Company Seeking Subsidies Circulates Fake Study

J. Dale Shoemaker | July 13, 2023 | InvestigativePost

A plastics manufacturer seeking tax breaks to build a plant in Lockport has put its application on hold after being called out Thursday for circulating a summary of a study that was fabricated and produced by artificial intelligence.

Prior to a public hearing Thursday, the India-based firm SRI CV Plastics, seeking $312,000 in subsidies from the Lockport Industrial Development Agency, provided the agency’s board a one-page summary of a study that touted the safety of PVC pipes, one of the products the company plans to make at the plant.

A University at Buffalo professor and Lockport native, Lourdes Vera, called out the company’s study summary at Thursday’s hearing as a fake.

“I do not trust this company and this information that they’re distributing,” Vera said at the hearing.

Maureen Winters, the IDA’s administrative assistant, confirmed the study summary was included in a packet of documents distributed to board members ahead of the public hearing. The board took no action on the company’s subsidy request Thursday, citing the volume of information and public input board members had received about the project.

Terry Burton, the company’s attorney, issued an email statement later in the day acknowledging the study summary “was never verified as being accurate or correct.

“I believe we are dealing with both a communication issue and a failure on our part to ensure that only accurate and complete information is provided to the Lockport IDA,” Burton said.

The company, he said, was deferring its subsidy request to the IDA “until we can provide an explanation of why this ‘study’ was presented to the Lockport IDA in the first place.”

The summary stated the study was conducted by University of California, Berkeley researchers and concluded that PVC pipes “are a safe and environmentally responsible choice.”

Vera, an environmental sociologist, said she recognized the journal name — Environmental Science & Technology — and went to look up the article to read it in full.

Vera said she could not find the study. It was not included in the issue of Environmental Science & Technology that the summary said it did. That’s when she began to grow suspicious. 

She suspected the summary had been written by an artificial intelligence program, like ChatGPT. As a professor, she said she’s had to confront students for using artificial intelligence software for homework assignments.

“Then I ran the summary through a ChatGPT detector, and it was written by AI,” Vera said at Thursday’s hearing.

Investigative Post obtained a copy of the study summary and independently verified the text was generated by artificial intelligence. Vera said she used the website ZeroGPT — a tool for detecting text generated by artificial intelligence — to detect the fake, which Investigative Post also used. The website reported that 71 percent of the summary text was written by artificial intelligence, and gave both Vera and Investigative Post the same result.

Copyleaks, another website that detects text written by artificial intelligence, further concluded the text was generated by a computer program.

Read the full article here. >>


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