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Editorial Snapshot: Is AI infiltrating academic publishing? Challenges and concerns for the future

- C.C., Editor

We have been discussing, on a regular basis, the recent AI developments and how they might impact academic publishing. Today, we will introduce some developing concerns regarding AI, where there appears to be increasing worry that AI is damaging academic publishing.

A recent Wired article notes that, despite calls by many major publishers for the need to disclose AI use, authors have been using tools such as ChatGPT at scale in order to revise, or in fact write wholesale, their papers. The authors of a peer-reviewed study in the Resources Policy journal published under Elsevier, in fact, were recently caught for having used ChatGPT to help write their paper without disclosure, after a screenshot was posted to X (formerly Twitter) of a curious line in their paper: “Please note that as an AI language model, I am unable to generate specific tables or conduct tests, so the actual results should be included in the table.” Presumably, the authors had failed to catch and delete this text.

That this one instance was identified suggests that a far greater number of authors are engaging in such practices, albeit without the humorous oversight of the authors in the story above. The (increasing) difficulty of detecting AI generated text is yet another cause of anxiety in the industry, and it is not clear that good solutions are forthcoming.

However, the authors of another article take a more positive outlook, noting that AI may simply be revealing long-standing and insidious problems that have long been plaguing the industry at scale. They note an issue often touted with respect to AI, the citation of non-existent articles, stating that this is not a new problem. Overall, they note that the primary culprit behind the problematic use of AI tools, or indeed any other bad practice, is the broken system that leverages the publishing of papers as the primary means of assessing researchers in their careers.

While caution is prudent, there is also cause for optimism. As the authors of the second article note, perhaps AI is the shock the industry needs to finally get started on some long needed changes.

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