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AI: Citing ChatGPT and other Generative AI platforms: Home

Why citations are important

Including citations in your work is an essential part of academic writing. Citations serve three important purposes: 1) providing credit where it's due to those whose work you're using; 2) showing your work to your professor so they can check up on your conclusions; and 3) providing a road map to further reading if your reader is interested in your topic.

Generative AI platforms, like ChatGPT, have complicated the citation process. How do you cite something written by a computer program and not a person? And do you even need to give credit to the original author if that author is ChatGPT? 

This guide aims to help you deal with those questions. 

Depending on your professor's rules, you may be able to use ChatGPT or another generative AI platform to improve or polish your own writing, to brainstorm ideas for writing topics, or even to serve as a source for your paper's content.

But you must always cite whatever generative AI platform you use so your professor knows the ideas you're presenting aren't your own.

A Word of Warning

ChatGPT is incredibly limited but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness. It's a mistake to be relying on it for anything important but a preview of progress. We have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.

--Sam Altman, Open AI's CEO

Be careful when using ChatGPT or any other AI generative platform.

ChatGPT isn't perfect and it doesn't know everything. In fact, it's not really intelligent at all. It has lots of information loaded into it, but unlike you, it is incapable of creativity, original thought, or learning. It's just very, very good at the same thing your smartphone does when you use its predictive text feature.

A recent Stanford study showed that, between March & June, 2023, GPT-4 has gotten progressively much worse at tasks like answering simple math problems or solving visual puzzles. And a physics professor had ChatGPT answer the short essay questions he delivers to his students, finding that while it could get a passing grade, none of the AI-written essays scored higher than a 76/100. So ChatGPT is pretty much a C student.

Also, ChatGPT can be terribly racist and/or sexist since it's simply drawing its text from information off the internet, it is essentially amoral, and it can ignore negative prompts and include information you specifically asked it to exclude.

And if you ask ChatGPT for information it doesn't know, it may just invent an answer that sounds good but is completely made up. And if you ask it to include references in a research paper, it may just invent ones that don't exist, even going to far as to use a real author's name and a real journal's title to create a completely fictional article.

So always be sure to double check any information you get from an AI.

ChatGPT and Plagiarism

Plagiarism is claiming credit for other people's work, and yes, that extends to ChatGPT and other generative AI platforms. While those AIs might not be actual people, you still can't turn in work written by them and claim it as your own, simply because you didn't actually write it.  As COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics says:

"Authors who use AI tools in the writing of a manuscript, production of images or graphical elements of the paper, or in the collection and analysis of data, must be transparent in disclosing in the Materials and Methods (or similar section) of the paper how the AI tool was used and which tool was used. Authors are fully responsible for the content of their manuscript, even those parts produced by an AI tool, and are thus liable for any breach of publication ethics."

The consequences for plagiarism can be severe, ranging from a zero on the assignment to failure of the entire course. It's one of the most serious offenses a student can commit, which is why it is included in the SUNY Potsdam Academic Code of Conduct.

Because of this, you need to avoid turning in assignments written, in whole or in part, by ChatGPT. Beyond the moral issues of turning in work that isn't your own, it isn't particularly hard to differentiate between material written by a person and that written by an AI. We all have our own unique styles of writing, while ChatGPT's writing style is bland and generic, so your professors will often be able to tell if an essay is written by you or ChatGPT. Furthermore, there are now AI platforms that can determine if an essay is written by a person or an AI, and they can do so quickly and with a remarkable degree of accuracy. So the likelihood of slipping an AI-written essay past your professor is actually pretty low.

Besides, you're in college to learn, and you don't learn anything by having ChatGPT do your work for you.

What ChatGPT has to say about citations

For what it's worth, here is ChatGPT's response to the prompt "do students need to cite ChatGPT?":

When incorporating information or ideas generated by ChatGPT into their academic work, students should follow the citation guidelines provided by their educational institution or the specific style guide they are following (such as APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.).

While ChatGPT is an AI language model developed by OpenAI, citing it may not be necessary in all cases. The general rule of thumb is to cite sources that are directly quoted, paraphrased, or that have contributed to the development of your ideas. However, if you are referring to specific information or research provided by ChatGPT, it would be appropriate to include a citation.

To be on the safe side, it is always best to consult with your instructor or refer to your institution's guidelines to determine the specific requirements for citing AI-generated content. This will ensure that you adhere to the proper academic standards and avoid any potential issues related to plagiarism.


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