Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Incompetent Plagiarist

I edit a mathematics journal, the Journal of Integer Sequences (JIS). It's a completely free online journal, where submission, refereeing, and publication are all done electronically.

Recently I got a submission, and, as usual, I sent it to a referee for his opinion. I was a little surprised to get the following response (redacted so as not to display any names):

Dear Professor Shallit:

I downloaded and read [the submission] by [Mr X]. Also in JIS, there is another article by the same name, which I wrote in 2000... Unfortunately, [Mr. X] is a plagiarist. He literally copied and pasted my article. If you peruse the two articles yourself, you will see what I mean. His is mostly a verbatim copy of mine. The only instances where [Mr. X] deviates from my article are when he adds his own results. His results have two qualities: one, they are trivial cases of the main result from my paper (which was a simple result in its own right), and two, they are written awkwardly, as though by somebody who does not know how write about mathematics. This is by far the most ridiculous "submission" to a journal I have ever come across. I am speechless. If you wish, I can still write a formal referee's report; please let me know.

All the Best,

[The Referee]

PS This is priceless. Here's a guy who plagiarizes an article, and then submits it to the very same journal from which he plagiarized the article in the first place!

I don't think I need to add anything more.


Adrian said...

What happens now? If he had successfully published a plagiarized article, I imagine his career would be in trouble. Does anyone take steps to see that a blatant attempt to publish has similar consequences?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The submitter denied strongly he had plagiarized the original article, although the evidence is incontrovertible. I offered to send a copy of the correspondence to his departmental chair, at which point I did not hear anything more back from him.

I think part of the problem is that some academics, especially those from countries outside North America and Europe, are not as familiar with what constitutes plagiarism here. There is a cultural difference.

Anonymous said...

Which country did the submission originate from ?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Anonymous: It was from a country in Asia.

Anonymous said...

What's surprising is that I heard this very story as dinner-time conversation with my family just 12 hours ago.

I'm fairly certain my sister is not regular readers of your blog Jeff. Is there any chance this has appeared in other mainstream media?

Anonymous said...

Why is the Tom Lehrer song "Lobachevsky" running through my head right now? :)

Anonymous said...

I'd recommend that you look at this post by Bruce Schneier a bit under two years ago. The paper in this case was plagiarized by authors in Islamabad.

I'm really disturbed that someone might use such practices to provide a falsified foundation for an academic career.

As Bruce found, once a plagiarist (or three) gets away with the act, s/he becomes emboldened to do it again.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


I doubt it has been picked up by mainstream media. I did notice, however, that James Nicoll mentioned it in his blog. Maybe your sister reads that one?

Anonymous said...

Mystery solved:
Dave, I brought up the plagiarism anecdote (not Marianne) and I'm also a reader of Recursivity. It's less surprising that twin brothers share common reading interests.

Harriet said...

My work isn't good enough for anyone to even want to plagerize it. :-)

Thanks for posting it; I also do some refereeing for a math journal and have never come across anything quite so bad.

I did see someone give a 5 page proof of something that is usually proved in one paragraph in standard textbooks.