Humans Run Experiments, a Robot Writes the Paper

The future of automated scientific writing is upon us—and that’s a good thing.

In 2014, a researcher in France revealed a disturbing fact about the published scientific literature: At least 120 computer-generated manuscripts had made their way into academic conference proceedings, according to his analysis. Those robot-written papers, containing little more than strung-together buzzwords, had been created with a piece of software known as SCIgen, originally written on a lark by a trio of MIT graduate students in 2005. But in the years since, it seemed scientists had repurposed SCIgen to puff up their resumes and boost their professional status. This was understood to be a major scandal.

For Klemen Zupancic, though, the scandal was a source of inspiration. “It got us thinking,” the 32-year-old molecular biologist and tech entrepreneur told me this week from his office in Slovenia. Zupancic is head of sciNote, a tech startup that builds tools for helping scientists to switch from using pen-and-paper laboratory notebooks to more efficient online apps. (The company claims to have about 20,000 users, of which almost half are in the U.S.) When he read about the infiltration of academic journals by robo-generated text, he realized that the same approach might be used for honest ends. If software can publish scientific gobbledygook, then maybe it can write a valid scientific paper, too. So his company set out to create a program that would do just that.

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