Category Archives: Soapbox

Inducing chatbots to write nonsense

titanium dental implant face profile technical pictureThe chatbot, ChatGPT developed by OpenAI, has been in the news recently and is the subject of much discussion in universities primarily because of its potential use by students to complete their coursework assignments but also the positive uses to which it might be applied. After last week’s invitations to edit two special issues in different journals on cosmetic dentistry and wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) [‘Wire arc additive manufacturing and cosmetic dentistry?‘ on February 8th, 2023], I did a little research in the scientific literature to find out if anyone had published research on using WAAM to make parts for cosmetic dentistry but found nothing.  I was not surprised – the level of precision achievable with WAAM is about 1 millimetre which would be insufficient for most applications in cosmetic dentistry.  Then, I signed up for a free trial with ChatGPT and conducted an experiment by asking it to write about wire arc additive manufacturing and cosmetic dentistry.  The chatbot produced 128 words about how WAAM is becoming increasing popular in cosmetic dentistry because of its accuracy and precision also because a wide range of materials can be used allowing a match to the colour and texture of teeth.  I repeated the experiment and the chatbot produced 142 different words, again stating that dental prostheses can be produced using WAAM with high precision and accuracy to match a patient’s existing teeth in colour so that restorations appear natural and undetectable.  In each case the six or seven sentences were well-written and included some facts that were used to construct a set of false statements, which superficially appeared reasonable; however, only a modicum of knowledge would be required to identify the fallacious rationale.  Some of my colleagues are already exploring incorporating the chatbot into students’ coursework by asking students to use it to generate a description of a technical topic and then asking them to critique its output in order to assess their understanding of the topic.  I expect chatbots will improve rapidly but for the moment it is relatively easy to induce them to write nonsense.


Li Y, Su C, Zhu J. Comprehensive review of wire arc additive manufacturing: Hardware system, physical process, monitoring, property characterization, application and future prospects. Results in Engineering,100330, 2021.

Image: CC BY 2.0 downloaded from

Wire arc additive manufacturing applied to cosmetic dentistry?

photograph of a flower for decorative purposes onlyLast weekend I sat down at my laptop to write this week’s post with only a vague idea of a topic. When I opened my laptop I was surprised to see two emails from a supposedly reputable commercial publisher inviting me to be a guest editor for two special issues of two different journals.  For two decades, I served as editor-in-chief of two international journals consecutively with only a short overlap so I am well-qualified to act as a guest editor.  However, the invitations related to cosmetic dentistry and wire arc additive manufacturing.  I know almost nothing about these two subjects so why was I receiving invitations from the editors of two journals to be a guest editor.  In collaboration with colleagues, I have published some papers recently on another form of additive manufacturing [see ‘If you don’t succeed try and try again‘ on September 29th 2021].  My Google Scholar profile shows that my two most highly cited papers relate to work performed thirty years ago on osseointegrated dental implants [see ‘Turning the screw in dentistry‘ on September 30th, 2020]; although on closer examination it would also reveal that I have published nothing since then on this subject.  I suspect that a poorly programmed algorithm was fooled by my eclectic and long publication record into issuing poorly targeted invitations rather than the academic editors exercising poor judgment.  At least, I hope that is what happened since the alternative is that journal editors are no longer exercising academic judgment (though it is obvious this is also happening given the incoherent reviews of manuscripts that editors too frequently pass on to authors probably without reading them).  I will treat these invitations as spam; however, others may see them as opportunities to create or expand ‘peer-review’ rings and put more ‘Rotten eggs in the store‘ [see post on November 30th, 2022].  The peer-review and publication system for scientific papers is clearly broken and one part of the solution is to remove commercial interests from the process.

We are ecosystem engineers

Decorative photograph of common cuscusHumans have been ecosystem engineers since the Pleistocene, more than 12,000 years ago.  There is evidence of a tree-dwelling possum, the common cuscus, being introduced to the Solomon Islands from New Guinea more than 20,000 years ago as a game species [1].  The ecosystem is a complex system and there are unintended consequences of our engineering.  For instance, the burning forests and grasslands about 8,000 years ago changed reflectivity and absorption of heat in parts of Eurasia which altered the pattern of monsoons in India and parts of South East Asia.  The palaeobiologist, Thomas Halliday has suggested that we are such effective ecosystem engineers that is impossible to think about a pristine Earth unaffected by human biology and culture [2].  The challenge now is to re-engineer the ecosystem so that it remains habitable.  This involves handling the complexities of  the ecosystem, human society and their interactions.  The philosopher, Nabil Ahmed has written, in the context of his native Bangladesh, that it is impossible to differentiate between land and rivers, human population, grains and forests, politics and markets because they all coalesce as a single entity resulting from the legacy of interaction between politics and natural actors [3].  Everything is interconnected – more than we realise.


[1] Abate RS & Kronk EA, Climate change and indigenous peoples: the search for legal remedies Cheltenham UK: Edward Elgar, 2012.

[2] Halliday T, Otherlands: A world in the making, London: Allen Lane, 2022.

[3] Ahmed N, Entangled Earth, Third Text, 27:44-53, 2013.

Image: Exhibit in the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Genova, Via Brigata Liguria, 9, 16121, Genoa, Italy; by Daderot, CCO 1.0 licence

Ice caps losing water and gravitational attraction

Map of the world showing population density is greater in the regions furthest from the polesI have written previously about sea level rises [see ‘Merseyside Totemy‘ on August 17th, 2022 and ‘Climate change and tides in Liverpool‘ on May 11th, 2016] and the fact that a 1 metre rise in sea level would displace 145 million people [see ‘New Year resolution‘ on December 31st, 2014].  Sea levels globally have risen 102.5 mm since 1993 primarily due to the water added as a result of the melting of glaciers and icecaps and due to the expansion of the seawater as its temperature rises – both of these causes are a result of global warming resulting from human activity.  I think that this is probably well-known to most readers of this blog. However, I had not appreciated that the polar ice caps are sufficiently massive that their gravitational attraction pulls the water in the oceans towards them, so that as they melt the oceans move towards a more even distribution of water raising sea levels further away from the icecaps.  This is problematic because the population density is higher in the regions further away from the polar ice caps, as shown in the image.  Worldwide about 1 billion people, or about an eighth of the global population, live less than 10 metres above current high tide lines.  If we fail to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade and it peaks at 5 degrees Centigrade then the average sea level rise is predicted to be as high as 7 m according to the IPCC.

Image: Population Density, v4.11, 2020 by SEDACMaps CC-BY-2.0 Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Source: Thomas Halliday, Otherlands: A World in the Making, London: Allen Lane, 2022