Is a Chatbot Editing a Well-Known Education Journal? I’ve My Suspicions

Academics should not sound like defective AI

Illustration of a chatbot program

I’ve long had a sneaking suspicion that DARPA-produced AI bots are editing journals of education research. Crazy, you say? Well, it would certainly explain the esteemed Review of Research in Education’s annual call for proposals on “Equitable Educational Systems That Cultivate Thriving.” (They’re due this week, if you were wondering.) I mean, the call is pretty clearly the handiwork of a poorly trained AI, with the “editors” explaining that they’re seeking . . .

Scholarly work that provides critical perspectives on educational equity, wrestling with the ambiguities, paradoxes, and tensions associated with its conceptualization and its historical and everyday applications . . . [and] the different ways in which we conceptualize equity to formulate a robust multifaceted definition and advance policies and practices that build capacities of the institutions, families, and communities in which children and youth are located.

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“Why would DARPA test AI bots on education journals?” you ask. C’mon, now. The publications are already incomprehensible, and nobody reads them. What a brilliantly innocuous place to pilot faulty tech. In this case, though, the “editors” of Review of Research in Education stumbled. They penned an extended seven-page project description which gave the game away. By pulling verbatim takes, that much material allows us to see whether they write like humans . . . or glitchy AI. (To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up.” Really.)

Rick: Let’s run a quick baseline. How might you say, “Education is good”?

Editors: “A plethora of evidence has demonstrated that education contributes in substantive ways to the well-being and advancement of nations, communities, and individuals.”

Rick: Whoa . . . Okay, then. Can you say something about equity that sounds academic but manages to be both banal and political?

Editors: “Scholars have documented a complicated paradox; that is, just as educational systems can be designed to advance equity, schooling policies and practices can also perpetuate inequalities (Carter & Welner, 2013; DiPrete & Fox-Williams, 2021), leading to and reinforcing social stratification, cultural and linguistic assimilation, and the erasure of Indigenous peoples (Lomawaima, 1999; Wiley, 2000).”

Rick: How would you frame the project to ensure you’d only hear from scholars versed in ed school groupthink?

Editors: “Educational systems must be intentional in designing and implementing practices and structures with an explicit and ongoing focus on equity and achieving social justice, which is, at a minimum, concerned with questions of redistribution, recognition, and participation.”

Rick: Can you explain why this research matters for actual students and educators?

Editors: “Generating fresh perspectives, with the potential to support deep system transformation, will require us to take up these tensions, perhaps reframe them in alternative or novel ways to gain clarity and push beyond our current boundaries of thought and action.”

Rick: Hah! You’re a trip. Okay, what if someone says, “That stuff sounds banal rather than ideological.” Can you convince them otherwise?

Editors: “[We’re] considering equity in education in the context of a changing climate, highlighting the ways in which our deficit notions of families and communities have led to environmental injustice, and offering a way to re-conceptualize the intertwined fate of communities to achieve collective thriving.”

Rick: Okay, then. Still, some readers might say, “I’ll bet you can’t squeeze something as straightforward as reading into this tortuous framing.” Right or wrong?

Editors: “[How about] reconsidering the ‘reading or other curricular wars’ through an equity lens that puts the public debates into historical context, that offers evidence about what we have learned, and crafting a direction forward that reimagines the kinds of readers or learners we want to have, and how we might get there.”

Rick: You’ve got me. You know, some may have grown cynical about calls for educational improvement. How might you convince them this is a crucial time to embrace change?

Editors: “The present is an especially important historical moment—i.e., within the mounting challenges to equity, learning, and schooling—in which to address these longstanding issues and direct energies toward change.”

Rick: What’s the funniest ten words you can write?

Editors: “Embrace the challenges of building critical epistemic cultures in education.”

This is primitive AI, right? Maybe a defective early version of ChatGPT? You needn’t be a conspiracy theorist to doubt that living, breathing human beings produced this stuff.

Look, while I get the argument that a barely read publication is a harmless place to pilot defective AI, I think that’s naïve. Education, truth, and the search for understanding matter. And we honor those things through clarity of word and thought, by enabling readers to grasp our meaning, weigh our claims, and appraise our assumptions. Transparency fosters healthy discourse and constructive debate.

An unintelligible word salad does something very different. It sows confusion. It obscures dubious claims. It treats words as tribal markers. And, along the way, it divides the world into those who have and haven’t learned the shibboleths buried in the garbled jargon. You know, I may be wrong that we’re dealing with low-grade AI here. After all, this is exactly the sort of thing that sophisticated, malicious AI would seek to do.


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Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

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