you have to disregard what’s not essential.
 In Polish:
Cyrus: To wszystko jest ogromnie skomplikowane.
Hili: Tak, ale czasem trzeba abstrahować od tego, co nieistotne.

And out on the wind-swept prairies of Winnipeg, Gus has been nomming his box (note the license plate on the far end, as well as the Canadian flag), as well as playing with tissue paper:



National Reptile Awareness Day

by Greg Mayer

It’s a bit late in the day, but I must announce that today is, at least in the USA, National Reptile Awareness Day. Happy Reptile Day to all! I must admit, as a herpetologist who joined all the major American herpetological societies while still in high school (1975), I had never heard of National Reptile Awareness Day before today. Reptiles Magazine, a fanciers outlet, is the only group I can find who are promoting it, although even they admit not to know how or when it started. Despite its obscurity, we’ll celebrate with a few reptile pictures.

First, a wild red-eared slider, a southern US turtle popular in the pet trade, and often released, but less often established, in places outside its native range, like Wisconsin.

Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), Greenquist Pond, Somers, Wisconsin, 14 September 2016.

Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), Greenquist Pond, Somers, Wisconsin, 14 September 2016.

Next, my ball python Vivian, whom I’ve had for about 18 years.

Ball python (Python regius), captive, at alumni event at UW-Prakside, September, 2016.

Ball python (Python regius), captive, at alumni event at UW-Parkside, September, 2016.

A snapping turtle from UW-Parkside, at the same alumni event as Vivian.

Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), Greenquist Pond, Somers, Wisconsin.

Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), Greenquist Pond, Somers, Wisconsin.

And we’ll finish up with a series of eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) pictures; I believe all the pictures were taken in Cass, Michigan. They were taken by my former student Eric Hileman, who did his Ph.D. at Northern Illinois University with Rich King. Eric successfully defended his dissertation on the population ecology of massasaugas just this past Wednesday, and I was privileged to be able to attend. So we can all take this National Reptile Awareness Day as a day to send this joyous message to Eric: “Congratulations. Now get back to work.”

Eastern massasauga.

Eastern massasauga.

Eastern massasauga.

Eastern massasauga.

Eastern massasauga.

Eastern massasauga.

h/t Alicia Hunt

The laws of cartoon physics

To end the week, we have a lovely post that gives the cartoon laws of physics, whose author is, sadly, unknown. But they’re hilarious, and if you’re of a certain age you’ll recognize them all. Here they are; I’ve put my favorites in bold.

Cartoon Law I
Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation. Daffy Duck steps off a cliff, expecting further pastureland. He loiters in midair, soliloquizing flippantly, until he chances to look down. At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second per second takes over.

Here’s an illustration:

Cartoon Law II
Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly. Whether shot from a cannon or in hot pursuit on foot, cartoon characters are so absolute in their momentum that only a telephone pole or an outsize boulder retards their forward motion absolutely. Sir Isaac Newton called this sudden termination of motion the stooge’s surcease.

Cartoon Law III
Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter. Also called the silhouette of passage, this phenomenon is the specialty of victims of directed-pressure explosions and of reckless cowards who are so eager to escape that they exit directly through the wall of a house, leaving a cookie-cutout-perfect hole. The threat of skunks or matrimony often catalyzes this reaction.

Cartoon Law IV
The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights to attempt to capture it unbroken. Such an object is inevitably priceless, the attempt to capture it inevitably unsuccessful.

Cartoon Law V
All principles of gravity are negated by fear. Psychic forces are sufficient in most bodies for a shock to propel them directly away from the earth’s surface. A spooky noise or an adversary’s signature sound will induce motion upward, usually to the cradle of a chandelier, a treetop, or the crest of a flagpole. The feet of a character who is running or the wheels of a speeding auto need never touch the ground, especially when in flight.

Cartoon Law VI
As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once. This is particularly true of tooth-and-claw fights, in which a character’s head may be glimpsed emerging from the cloud of altercation at several places simultaneously. This effect is common as well among bodies that are spinning or being throttled. A `wacky’ character has the option of self-replication only at manic high speeds and may ricochet off walls to achieve the velocity required.

Cartoon Law VII
Certain bodies can pass through solid walls painted to resemble tunnel entrances; others cannot. This trompe l’oeil inconsistency has baffled generations, but at least it is known that whoever paints an entrance on a wall’s surface to trick an opponent will be unable to pursue him into this theoretical space. The painter is flattened against the wall when he attempts to follow into the painting. This is ultimately a problem of art, not of science.

