R U a dupe?

Are you still thinking about copying something and pasting it into your writing? Read on.

Click on links below to see an example of an actual experiment:

Unfortunately, some readers were fooled and later embarrassed by this experiment. At first glance, the article has all the trappings of scholarly work. Until you start to read carefully and evaluate the claims being made with some impressive language--rather eloquently stated and apparently supported by well-known and highly regarded scientists.

Or could you even tell it was a hoax? Many people at the time believed the parody was legitimate. After all, it was published in a leading academic journal with peer review.

Even if you are trying to avoid plagiarism and you do acknowledge your sources, you should be careful about what you quote or paraphrase and acknowledge.

Now, let's consider a more recent example.

Are you thinking about using generative AI to help with your writing?

It's now possible with artificial intelligence apps such as ChatGPT, Gemini, or Copilot to make a request in natural language, and it will return a response that is linguistically impressive. This essentially raises the same issue as illustrated above with the parody published in Social Text, written by a physicist (Sokal, 1996b).

Generative AI tools can be fooled as well. These include chatbots such as ChatGPT, Gemini, and Copilot that use machine learning to create their unique large language models. These chatbots ultimately rely on the sources of information on which they are trained. If those sources contain lies, misinformation, distortion of truth, fictional stories, myths, unethical recommendations, etc., then such AI could generate writing that might mislead and misinform readers.

Two more reasons that chatbots could get you into trouble, even if they are trained initially on trustworthy and accurate sources of information:

  1. Plagiarism: Chatbots are typically trained on massive amounts of text and images that were originally created by human authors. When a chatbot answers your questions, it may be difficult for you to discriminate common knowledge from what has been plagiarized. Just like people, chatbots commit plagiarism when their sources are not properly cited, quoted, and referenced.
  2. Fabrication: Chatbots can make up stuff that is factually incorrect. AI experts often call this "hallucination" (Marcus & Davis, 2020). Unless you already know the facts and sources of information, it's hard to separate chatbot statements which are hallucinations from those which are plagiarized or from those which are common knowledge.

Don't be a dupe. Be a critical thinker!

One of the main purposes of a good education is to learn to think critically. Critical thinking leads to one of the highest forms of human knowing (Educology, 2024).

Critical thinkers:

  • Try to understand and then describe what others claim;
  • Determine the merit of those claims by applying criteria;
  • Rationally justify their criteria; and 
  • Explain their reasoning process.

If the criteria are good ones, then a critical thinker can discriminate mere opinions and false beliefs from true facts and verifiable knowledge. Critical thinkers can determine false or unverifiable claims, and can tell you why. Just because someone else (or even an AI chatbot) writes something or says something does not mean it is true or has merit. Even if large numbers of people hold the same opinion, this does not mean that their opinion is right, or that it is based on legitimate evidence, or that it is morally justified.

To be a good writer, critical thinking is essential. If you need some help with your writing, here's an inexpensive and excellent resource:

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., Williams, J. M., Bizup, J., & FitzGerald, W. T. (2016). The craft of research (4th. Ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Take advantage of your education and learn something. Be a critical thinker. Don't be a dupe.

Next, we provide thoughts about why good writing is so hard.

Next: Slippery Slope