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AI writing in academic journals: Mitigating its impact on research integrity

Join us as we navigate the intricate territory where technology meets tradition. We’ll delve into the multifaceted impact of AI on academic research writing, addressing key questions surrounding its role, potential threats, and ethical considerations.

Laura Young
Laura Young
Content Marketing Specialist

In the ever-evolving education landscape, the intersection of AI and academic research writing has become a focal point of discussion, particularly since the advent of ChatGPT in November 2022. The integration of AI tools, ranging from automated grammar checkers to sophisticated content generators, for many, has ushered in a new era of efficiency and innovation in the scholarly writing process. From revolutionizing the speed and depth of data analysis to augmenting collaborative efforts and literature reviews, AI stands as a powerful ally in the researcher's toolkit.

However, as researchers embrace the potential benefits of AI in crafting academic research papers, questions arise about the implications of AI writing for research integrity, individual authorship, and the unique qualities that human researchers bring to the table. How can the research community strike such a delicate balance that ensures the responsible and ethical use of AI in the pursuit of scholarly knowledge?

Join us as we navigate the intricate territory where technology meets tradition. We’ll delve into the multifaceted impact of AI on academic research writing, addressing key questions surrounding its role, potential threats, and ethical considerations.

What are the implications of AI writing for research integrity?

AI has the capacity to introduce both benefits and obstacles to the research journey. On the positive side, AI tools can enhance the efficiency of literature reviews, automate routine tasks, and assist in data analysis, allowing researchers to focus on higher-order thinking and interpretation of results. But even AI automation has its drawbacks, raising concerns over the potential compromise of research integrity.

Insight limitations

In a study into the effectiveness of AI in literature reviews, Wagner, Lukyanenko and Pare note that “there is no doubt that these contributions require human interpretation and insightful syntheses, as well as novel explanation and theory building.” They go on to say that “much remains to be done to support the more repetitive tasks and to facilitate insightful contributions” (2021).

While AI can efficiently process and analyze large volumes of literature, it lacks the nuanced understanding and contextual interpretation that human researchers bring. By depending solely on AI in academic writing, this may lead to a loss of human expertise, potentially overlooking critical insights or misinterpreting the significance of certain findings.

Improper attribution

AI tools, while proficient in generating content based on patterns in training data, may draw upon existing literature in ways that could inadvertently mimic or replicate phrases and ideas (Huang and Tan, 2023). Without diligent oversight, this could result in the unintentional inclusion of someone else's work into a research paper, and if identified, may lead to reputational damage for both author and publisher. Maintaining the originality and attribution of ideas is crucial for upholding research integrity, and researchers must be vigilant in ensuring that AI-generated content is appropriately cited and does not inadvertently cross ethical boundaries.

Writing for Techwire Asia, Zulhusni raises the point that, “Given how AI, like ChatGPT, works, it’s conceivable that it might unintentionally generate text that mirrors the style or content of its training data, unbeknownst to users. This complicated issue lacks a simple solution and raises critical questions about how society perceives and defines plagiarism in the context of AI-generated text.” The introduction of AI has injected a large gray area into institutional and organizational academic integrity policies globally, and until an agreement is made on what constitutes academic misconduct in the way of AI usage, vigilance is key. Researchers are advised to cite appropriately, check publisher policies, employ academic integrity tools that deter plagiarism and prevent unintentional replication, all to uphold the originality and authenticity of academic writing.

Of course, citing generative AI can be a challenging feat due to its novel footing within the research community, but a lack of familiarity should not excuse improper attribution of AI-generated content. Clear guidelines are essential to determine how credit is assigned between AI tools and human authors. Institutions and organizations are encouraged to establish a transparent system for aknowledging the contributions of both AI and human researchers—this is crucial for maintaining research integrity in an era increasingly influenced by AI. This transparency ensures that readers, reviewers, and the academic community at large can assess the contributions of both AI and human researchers, fostering a culture of openness and accountability in academic writing.

Inadvertent biases

Addressing biases in generative AI is an ethical imperative for the research community. Biases in generative AI have the potential to subtly influence and compromise the objectivity and fairness of academic writing. AI algorithms learn from training data, and this data has been found to contain biases that perpetuate and sometimes even amplify global stereotypes and prejudices.