Cartoon Law VIII
Any violent rearrangement of feline matter is impermanent. Cartoon cats possess even more deaths than the traditional nine lives might comfortably afford. They can be decimated, spliced, splayed, accordion-pleated, spindled, or disassembled, but they cannot be destroyed. After a few moments of blinking self pity, they reinflate, elongate, snap back, or solidify. Corollary: A cat will assume the shape of its container.

Cartoon Law IX
Everything falls faster than an anvil.

Cartoon Law X
For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite revengeance. This is the one law of animated cartoon motion that also applies to the physical world at large. For that reason, we need the relief of watching it happen to a duck instead.

Cartoon Law Amendment A
A sharp object will always propel a character upward. When poked (usually in the buttocks) with a sharp object (usually a pin), a character will defy gravity by shooting straight up, with great velocity.

Cartoon Law Amendment B
The laws of object permanence are nullified for “cool” characters. Characters who are intended to be “cool” can make previously nonexistent objects appear from behind their backs at will. For instance, the Road Runner can materialize signs to express himself without speaking.

Cartoon Law Amendment C
Explosive weapons cannot cause fatal injuries. They merely turn characters temporarily black and smoky.

Cartoon Law Amendment D
Gravity is transmitted by slow-moving waves of large wavelengths. Their operation can be witnessed by observing the behavior of a canine suspended over a large vertical drop. Its feet will begin to fall first, causing its legs to stretch. As the wave reaches its torso, that part will begin to fall, causing the neck to stretch. As the head begins to fall, tension is released and the canine will resume its regular proportions until such time as it strikes the ground.

Cartoon Law Amendment E
Dynamite is spontaneously generated in “C-spaces” (spaces in which cartoon laws hold). The process is analogous to steady-state theories of the universe which postulated that the tensions involved in maintaining a space would cause the creation of hydrogen from nothing. Dynamite quanta are quite large (stick sized) and unstable (lit). Such quanta are attracted to psychic forces generated by feelings of distress in “cool” characters (see Amendment B, which may be a special case of this law), who are able to use said quanta to their advantage. One may imagine C-spaces where all matter and energy result from primal masses of dynamite exploding. A big bang indeed.

Can you think of any more?

h/t: Michael

CUNY professor accused of violating Title IX without any mention of sex

I think we learned yesterday—or at least I did—that sexual harassment of women, including physical harassment like groping, is far more prevalent than assumed.  We clearly need to do something about the issue, which means that men themselves must also recognize its prevalence. So besides admiration for the brave women who reported what happened to them, often using their real names, I was also heartened by all the good men who supported those women.  As always, the readers here are a great bunch

But I also have to report overreaction, in which accusations of sexual harassment have gone overboard. This has happened on several college campuses, and, as reason.com reports, there’s a particularly silly incident in New York (my emphasis):

A professor at the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College was ordered to make changes to his syllabus because it amounted to sexual harassment.

The professor, David Seidemann has refused to comply, and for good reason.

According to Seidemann, a university administrator expressed three grievances about the syllabus. First, and most quizzically, the grading portion of the syllabus suggests sexual harassment. It reads, “Class deportment, effort etc……. 10% (applied only to select students when appropriate).”

That’s it. That’s sexual harassment, Seidemann’s department chair claimed.

Why? No one explained it to him. I gather that the “effort, etc…” was taken the wrong way: a completely unreasonable person could presume Seidemann was suggesting that sexual favors would boost the grades of “select students.”

. . . Seidemann told [the reporter] in an email that his department chair said “the 10% section could be construed as a prelude to sexual harassment,” and had to be changed at once.

This order apparently came from the Director of Diversity Investigations and Title IX Enforcement. In the course of Seidemann’s interactions with the director, he realized something quite stunning: there was no record of anyone actually complaining about the syllabus. The university had apparently launched this investigation on its own.

Seidemann was also initially in trouble for writing in his syllabus, “This classroom is an ‘unsafe space’ for those uncomfortable with viewpoints with which they may disagree: all constitutionally protected speech is welcome.” But the director eventually conceded this was fine.

Apparently the troubles were compounded by Seidemann using triangles instead of quotations marks around terms like “unsafe space”.

This is how far it’s gone in some places, and part of the problem is that the Title IX guidelines are confusing and even a bit draconian. If you look at the link in the previous sentence, you’ll find the story of a male student expelled from the University of Colorado at Pueblo because someone reported that his girlfriend had a hickey on her neck. That was reported as rape, and even the girlfriend’s testimony that the relationship was purely consensual couldn’t prevent the expulsion. That’s the kind of evidence that Title IX takes as sufficient cause for punishment. I predicted, and it’s now happening, that colleges will now incur a spate of lawsuits because of this kind of bizarre and unfair punishment. And that, too, is the story of David Seidemann and his “selective grading.” (To be sure, I wouldn’t have applied that standard to “select students”, but maybe Seidemann meant that students who misbehaved would be penalized.”


h/t: Patrick


by Greg Mayer

Jerry will be posting more CoyneFest pix, but in the meantime here’s a group picture of some of the CoyneFest-ers taken at the Log Castle which was the locus of dinner and festivities on the second day of the symposium.

