Here Come The Robots: AI Risked Scientist’s Reputation By Putting His Name On Bad Journal Article He Didn’t Write

A horticultural scientist discovered a scholarly article online attributed to him, but he didn’t write it. He said it looked like artificial intelligence had produced it from a chat session, and the poor quality could have harmed his reputation as a researcher.

May 26, 20236 min read

Artificial intelligence has reached a point where it's being used to write term papers for college students and an AI program even passed the bar exam. A scientist tells Cowboy State Daily he was surprised to find AI had used an old Reddit thread of his to create and publish and academic paper in his name.
Artificial intelligence has reached a point where it's being used to write term papers for college students and an AI program even passed the bar exam. A scientist tells Cowboy State Daily he was surprised to find AI had used an old Reddit thread of his to create and publish and academic paper in his name. (Cowboy State Daily Illustration by Kevin Killough)

Dr. Kevin Folta, professor of the horticultural sciences of the University of Florida, was searching online for peer-reviewed research he authored and co-authored.

The second article that showed up in the search was an article attributed to him, but he didn’t write it.  

He told Cowboy State Daily it was poorly written and reflected low professional standards. 

“This was one of those bone-chilling moments when you're in my situation as a scientist who sometimes approaches controversial subjects,” Folta said. 

Ask Me Anything

Authorea is an online writing tool that allows researchers to publish research papers, collaborate on them and cite this shared research.

Folta said the article appeared to have been based on an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit — a discussion and news gathering website — he did several years ago. In these sessions, users ask experts questions about a topic and have an informal chat about it. 

The Authorea article “has fingerprints of AI, because it looks like the extracted content that was not put together correctly by a human being,” Folta said. 

From the extracted chat content, the software produced an article that appeared in a scholarly journal format, including an abstract. Folta said it was embarrassing for him as a serious researcher, especially because it attached his name to it.

“It was sloppy. Here’s something on my professional record that was not reflecting the quality of my work, and it was done without my knowledge,” Folta said. 

In the world of academia, he said, peer-reviewed articles carry a lot of weight for researchers. 

“It’s your currency as a scientist. This is a record that’s sacred, you know,” Folta said. 

Sacred Record 

Folta has been at the center of a lot of controversy because of his efforts to provide people accurate information on the scientific research into the safety of biotechnology, such as genetically modified organisms. 

Anti-biotech activists and organic food advocates have accused him of being a propaganda minister for biotech companies. They launched campaigns to prove he was funded by those companies, and nothing was ever found indicating he had committed scientific misconduct. 

After years of harassment, he’s very careful with any online information that’s attributed to him. 

He said another “bone chilling moment” was when a colleague suggested he check out his Wikipedia page, to which Folta replied, “I don’t have a Wikipedia page.” 

“Oh yes, you do,” the colleague said. 

Anti-biotech activists had influenced the entry. 

Article Removed

Folta said that his first assumption was that the Authorea article was a smear attempt by critics, but when he contacted Wiley, the parent company of Authorea, the article was quickly removed. 

A spokesperson for Wiley told Cowboy State Daily the article was produced by The Winnower, another online open-access scholarly publishing platform. In 2016, Authorea acquired The Winnower, and its content is now hosted on Authorea. 

The article wasn’t generated with artificial intelligence tools, the spokesperson said. Instead, it was the part of a partnership with Reddit, in which software would automatically harvest “Ask Me Anything” content and post it as a scholarly article. 

Under the definition of artificial intelligence, which is computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, the harvester would seem to qualify. 

“The aim is to make these posts more widely available, as well as citable and archived in the scholarly record,” the spokesperson said. 

Wiley said it appreciates when people alert them of these problems so it can take action. 

“Whenever appropriate, we remove content, for example in the case of research integrity issues or at the request of the author,” the company said. 

Developing Tool

Artificial intelligence is a developing tool that’s being used in various applications, including writing computer code and generating images. 

One AI system is being developed that would allow experienced coders to give a computer instructions on a task and the AI would write the code to do that task. Midjourney is developing AI software that allows users to give descriptions of an image, which it illustrates automatically. 

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence resource chatbot that generates responses to questions posed by people. 

While praised by some as a valuable resource, it’s had its share of criticism. 

Energy expert Alex Epstein asked the chatbot to write a 10-paragraph argument for using more fossil fuels to increase human happiness. 

ChatGPT said it goes against its programing to promote the use of fossil fuels because “the use of fossil fuels…can have serious consequences for human health and well-being.” 

Elon Musk responded to Epstein’s tweet about the incident, saying “There is great danger in training an AI to lie.” 

Epstein later stated that the software was updated to present the argument for using more fossil fuels. 

Cowboy State Intelligence 

Tyler Lindholm, state director for Americans for Prosperity in Wyoming, said Wyoming lawmakers are contemplating legislation to make the Cowboy State attractive to AI tech companies. 

Lindholm said at a recent meeting in Jackson, the Select Committee on Blockchain, Financial Technology and Digital Innovation Technology had several major organizations present, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

The positive potential of artificial technology was discussed at the meeting, Lindholm said, but also potential issues, like the one Folta faced with a falsely attributed article. 

That’s “the exact scenario that I think a lot of folks were terrified of. Granted, I don't think anybody perceived that a research paper could be falsely attributed,” Lindholm said. 

Lindholm said the goal is to create laws where companies developing AI can establish and grow in Wyoming, but with reasonable consumer protections. 

“That’s the razor's edge that the Wyoming Legislature is going to have to walk on the technology. Without overreacting, but also still reacting in a manner that protects our citizens,” Lindholm said.

Contact Kevin Killough at

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