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Although it has proved to be a dream tool for many industries, ChatGPT is quickly becoming a nightmare for academia.

As of January 2023 four individual research papers cite the AI ​​chatbot as a co-author on a research project – forcing scientific journals to scramble to update their policies and provisions addressing potential ethical issues.

Read more: The pros and cons of artificial intelligence

Ethical issues

The process of adding an author who has made little or no contribution to a   paper is called honorary authorshipand it has caused some serious ethical issues in the past. One of the earliest of these issues occurred in the mid-1970s and surprisingly involved a cat.

In 1975, a University of Michigan physics professor named Jack Hetherington had just finished writing a rather influential paper on the change in particle behavior at different temperatures. The document was to be published in Physics Review Lettersand the deadline was looming.

Unfortunately, a colleague pointed out a problem: Hetherington referred to himself as “we” in the article, but he was the sole author, which could lead to the article being rejected.

So instead of rewriting the entire article, Hetherington simply added the name of her cat, a Siamese named Chester, as a co-author.

(Credit: Dr. Jack Hetherington, More Random Walks in Science, circa 1975)

In your book More random walks in scienceHetherington explains that he created Chester’s alias, FDC Willard, by adding Felix homework (the Latin name for domestic cats) before Chester’s first initial. Hetherington then set the name of Chester’s father, Willard, as a surname.

Cat’s Out of the Bag

“I didn’t completely ignore the publicity,” Hetherington admits in his book. “If it turns out to be true, people would remember the article more if the anomalous authorship was known.”

Hetherington’s theory turns out to be correct. Not only did the paper become widely cited, but eventually the world became aware of Chester’s authorship—causing even more publicity.

While the University of Michigan drew on that attention, even offering Chester a distinguished visiting fellow teaching position, others weren’t so thrilled. The editors in Physics Review Letterson the one hand, I felt misled and stupid for publishing an article co-authored by a cat.

However, the ethical controversy was largely ignored at the time, and Chester went on to co-author two more papers and an independent paper before he died in 1982 at the age of 14. Google Science the profile shows about 104 citations to his papers.

To honor Chester’s legacy, on April 1, 2014, the American Physical Society announced open access initiative for all documents written by cat.

Read more: 5 cats that famous scientists owned

Home authorship

Chester’s story is just one of a few in which scientists have added a pet or animal as a co-author.

Nobel laureate Andre Geim co-authored a paper (not his Nobel Prize-winning publication) with an author suspiciously named “HAMS ter Trisha.” Although the paper did not disclose Tricia’s contribution, Game was still able to add her pet hamster as an honorary author.

Others have not been so lucky. Immunologist Polly Matzinger published paper with her dog, Galadriel Mirkwood, as honorary author in Journal of Experimental Immunology in 1978

After finding out the truth, the editor of the magazine prohibited Matzinger from publication until her death. She also became the subject of an internal investigation at UC San Diego.

Fortunately, Matzinger was able to prove that her dog had indeed contributed to her research and that no fraud had been committed.

Although this example suggests that animal test subjects have more right to be named as co-authors of a paper than as a simple pet, Hansrudy Lenz of the University of Würzburg argues that this practice is unethical.

“Logically, a pet or deceased relative cannot make a genuine and recognizable contribution to a scientific publication,” he says.

Honorary authorship

The whimsicality of these stories could easily get in the way of the ethical dilemmas they raise, but the process of honorary authorship—even beyond pets—continues, thanks to the pressure scientists feel to continually publish.

IN 2020 surveyMariola Paruzel-Czahura of the University of Silesia in Poland and her team found that the most common form of reported science misconduct was honorary authorship, with 52 percent of study participants observing this process.

“It could be some kind of bribery,” says Parazel-Chahura, suggesting a possible reason for such a high rate. “It can help a researcher get a better job or funding for a conference. It may even be a partnership where both researchers agree to add each other as honorary authors.

However, this creates problems with authorship inflationin which an author’s citation count is higher than it should be because they appear to have “published” more articles.

AI Writers

Now, with the information age and all that it brings (looking at you, ChatGPT), it’s even easier for researchers to practice honorary co-authorship. Because of this, most scientific journals find it more difficult to regulate AI co-authors.

“We try to take the most cautious approach possible,” says H. Holden Thorpe, editor-in-chief of Science. “We’ll start with something more restrictive and then loosen it up over time.”

In January 2023 Science editing, Thorpe cited several of these policy changes — including a blanket ban on using any part of the text, images, figures or graphics made by ChatGPT or other AI tools.

Thorpe, like others, hopes the National Academy of Sciences will soon take up the issue to set a precedent for working with an AI author emeritus.

The way forward may actually lie in a paper published by researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany back in 2017. They wrote: “The appropriate way to consider [others’] the factual role in scholarly publications should usually be in the Acknowledgments section.’

The authors then went on to thank their goldfish, Einstein and Heisenberg, right in this section.

Read more: AI and Brian the Human: How Similar Are They?

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