Credit: Xinyu Guo, Liang Dong, and Dingjun Hao

Recently, in the scientific journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, a paper was published titled “Cellular functions of spermatogonial stem cells in relation to JAK/STAT signaling pathway.” This publication aimed to summarize existing research on sperm stem cells.

Interestingly, the paper also featured an exceptionally large and greatly anatomically inaccurate AI-generated representation of a rat’s genitalia.

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Within the article were three illustrative images, all created by the AI art generator Midjourney, with all three being notably inaccurate. The most glaring discrepancies were observed in the first figure, portraying a “Rodent of Unusual Size” supposedly illustrating spermatogonial stem cells from rat testes. However, the depiction showcased a white rat standing on its hind legs, oddly gazing at its disproportionately large tail. The cross-sectional view of the tail revealed a peculiar arrangement of unidentifiable structures, including four spherical formations that appeared to represent gonads but were sizably distorted compared to normal anatomy. Rat testicles, though sizable, are not typically over twice the size of the animal’s head unless under abnormal conditions.

While I am not an expert in rodent anatomy, it is evident that mammalian reproductive organs do not normally exceed the size of the creature they belong to.

A nonsensical AI-generated scientific diagram that ostensibly shows the JAK-STAT signaling pathway.
Credit: Xinyu Guo, Liang Dong, and Dingjun Hao

It was apparent from the unrealistic depictions that the diagrams were factually incorrect. Even without prior knowledge of rat anatomy, the absurd labeling of the internal structures in the images would raise doubts. Terms like “testtomcels,” “diƨlocttal stem ells,” or a “iollotte sserotgomar cell” do not align with any known anatomical structures.

The subsequent two images, while not as outlandish in size discrepancies, still lacked accuracy and usefulness, featuring misleading labels masquerading as factual information.

An AI-generated nonsensical scientific image.
Credit: Xinyu Guo, Liang Dong, and Dingjun Hao

The publication of these inaccurate diagrams without correction raises questions about the oversight process. The article underwent editing by Frontiers‘ editorial team and two reviewers, indicating that at least six individuals approved the content. However, one reviewer clarified that their assessment focused solely on scientific aspects and not on the accuracy of the AI-generated images.

Despite Frontiers not issuing a direct apology for the erroneous illustrations, they acknowledged the concerns and initiated an investigation. The article has been retracted, and identities of the editor, reviewers, and one of the authors were redacted.

“An investigation is currently being conducted and this notice will be updated accordingly after the investigation concludes,” stated Frontiers.

This incident is another example of the pitfalls of overreliance on generative AI, leading to professional mishaps. Notably, legal professionals faced fines for citing non-existent cases after using AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT for legal filings.

It serves as a cautionary tale against placing unwavering trust in AI for critical tasks and emphasizes the importance of involving human expertise, especially in sensitive areas like scientific research.

UPDATE: Feb. 19, 2024, 10:07 a.m. AEDT Frontiers has officially retracted the article.

“Following publication, concerns were raised regarding the nature of its AI-generated figures,” Frontiers said in its retraction on Friday. “The article does not meet the standards of editorial and scientific rigor for Frontiers in Cell and Development Biology; therefore, the article has been retracted.”

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Amanda Yeo

Amanda Yeo

Amanda Yeo is Mashable’s Australian reporter, covering entertainment, culture, tech, science, and social good. This includes everything from video games and K-pop to movies and gadgets.


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