This AI-generated image of an oversized rat penis has been validated in a scientific study

A study was hastily withdrawn from a scientific journal two days after it was posted online. The reason? The authors’ ill-advised use of Midjourney. All images were generated by AI, with manifest problems of caption and transparency.

The study was supposed to be entirely serious. Accepted on December 28, 2023, it had been published in the scientific journal Frontiers on February 14, 2024. It had even been reviewed by other science specialists, according to the principle of peer review. However, on February 16, the paper was retracted.

So what happened in just two days for the work of three Chinese researchers (Xinyu Guo, Dingjin Hao, and Liang Dong) to be rejected like this? A problem with the methodology? Exaggerated results? Insufficiently representative samples? In reality, it’s manifestly an issue with the illustrations.

Midjourney for illustrating a scientific paper

It appears that the authors used artificial intelligence (AI) to generate all the visuals of the study. It includes three, two of which turn out to be collages of several images showing certain stages of what the study intends to explain. Specifically, the tool used to create these illustrations is Midjourney.

The study, entitled “Cellular functions of spermatogonial stem cells in relation to JAK/STAT signaling pathway“, is no longer available on Frontiers. Instead, two warning messages are visible on the publisher’s website.

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Warnings on the article. // Source: Screenshot

However, a copy taken on February 15 is still visible on the Internet Archive. The use of AI was not hidden: it was well mentioned throughout the text (“The images in this article were generated by Midjourney”, we read just before the first image). However, this disclosure was not repeated in each caption.

It is unknown if images were used as a basis to produce these visuals. It is also not known if there were any modifications after generation, for example with editing software like Photoshop, to edit certain parts. The untrained eye of someone outside the fields of science or AI might perceive these illustrations as entirely credible.

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Of course, none of this is to scale. // Source: Screenshot

The type of prompt used — that is, the instruction used to obtain a rendering — is also a mystery, as is the number of attempts required to arrive at these results. It is presumed that there is a certain skill in writing the command to achieve such renderings, and that they clearly pass the peer review.

Text that doesn’t make sense

A closer observation, however, reveals defects in the images, especially with the text. Historically, Midjourney has always struggled to produce meaningful writing on images, even with the recent version 6. Nevertheless, real progress has been observed in recent months.

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This can deceive laypeople, but part of the text simply makes no sense. // Source: Screenshot

Thus, there are captions that don’t make much sense, to say the least: “iollotte sserotgomar cell”, “retat”, “dck”, “dissilced” “Tramioncatiion of zoepens”, “Stats poflecation”, etc. Some letters are not even formed

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