AI destroys principles of authorship. A scary case from educational technology publishing.

I have long waited before I share a special case of AI generated publishing in the field of educational technology which needs a public reflection and review. Approximately 3 months ago, I have received a citation alert which made me curious. One of our papers has been cited by a team of authors who have published a book in German on “Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics”. The book has as subtitle “A machine generated overview”. Especially the fact that authors from Ireland have published a book in German and the use of generative AI for the book has made me even more curious.

After an initial reading I was really confused what I am seeing there. First of all, the introduction and much of the text did not really make a lot of sense and the language was not up to scientific standards. Second, I read the part where our paper should have been cited and I was surprised to see that our publication has been somehow mentioned, but that there is no proper citation in the text (but there is one in the references). After reading the text more intensively, which should be a summary of our paper according to the introduction, I had the impression that the text itself is not a summary, but a direct translation of our original publication. This left me really confused and I translated the so-called summary back into English to see that my initial impression was right. A large proportion of text is not summarized but just translated and put into this chapter without quoting the original text. Puzzled by this case of plagiarism I first checked how Springer as a publisher acts in such kinds of cases.

What I found was the Springer Nature Code of Conduct for book authors of which the following principles where especially important for me:

  • Principle 1: “The submitted work must not contain any plagiarism and should not have been published elsewhere in any form or language”.
  • Principle 2: “The work of others should always be properly acknowledged…Clarity should be provided on which text is the Authors’ own and which text has been used from others”.
  • Principle 3: “A basic rule is that if the Author is not the creator of everything in the manuscript, they must get permission from copyright owners or have a valid license to use their content, unless it is ‘fair use / fair dealing’ or in the ‘public domain’”.

With these principles in mind I contacted the authors regarding the breach of these principles and I was also in touch with Springer regarding this project. The authors argue that they are clearly marked as editors of the book and that the way the book has been produced is even mentioned in the title and that Springer would be responsible for the design of the book. When I look at the individual chapter in which our text has been reused, the editors of the book are also shown as authors. The same applies when I look for this specific chapter in GoogleScholar. Furthermore, if the editors are not the authors of the chapters, who is then the author?

So an original text of me and my co-authors is resued without proper quotes and citation plus the text is marked as intellectual property of the new authors and even the book is published under a commercial license although our original text has a Creativecommons license. This is a really scary approach to scientific publishing and the potential future of authorship and publishing in the age of AI and a breach of publication principles. The publisher is currently still working on an erratum focusing on the part where our text has been reused, but I feel responsible to share this case with other researchers (especially the ones whose publications have been also mentioned or reused). If this is the future of academic publishing, I am very sure we should stay away from it. What do you think?

Marco Kalz
Marco Kalz
Professor of Educational Technology

My research interests is on open education, pervasive technologies and formative assessment to support (lifelong) learning and knowledge construction.