CoyneFest group photo

The CoyneFesters are: standing on the hearth (tallest): Jerry Coyne, P.C.C. (University of Chicago); standing, left to right: Andrew Berry (Harvard University), Amanda Mehring (Western University, Ontario), Briana Mittleman (University of Chicago), Mohammed Noor (Duke University), Katharine Korunes (Duke University), Bruce Grant (College of William and Mary), Cathy Grant (College of William and Mary), Brian Charlesworth (University of Edinburgh), Nick Barton (IST Austria), Soojin Yi (Georgia Tech), Mike Turelli (University of California, Davis), Manyuan Long (University of Chicago, in back), Connie Homan (University of Chicago, in front), Dick Hudson (University of Chicago), Matthew Cobb (University of Manchester), Leonie Moyle (Indiana University), Trevor Price (University of Chicago), Colin Meikeljohn (University of Nebraska), Corbin Jones (University of North Carolina); kneeling (left to right): Tina Harr (Max Planck Institute and University of Chicago, with Melody the d*g), Daniel Matute (University of North Carolina), Kelly Dyer (University of Georgia), Jeff Wisniewski (University of Chicago), John Novembre (University of Chicago), Nitin Phadnis  (University of Utah).

Not everyone could make it out to the Log Castle, and some who did had left by the time the photo was taken, so not all the CoyneFesters are in the picture; almost 3/4 of the speakers, though, are in the picture. John Novembre, seeing I had the best (or at least best-looking!) camera, urged me to take a group photo and helped get everyone in the picture; he then kindly took one with me in the picture.

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we continue (and conclude) Lou Jost’s photographs of orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets), all photographed at the Tambopata Research Center in Peru. His notes are indented:

At the Tambopata Research Center we got up around 4:30 am most days, and evenings after dinner there were often talks, so we had little time to explore the forest at night. But one night before bed I couldn’t resist exploring for an hour. In that hour I found so many things that I only managed to advance about 20 meters from the lodge. But most of the Orthopterans don’t merit individual captions since I know nothing at all about them!



This is probably just a more advanced nymph of the same species shown in the previous picture.


JAC: the pose of the following insect probably serves to hide it, but I’m not sure; and note the prominent white marks on the thorax and legs that seem to make it more conspicuous.





JAC: Could this be a form of mimicry too, with the brown coloration hiding the head?


Friday: Hili dialogue

Today is Friday, October 21, 2016, and the temperature in Chicago is beginning its inexorable slide into winter. In the UK, though, it’s Apple Day, so if you’re a Brit, eat one of the good apples available in your land. In the US, it’s an odious food day: National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day. I cannot recommend this comestible.

On this day in 1520, Ferdinand Magellan discovers a the passage now called the Strait of Magellan, and in 1854, Florence Nightingale and her staff of 38 nurses went off to the Crimean War to lift the lamp high.  Finally, on this day in 1945, French women became able to vote for the first time.

Notables born on this day include Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772), Alfred “Mr. Prize” Nobel (1833), Oswald Avery (1877), and Dizzy Gillespie (1917). Those who died on this day include Horatio Nelson (1805), Jack Kerouac (1969), and Ben Bradlee (2014). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is having Deep Cat Thoughts:

Hili: Have you ever wondered what happens to Thursday when Friday comes?
A: No, I’ve never thought about this problem.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy zastanawiałeś się, co się dzieje z czwartkiem, kiedy przychodzi piątek?
Ja: Nie, nigdy nie rozważałem tego problemu.

And in Winnipeg, a respite from the blizzards has given Gus a chance to enjoy the garden:



And I couldn’t resist including two lovely cat photos by Keira McKenzie of Oz, who sent the lovely pictures of wildflowers—and of her black cat Plushie—yesterday. She also sent a photo of a neighbor’s cat with some information:

This is a cat I know very well: Charlie.  He has many, many photos, and photo books and photo essays.  He is quite the model:  One photo attached.  Charlie lives with his 85 year old mum about a block away from me, but I see him frequently and his mum (Italian) always gives me wine and cheese as we chat about all sorts of things – and Charlie.  She is devoted to him and loves all cats.  She thinks Plushie is delightful.


Here is one of Charlie being idiotic.  He’s 9 or 10 and as playful as a kitten – which is why it’s not as 100% clear as it might have been.  He does not always stay still. I printed this as a Christmas card for his mum and she laughed and it’s still on a shelf in her lounge room.