OpenAI publicly acknowledges that, “ChatGPT is not free from biases and stereotypes, so users and educators should carefully review its content. It is important to critically assess any content that could teach or reinforce biases or stereotypes. Bias mitigation is an ongoing area of research for us, and we welcome feedback on how to improve.”

Extra vigilance in identifying and rectifying biases in AI algorithms is necessary to ensure that academic writing remains free from undue influence and discrimination; this can only be achieved through human intervention.

AI hallucinations

The integration of AI in research writing introduces a novel concern—AI hallucinations. These instances occur when AI generates content that is speculative or imaginative, potentially straying from factual accuracy. In the context of literature reviews, where precision and reliability are paramount, the implications of AI hallucinations for research integrity become a crucial consideration. Alkaissi and McFarlane (2023) highlight that, “While ChatGPT can write credible scientific essays, the data it generates is a mix of true and completely fabricated ones.” They go on to advocate for AI writing detection technologies as a way to mitigate this issue.

AI-generated content, while showcasing creative potential, demands a balance between innovation and adherence to factual accuracy. Researchers must be vigilant in discerning instances of AI hallucinations, recognizing the potential for content that lacks empirical basis. Transparency emerges as a key mitigating factor, where we can ensure that the creative capabilities of AI align with the steadfast commitment to evidence-based research.

Is AI writing a threat to research integrity?

AI itself is not inherently a threat to writing; rather, the potential threat lies in how it is integrated and utilized. Over-reliance on AI tools, without critical human oversight, can lead to issues such as unintentional plagiarism, loss of individual authorship, and a decline in the quality of written work. It is essential to recognize AI as a tool that enhances productivity and efficiency but not as a replacement for the unique qualities of human expression, creativity, and critical thinking in writing.

In a PubCon event discussion, Fabienne Michaud, Product Manager at Crossref, shared that, “when it comes to AI, one of the biggest threats is its lack of originality, creativity, and insight. AI writing tools were not built to be correct. Instead, they are designed to provide plausible answers. This is in juxtaposition to the values that form the foundation of scholarly publishing.”

In a recent study into fake research paper abstracts, Else (2023) demonstrates that one of the major challenges posed by ChatGPT is its strong ability to generate stunningly convincing fake research-paper abstracts. Even ChatGPT openly advises, “ChatGPT can make mistakes. Consider checking important information.”

In an analysis of ChatGPT and Stack Overflow answers to software engineering questions, Kabir et al. (2023) carried out an analysis of ChatGPT's replies to 517 questions from Stack Overflow. Having assessed ChatGPT’s responses for their correctness, consistency, comprehensiveness, and conciseness, 52% of its answers contained inaccuracies.

Striking a balance between leveraging AI for its strengths and preserving the authenticity of human-authored content is crucial to mitigating any perceived threat and ensuring the ethical use of AI in the writing process.

Can AI writing tools generate an academic paper that upholds research integrity?

AI tools can contribute to the research writing process by suggesting content, formatting citations, and aiding in the organization of information. However, the critical thinking, creativity, and contextual understanding required for tasks like formulating hypotheses and interpreting complex results surpass the current capabilities of AI. Narayanaswamy makes the fair observation that “NLPs [(Natural Language Processors)] are still machines and not a human, thus they may not be able to fully understand the nuances and complexities of a research topic. AI-based models may miss the context and totally misrepresent an entire section of a paper or even create completely made-up research with imaginary study subjects and statistics” (2023).

The collaborative model, where AI assists in drafting sections of an academic research paper while human researchers provide the intellectual input and ensure coherence, seems to be the most promising approach in the current phase of AI adoption. This relationship ensures the optimization of both AI's efficiency and human expertise in crafting comprehensive and insightful academic research papers. With this in mind, while AI can automate certain aspects of academic research writing, the idea of AI independently composing an entire research paper remains a complex challenge and demands the involvement of a human researcher.

It is worth highlighting that receptiveness to the use of AI—whether it be to write a full research paper or simply use it as an assistive tool—differs from journal to journal. Before working with generative AI to produce an academic research paper, it is always recommended that the author checks their potential publishers’ policy for its stance on adopting AI writing tools as a research aide.

