In scholarly publishing, researcher and author are often taken as synonymous terms. Writing, however, comes only at the end of a lengthy process of investigation and discovery in a lab or in the field. Many scientists and scholars consider writing drudgery – a necessary evil in the pursuit of tenure and research grants. What if a machine could lighten the burden – or if smart enough, could even do the work entirely?
ChatGPT from OpenAI is the most famous of a growing number of generative AI tools that create narrative responses based on textual input from large language models and that have the appearance of vast scientific knowledge. Publishers and universities alike have expressed concerns that these chatbots facilitate plagiarism and raise questions about the nature of authorship.
While he recognizes the potential fraud and confusion that chatbots can introduce into publishing, Avi Staiman asserts that publishers ought to encourage researchers to use all tools at their disposal in order to make their work as accessible and impactful as possible, especially researchers who are non-native English speakers.
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In a post for The Scholarly Kitchen blog, Staiman wrote that the proliferation of powerful AI tools pushes us to ask fundamental questions about how we perceive the role of scientists in general and the specific role writing plays in their work. In other words, Staiman asked to what degree should we even care that authors write every word of their research in the first place?
“I think the reason this is a fascinating question is because it was always a theoretical one, right? Because who else is going to write for you if not yourself?” he tells me.
“Obviously, over time, people have used the help of scientific writers. That’s nothing new. But the concept that something nonhuman could write a text for you is something that I don’t think before November 2022, most folks would think was even a possibility. Now that it is, we are really asking ourselves questions about the basic role of a researcher,” explains, Staiman, who is founder and CEO of Academic Language Experts.
“I want to imagine a researcher who’s working on the COVID-19 vaccine in the months leading up before the pandemic, and I want to ask ourselves, to what degree do we think that that individual writing every single word is really critical in light of other activities or important – whether managerial or scientific activities that they could be doing at that same moment?”