Academic Writers on AI: An Oxford University Press Study

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The 2,300+ international researchers responding to Oxford University’s Study revealed high interest but also extensive misgivings about AI.

Image: Oxford University Press

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Widespread Concern Across All Subject Disciplines’
In a reflection of what some see as publishing’s approach-avoidance reaction to artificial intelligence, Oxford University Press‘ new report says, “Despite concerns over the loss of critical thinking skills, respect for intellectual property rights, and mistrust in AI providers” most researchers polled for Oxford’s new report say they’re “using AI tools in their research practice.”

Image: Oxford University Press

The study exhibits some striking misgivings about AI among researchers—the very writers whom much of the lay public might assume would be among the most discerning and demanding when it comes to their own work.

In fact, in a look at some of the top-level points from the report, it seems apparent that many researchers are operating with misgivings about what they say they believe are dangers ahead.

Input for this report was “gathered from a survey of 2,345 researchers across geographies, disciplines—including humanities, STM, and social sciences—and at different career stages.

“In response, Oxford University Press commits to support academic researchers in harnessing AI to improve research outcomes and protect their role by working closely with technology providers to define clear principles for future collaboration.”

“Of those surveyed,” media messaging says, “three quarters of researchers (76 percent) say they are already using AI, across all stages of the research [process]—with machine translations and chatbots cited as the most popular tools, followed by AI-powered search engines or research tools.

“At present, AI is most used for discovering, editing, and/or summarizing existing research.”

In considering what sort of impact AI may have on the academic research community, “more than a quarter, 28 percent, say it will ‘revolutionize how academic research is conducted and disseminated.'” Among those who tell the report’s operators that they have already used AI in their research, 67 percent say they feel it has benefited them “to some degree,” which falls just a bit short of a ringing endorsement.

As it turns out, the survey’s team says, “There are concerns around how AI will impact academic research more generally, with one respondent in three saying that she or he is worried that researchers’ skills will be negatively impacted

“This is a widespread concern across all subject disciplines.”

Oxford University Press, per its own new report, shows that a quarter of respondents (25 percent) say they feel that AI technology reduces the need for critical thinking and could damage the development of these fundamental skills for the future.

More Top-Line Findings

Image: Oxford University Press

  • Only 8 percent of researchers say they trust that AI companies will not use their research data without permission.
  • Just 6 percent say they believe that AI companies will meet data privacy and security needs.
  • Only three in five say they feel that the use of AI in research could undermine intellectual property, and result in authors not being recognized appropriately for use of their work.

In light of this, the report’s authors write, 69 percent of respondents say it’s important “to fully assess the implications of using AI tools before applying them to their own research, with just one in 10 saying that they would not look for guidance on using AI in academic research.

Where to find that guidance? It may not be close at hand.

“There are inconsistencies with how institutions are responding to AI,” the study reports, “with 46 percent saying that the institution they work at has no AI policy, and more than a quarter (26 percent) unsure whether such a policy exists.”

Currently, the report indicates, a majority of its responding researchers say they’d look to academic societies as their main source of guidance.

Age Demographics: Attitudes Toward AI

Image: Oxford University Press

Some of our readers may be surprised to learn that the Oxford University Press study finds:

  • “Baby Boomers and Gen X members.” researchers write, “have a larger proportion of those fully embracing AI, whereas Millennials saw more respondents who are completely against AI.”
  • A quarter (25 percent) of respondents in the early stages of their careers said they hold skeptical or challenging views of AI and are more divisive in their opinions, with fewer expressing neutral views than later-career researchers.
  • Those respondents who are later in their careers, the study found, “are more open to the possibility of using the technologies in their work, with respondents more averse to AI usage dropping to just 19 percent.
Institutional Quandaries: ‘A Fast-Moving, Complex Area’

Image: Oxford University Press

The deep concerns expressed by researchers, of course, present their academic publishers with a worrisome situation.

David Clark

David Clark, the managing director of Oxford University Press’ academic division, says, “Throughout Oxford University Press’ history, we have embraced new opportunities offered by technological advancement—in line with our mission to publish rigorous, high quality academic resources—responding to the needs of the academic community, while ensuring that the scholarship we publish remains valued and protected.

“This research [into researcher-writers’ opinions] will help Oxford University Press to understand how researchers are thinking about generative AI and its use in their work.

“As these technologies continue to rapidly develop, our priority is in working with research authors and the broader research community to set clear standards for how that evolution should take place.

“This is a fast moving, complex area—but we strongly believe that publishers like OUP are well positioned to act as a bridge between research authors and tech providers, making a real difference as these tools continue to evolve.

“We’re actively working with companies developing LLMs, exploring options for both responsible development and usage that will not only improve research outcomes, but also recognize the vital role that researchers have—and must continue to have—in an AI-enabled world.”

Respondents, the Oxford University Press report says, were based across geographical locations including:

  • United States: 46 percent
  • United Kingdom: 11 percent
  • Europe: 17 percent
  • Asia Pacific: 9 percent
  • Canada: 8 percent
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 3 percent
  • Middle East and North Africa: 3 percent
  •  Australia and New Zealand: 2 percent
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 1 percent

More of the Oxford University Press study findings are here.

More from Publishing Perspectives on academic publishing is here, m0re on Oxford University Press is here, and more on artificial intelligence (AI) is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.