Park (2023) discusses the vast disparity in high-impact journals’ approach to generative AI in submitted articles. Science deems AI writing to be completely unacceptable, while Elsevier's policy is less restrictive, declaring that generative AI is only permissible if the author’s goal is “to improve readability and language of the work and not to replace key authoring tasks such as producing scientific, pedagogic, or medical insights, drawing scientific conclusions, or providing clinical recommendations”. Elsevier also notes that authors must declare their use of AI throughout their paper.

How can technology help to mitigate the impact of AI writing on research integrity?

To reduce the adverse impact that AI writing could potentially impose on research integrity, technology can serve as a supportive ally. Advanced integrity tools powered by AI can be employed to ensure that AI-generated text aligns with ethical standards and doesn't inadvertently replicate existing works. By proactively identifying and addressing any similarities, researchers can maintain the originality of their contributions.

AI writing detection tools

Due to the sophisticated nature of generative AI, humans are finding it increasingly difficult to manually detect AI writing. Implementing AI writing detection tools that help to delineate between AI-generated and human-authored content can support fostering accountability and trust within the academic community. In a study by Gao et al., just 68% of AI-generated scientific abstracts and 86% of human-written abstracts were correctly identified by human reviewers (2022).

By providing a transparent view of the writing process, AI writing detection tools aid in the proper acknowledgment of each contributor, mitigating concerns related to AI overshadowing human intellect. AI writing detection tools can lighten the load for researchers and publishers, minimizing the effort associated with checking for AI-generated content. They can check papers en masse and at speed, thus improving efficiencies across the traditionally intensive publication process.

As with any AI-aided effort, we encourage human interpretation to take precedence when using technology to analyze a paper for AI writing, considering the possibility of false positives and intentionality.

Collaborative research tools

For a paper to be ready for publishing, it goes through multiple rounds of peer review, editing, and technical editing. It is an undertaking with many minds bestowing their knowledge to achieve the best outcome for all involved. It’s no surprise that without collaboration throughout the writing and publishing process, efficiency, accuracy, and even integrity can weaken or even fall apart. In a study on ways to improve research quality, Liao identified that, “a higher intensity at which scholars are embedded in a collaboration network, results in higher research quality” (2010).

Incorporating technology into peer review processes can streamline the identification of potential issues arising from AI-generated content. A collaborative approach, combining the strengths of human expertise with AI assistance, ensures a thorough evaluation of research manuscripts. This not only safeguards against potential pitfalls but also contributes to the robustness of the peer review process.

Quality assurance technologies to flag inconsistencies and errors that could result in academic misconduct play a key role in mitigating the impact of AI on research integrity. These tools contribute to the overall quality of academic writing, ensuring that research outputs adhere to rigorous standards and maintain the credibility of scholarly work.

Conclusion: The impact of AI writing on research integrity

The impact of AI on scientific research is revolutionary, promising to expedite processes, enhance analysis, and open up new avenues of exploration. AI is now a go-to resource for processing vast amounts of data at astounding speed, helping researchers to uncover patterns and correlations that may go unnoticed with traditional methods. In this context, AI acts as a force multiplier, allowing researchers to focus more on the interpretation of results and the formulation of hypotheses. Additionally, AI facilitates collaboration among researchers by enabling efficient data sharing and analysis across disciplines and geographical locations (Broekhuizen et al, 2023).

Despite these advancements, challenges arise concerning the ethical use of AI in research. Chubb, Cowling and Reed refer to the productivity and efficiency that AI can bring to the research journey as “speeding up to keep up” but also note that this mantra has grounds to “proliferate negative aspects of academic culture” by “weaken[ing] output quality as it obscures the use of human judgement to produce unexpected interpretations of data and literature” (2022).

Navigating the transformative intersection of artificial intelligence and academic research writing is demonstrating that technology, specifically AI writing detection tools, plays a pivotal role in upholding the fundamental principles of research integrity and excellence.

By strategically integrating AI writing detection tools into the research writing workflow, researchers and publishers can be confident that the pursuit of knowledge remains ethically grounded and resilient in the face of technological advancements.

As we embrace the benefits of AI, let us do so responsibly.