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Blog

Spot the difference

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Can you tell the difference? (credit: US/LHC blog)

By Michael Banks

At first glance it looks like an average webpage from the arXiv preprint server – a website where researchers upload their papers before publishing them in a scientific journal.

But with article authors including “C H Fermi”, “S C Boltzmann”, or “L Heisenberg” you could be somewhat suspicious whether it is indeed authentic.

The website is snarXiv and has been created by David Simmons-Duffin, a PhD student in high-energy physics at Harvard University. It randomly generates titles and abstracts in high-energy physics taking into account the latest trends in the subject and presents them in an identical way as the arXiv server does.

Simmons-Duffin writes on his blog that he does not remember exactly why he decided to set up the website. However, he claims that it does serve some purpose.

For example, Simmons-Duffin notes that if you are a graduate student you can “gloomily read through the abstracts, thinking to yourself that you do not understand papers on the real arXiv any better”. And if you are a post-doc then you can keep reloading the webpage “until you find something to work on”.

Simmons-Duffin has even made a game where you have to spot the real title from the randomly generated one (the real one being a title from an arXiv paper and the random one a title from a snarXiv paper).

Try it for yourself. I managed to get 5 out of 8 correct, which ranked me rather unkindly as an “undergraduate”. (Other ranks include “better than a monkey” or “worse than a monkey” and it seems the top rank is “Nobel prizewinner”.)

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2 comments

  1. copper tractor cm2

    This reminds me of the Postmodernism Generator created by Andrew Bulhak in 1996. The similarities are quite striking. The PG operates by creating random journal articles that spoof the kind of papers that are regularly published in lit crit and philosophy journals with a postmodernist bent (quite the majority, in those fields :) Here’s a Wikipedia link for those interested, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism_Generator. As someone who spent a number of years studying philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College in the 80′s (probably the peak of PM insanity, at a school absolutely saturated by it :) , I really got a tremendous illicit thrill from the PG. It reminded me of quite a few papers I read (and wrote!) at that time in my life. Ah, physics…(sigh of great relief)

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