Peer-reviewed journal publishes AI-generated rat penis

Occurred: February 2024

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A research study containing nonsensical AI-generated images, including a gigantic rat penis, was retracted by the scientific journal that published it.

The study, by three scientists in China, was published in the open access journal Frontiers in Cell Development and Biology, and was supposedly edited by a researcher in India and reviewed by two people from the US and India. The scientists acknowledged in the paper that Midjourney had been used to generate images in the study.

Despite peer reviews, the images quickly met with incredulity online. A US-based reviewer told Vice that they had evaluated the study on its scientific merits alone. Frontiers’ policies allow the use of generative AI as long as it is disclosed. They also say the images must also be accurate. 

The incident drew attention to poor editing at Frontiers, and more generally to the risks of using generative AI for scientific research.

Databank

Operator: Xinyu Guo; Liang Dong; Dinjung Hao
Developer: Midjourney
Country: China
Sector: Research/academia
Purpose: Illustrate research paper
Technology: Text-to-image
Issue: Reputation
Transparency