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October 26, 2010

A Short Warning

Posted by Tom Leinster

It’s not very often that one comes across blatant plagiarism, but I just have. I’m not going to give the details, partly because I’m not sure that public naming and shaming is the right thing to do, and partly because I don’t want to be sued. But I do want to say a little, because raising awareness may help to prevent this kind of thing from happening too often.

In outline, then, the story is this. I’m on the editorial board of Theory and Applications of Categories, and I had a paper submitted to me for publication there. I quickly smelt a rat: the standard of English in the covering email and the abstract was fairly poor, whereas the language in much of the paper was rather nice, with some admirably deft turns of phrase. I believe I even recognized the writing style of one of my co-hosts here at the Café.

So I did some googling and discovered that yes, large parts of the text were copied nearly verbatim from other papers. Some of the papers they copied from were cited. At least seven were not. Their biggest source was Higher-dimensional algebra VI: Lie 2-algebras by John Baez and Alissa Crans, which—modulo the replacement of “vector space” by “module”—makes up at least nine of their pages.

This may or may not be an isolated incident. The fact is that plagiarism can be systematic. For example, there was the Turkish plagiarism ring (or rings) uncovered in 2007, involving something like 67 papers and 15 physicists at four Turkish universities. In this case I discovered when googling that some parts of the text had already appeared more than once in the literature, by different authors. One particular sentence was on at least its fourth outing. I didn’t attempt to dig any deeper.

My main reason for writing this is to warn other editors who may receive this paper, or others like it. There’s nothing I particularly want to discuss.

Posted at October 26, 2010 8:29 PM UTC

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7 Comments & 0 Trackbacks

Re: A Short Warning

Can Alissa and I list this paper on our CVs? They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so it should be worth something.

One great thing about the arXiv is that when a plagiarized paper is put up there, it’s more likely to be caught — since everyone can see it. And when it’s caught, that fact becomes painfully public, like this.

Papers on TAC are also publicly visible, so even if that paper had been accepted, it would have been caught.

The best way to hide plagiarism or otherwise shoddy work is to publish it in an expensive but low-quality journal that nobody would buy except as part of large ‘bundle’ of electronic subscriptions. As long as few people actually read your paper, you’ll get credit for publication without getting caught.

Perhaps I should prepare a list of ‘best journals to submit plagiarized papers to’.

Posted by: John Baez on October 27, 2010 4:22 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A Short Warning

Perhaps I should prepare a list of `best journals to submit plagiarized papers to’.

EUREKA has been lamentably underused…

Posted by: Blake Stacey on October 27, 2010 7:22 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A Short Warning

As long as the persons being accused have a chance to respond, I think their name should be exposed in public. There is no court that could deliberate on this matter (at least not a practical one), so what else can we do apart from publicly exposing the alleged plagiarists But I also understand that it takes a bit of personal risk to do such a thing.

Posted by: Andrej Bauer on October 27, 2010 12:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A Short Warning

I might agree with you, Andrej. But once the thing is done it can’t be undone. All the editors of TAC know, so it’s not exactly a closely-guarded secret; still, that’s not the same as putting it on the web.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on October 27, 2010 12:56 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A Short Warning

I did not quite get it: the paper is submitted to TAC, but it can not be found on the arXiv, as of today, right ?

Posted by: Zoran on October 27, 2010 10:21 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A Short Warning

My understanding is that anything submitted to the arXiv stays in the arXiv, even if it’s withdrawn. If a paper is withdrawn, for whatever reason, then the original version(s) get replaced with a 0k version and a note that the paper is withdrawn.

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on October 27, 2010 11:03 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: A Short Warning

Zoran — it was never on the arXiv, as far as I know.

Posted by: Tom Leinster on October 28, 2010 12:02 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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