Pune techie exposes science conference racket

Updated: 30 December, 2013 00:00 IST | |

Racket exposed after 2 fake papers submitted by Dr Navin Kabra to the ICRIEST were accepted. He haggled over the Rs 6,200 publishing cost, and was allowed to present one paper at half the price

A computer scientist and technology entrepreneur from Pune has exposed a remarkably well-oiled academic seminars racket by getting two fake, nonsensical “scientific” papers accepted, despite the organisers assuring him that they will be peer-reviewed by an “international jury” of engineers and university professors.

Navin Kabra, who graduated from Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, and later completed his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin in the United States before returning to India, submitted the two fake papers to the International Conference on Recent Innovations in Engineering, Science &Technology (ICRIEST) which was held in Pune on December 29. The conference was organized by the “Institute of Research and Journals” (IRAJ).

Both papers were auto-generated using freely-available online software. In fact, one paper has references to the Hindi movie, Sholay, and an entire section contains dialogues from a hit Hollywood film, My Cousin Vinny.

Academic dystopia: The organiser, Ajit Dash, while giving an introduction about the Institute of Research and Journals (IRAJ) to engineering students at the seminar

Dr Kabra paid Rs 3,000 (after a 50 per cent discount following negotiations over email) for getting one of the papers published. The other paper was accepted by the conference, but not published as he did not pay the publishing fees. That paper even has a nonsensical name, but it completely escaped the international jury.

This is an excerpt from the “scientific” paper: “It is a self-evident truth that Sholay is the best movie ever made (at least according to the wife of the author of this paper). Now, if you’re paying attention, the first author of the paper appears to be Riaa Seth, which would indicate that she cannot have a wife, because the Supreme Court of India just upheld Section 377.

Money game: Anyone who was ready to pay Rs 6,200 was allowed to present a paper, and organisers assured participants that these papers will be published on its website, Kabra said

But, samajhne ki baat yeh hai ki, Riaa Seth is not really the author of this paper – instead it is Navin Kabra, whose wife is Meeta Kabra, the owner of wogma.com. Please visit wogma.com for great movie reviews, which don’t give the movie away. She is currently reviewing Dhoom 3, and we predict that she will give it a rating of “Even the keen, wait for DVD”. But our AAF algorithm indicates that it will be a box-office hit.”

Dr Kabra said: “I got a whiff of this racket while mentoring an undergraduate engineering student two years ago. He told me he had to submit a paper to a conference and get it published as per the rules of the University of Pune.” He said he had been planning to send fake papers to expose such conferences in order to warn hundreds of other students in Pune.

According to Aditya Abhyankar, a professor in the engineering department of the University of Pune, “It is only desired, not mandatory, that post-graduate students should publish papers.” He said he was not aware of any such guideline for undergraduate students. Pune University has 25 credits in a 100-credits course for postgraduate engineering students in the second year.

Science con: The conference organiser, Ajit Dash, addresses engineering students, most of whom are pursuing M.E. or M Tech. Pics/Krunal Gosavi

Post-graduate students from at least three cities in Maharashtra still attended the conference on Sunday. According to the organisers, 60 papers of the 130 submitted were accepted. Two of the 60 were Kabra’s fake papers.

Kabra said: “The organisers clearly claimed that there was an expert review process for acceptance into the conference. For each of the two papers we submitted, they first sent one email saying that the paper had been sent for review. Later we received an acceptance letter, which appeared to indicate that the paper had been accepted based on four review scores.”

He added: “Anyone who was ready to pay Rs 6,200 was allowed to present a research paper, and organisers assured participants that these papers will be published on its website. No wonder, students pursuing post-graduate engineering courses arrived in Pune from various cities in Maharashtra.”

There was a student from Odisha, too, who came to the conference that was organized at a hotel located at Tadiwala Road, near Pune Station. All the students who participated in were asked to pay Rs 700 more as “lunch charges” in addition to the Rs 6,200 fees.

Dr Kabra said: “While submitting my research paper, I bargained just like we haggle with a vegetable vendor. They agreed to charge me just Rs 3,000.”

At the conference on Sunday, the organisers made the following claims:

  • All the papers were reviewed by panelists from a panel of international experts using a double-blind review methodology.
  • Only high-quality papers were accepted
  • All accepted papers were sent reviews from at least three reviewers each and the authors were then asked to update the papers based on the review comments. But Kabra said his own experience suggested no such thing happened. If it had, then they would have rejected both papers after reading just two paragraphs.

When confronted with these revelations, Ajit Dash, associate editor, IRAJ, said he is not aware of any fake paper. “He (Kabra) might have sent it for another journal,” Dash told MiD DAY. “You send me an official mail with his name and research topic, I will personally look in to it.” He said IRAJ charges those fees “because of overhead expenses. All our efforts are to help engineering students.”

