Journal taking ‘corrective actions’ after learning author used ChatGPT to update references

An interdisciplinary journal says it will take “corrective actions” on a paper following a thorough investigation on a paper for which one author used ChatGPT to update the references.  

Krithika Srinivasan, an editor of Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space and a geographer at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, confirmed to Retraction Watch her journal is finalizing what actions need to be taken. After the probe concluded, Srinivasan says she submitted her recommendations to Sage, the journal’s publisher, who will take actions in line with their policy. 

What’s clear from the probe, she says, is that “none of the incorrect references in this paper were ‘fabricated’ in the sense of being made up or false.” She notes that the original manuscript was submitted to the journal with the correct references but “the errors were generated when one of the other authors (without the knowledge of the submitting author) used chatGPT (instead of regular referencing software) to insert the citations and reference list.”

On April 1, Bret Collier, a wildlife ecologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, wrote to Srinivasan and others, informing them the March 2024 study, titled “Breeding distrust: The biopolitics of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer,” contained several non-existent citations, one to a paper referred to as being published in 2026.  

“This manuscript was brought to my attention as there are a variety of citations to Wildlife Society journals listed in the literature cited that are incorrectly cited, abjectly false, or obviously manufactured for use in this manuscript,” Collier wrote to the journal and the study authors. 

“I cannot speak to the accuracy of other citations nor to the quality of the content presented in the paper, but my brief evaluation indicated that several areas that I checked citations on are also either incorrect or blatantly false,” he added.

The study’s corresponding author, Matthew Fry, a geographer at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, replied to Collier’s email on the same day, noting that he already reported the issue to the journal on March 25 and provided them with the correct references. 

“Last week we learned that prior to submitting the manuscript to EPE nearly one year ago, the lead author used chatGPT to update the references,” Fry wrote in the email. “I and the other co-author were not aware of this at the time and, unfortunately, never checked those references.”

Fry noted the manuscript drew on the thesis of the lead author, Zach Tabor, a former master’s student at the University of North Texas in Denton. “[T]he references in his thesis are correct and accurate,” he added. 

We’ve reached out to Fry and Tabor for comments. 

Collier wrote in his email: 

The use of incorrect or manufactured citations has duplicative impacts on science, in that it restricts our ability to provide the foundational logic to our works, which can lead to the questioning of integrity of scientists across the world.  Additionally, manufactured citations impact journal rating metrics and our ability to ensure that readers are getting quality scientific content.

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3 thoughts on “Journal taking ‘corrective actions’ after learning author used ChatGPT to update references”

  1. The journal should update its procedures. Other journals check references (and link them to an online database) when they produce the proof.

  2. The statement in the response email is something that I would expect ChatGPT to generate. I find the similarity quite amusing.

  3. Seems to me that this was a case of an inexperienced young researcher, specifically the lead author (Tabor), blindly relying on a new technology to complete a relatively easy task of converting his references to a format required by the journal. Seems silly and unnecessary, but probably not the first time someone tried to use that application in that way. Too bad the errors were not discovered prior to publication because the few scrambled references in the lit cited are now a distraction for a really interesting paper. An obvious solution is for the journal to just provide the corrected references.

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