The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a statement about the use of generative artificial intelligence (GAI) systems in the merit review process. While acknowledging the potential benefits of GAI in supporting the agency’s mission to promote scientific progress, the statement also highlights the risks posed by such technology in terms of safeguarding the confidentiality and integrity of the review process.
While NSF will continue to support advances in this new technology, the agency must also consider the potential risks posed by it. The agency cannot protect non-public information disclosed to third-party GAI from being recorded and shared. To safeguard the integrity of the development and evaluation of proposals in the merit review process, this memo establishes guidelines for its use by reviewers and proposers:
- NSF reviewers are prohibited from uploading any content from proposals, review information, and related records to non-approved generative AI tools.
- Proposers are encouraged to indicate in the project description the extent to which if any, generative AI technology was used and how it was used to develop their proposal.
The statement also underscores the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of merit review-related information, which extends to the use of GAI tools. Any information uploaded into GAI tools, not behind NSF’s firewall, is considered to be entering the public domain, thus posing significant risks to researchers and their ideas. Additionally, the source and accuracy of the information derived from GAI technology are not always clear, which can lead to research integrity concerns, including the authenticity of authorship.
In terms of implementation, the NSF will update its Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG) to align with the requirements stipulated in the statement. The agency will also continuously evaluate future applications of GAI technology for use by staff and the research community.
Overall, this statement from the NSF highlights the need for caution and responsible use of GAI in the merit review process and proposal preparation process. Proposers and awardees are responsible for ensuring the integrity of their proposals and reporting of research results, including content developed with the assistance of GAI tools. As such, it is important for applicants to be on the lookout for other agencies putting forward similar mandates and to stay informed about best practices for using GAI in scientific research.
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