However, despite this being the second such IRAJ and ICRIEST conference in a month in Pune, the University is not even aware of it. “I don’t know of any research organisation named IRAJ. I am sorry, I am just not aware about any such conference happening in the city,” said Dr Gajanan Kharate, dean of engineering in the University of Pune.

When asked why the university is not aware of this international conference, Dash of IRAJ replied, “We do not have money to publicise. It is not possible for us to reach out to everyone.” He could not explain why engineering students were aware of this conference, but not their teachers in the university.

Dr Kabra, too, said that apart from his student, he was alerted to the conference by online alerts and marketing emails. He said he was so depressed at seeing so many students spending so much money that he refused to present the fake paper at the conference. “When I went to the conference,” Dr Kabra said, “I found about a dozen delegates who all had papers to present, and most of them were M.E. or M.Tech students from variousparts of the country.

There were two students who had come all the way from Orissa to Pune just for this conference. One of them had brought his mother along. Two students had come from Solapur. There were students from local Pune colleges too. All of them had paid the conference registration fees and the travel costs from their own pocket. All of them were publishing because it was a requirement for their degree.”

According to the organisers, these conferences are held in four cities in India, with 30-50 presenters at each event. In a year, IRAJ claims it organizes between 120-150 such conferences. For each of these conferences, students are charged Rs 6,200 per paper published. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the organisers stand to make Rs 4.65 crore per year from presenters paying their full fees. This excludes those whose papers are published.

The referee at Sunday’s conference, too, was not any engineering faculty member from a Pune college, but from a government college in Amravati. Ashok Matani told MiD DAY that he attends such conferences because it gives him five extra credits in his Confidential Report. He teaches mechanical engineering, but in Sunday’s conference, he was singlehandedly inspecting papers in subjects like computer science, electronics and telecommunication engineering, and information technology.

He said, “I sincerely think not just postgraduate, but even undergraduate level engineering students should be made to present their research papers in such conferences. Today’s conference will help me to grab five marks in my confidential report (CR). I regularly attend such conferences and to reach out to students and spread my knowledge.”

Kabra, who also runs Pune’s biggest online technology forum, maintains that these conferences encourage mediocrity, and in his case, totally fraudulent research papers. “My original intention of doing this was to spread awareness amongst students about the true nature of such conferences,” he said. “But now, after having gone through the experience, I am a bit depressed. I don’t know how awareness about this issue is going to help.

“Even if students are aware of the issues, it is still very difficult to figure out whether any given conference indeed has high quality standards and a good peer/expert review process or not. And even if there was an easy method of being able to distinguish between good conferences and bad ones, what are the students expected to do?”

Prof Abhyankar warns students to not attend any such conference. “Within a week of registering, this conference proved how fake it was,” he told MiD DAY. “If students want to publish they can approach organisations such as IEEE, Science Direct and Springer to present their papers. By attending such conferences, they are not adding any value to their education.”

Nonsense in Kabra's papers

Kabra's title for the accepted (but not published) paper is hilarious: "Use of Cloud-Computing and Social Media to Determine Box Office Performance." Even if someone read through the entire paper, which, to even the most non-geek person, should come across as fake, the "conclusion" is even more laughable. It somehow impressed the IRAJ jury of experts. It says, "In this position paper we described UIB, a method to use the browser to check IMDB.com to lookup box office performance of movies, and AAF, a method to ask friends on Facebook about how a movie is doing, and a hybrid algorithm AAFtUIB in which we ask a friend to use IMDB.com. And we've managed to reference Hilbert, HHGTTG, Sholay, My Cousin Vinny, Jeff Naughton, the Wisconsin Database Performance Paper, Xeno's paradox, Meeta Kabra and the wogma.com website, and we even referenced the Sokal Affair in the heading of the paper (actually in the name of the institute that the authors are from, but you get what I mean, right?) proving once and for all that nobody has read this paper."

Why postgraduate engineering students are desperate to publish
In the Master of Engineering course, in a 100-credits course, in the second year, 25 credits are reserved for research project and its presentation in conference.

Excerpt from “research paper”:
“It is a self-evident truth that Sholay is the best movie ever made (at least according to the wife of the author of this paper). Now, if you’re paying attention, the first author of the paper appears to be Riaa Seth, which would indicate that she cannot have a wife, because the Supreme Court of India just upheld Section 377. But, samajhne ki baat yeh hai ki, Riaa Seth is not really the author of this paper --Ninstead it is Navin Kabra, whose wife is...”

First Published: 30 December, 2013 00:00 IST

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