This new question is related to this What to do when a section of a published paper has a section which contains similar results as mine?.

In my previous question(linked above), I had asked that inspite of a paper of mine posted in arXiv, how can a paper be published which has a Section containing exactly same results as mine with wordings changed. The answer from most of the members were that there is no harm in doing so as two researchers can develop similar ideas and hence can publish same results. In fact it is wrong to accuse other person whose results were published later than mine of plagiarism. Also there is no need for the other person to be aware of my result because it is posted in arXiv.

My humble question is : How do you prove then that a paper has been plagiarized? I found that there are several punishments for plagiarism, one loses ones grant, ones job, ones reputation and so on. Now if someone proves a theorem of a published paper by changing the wordings of the proof and when accused of stealing simply says "Oh! This got proved already, sorry I was not aware of this", should the author of the original paper let him/her go away with this excuse?

My questions are : How to prove plagiarism? and How to spot accidental/ deliberate plagiarism?

If someone can please help me, I will be grateful.

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    Surely it depends on the field? In mine it would be easy enough to prove/disprove, because we'd both have dated lab books describing what we'd been doing. It would either be that we'd done the work at the same time (unlucky, there are definitely academic 'fashions' where lots of people publish on similar topics) or they hadn't done the experiments until after my paper could have been seen by them, which would look more suspicious, especially if it was a departure from their normal research. Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 5:53
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    If someone plagiarizes my publication, it is a problem for the journal (or other outlet) that publishes the rip-off or, if it's a thesis, for the thesis committee. But it is absolutely no concern for me. My work has already been published, and that's all that matters to me. Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 6:50
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    Why do you think that that other paper is plagiarizing you? Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 8:54
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    One important thing to keep in mind is my advice to students in my mathematics courses: Never try to prove a false statement. The thing you are trying to prove had better be true, otherwise you might end up fooling yourself in your attempts to produce a proof. I suppose lawyers might disagree with me, but academicians will generally agree, I believe.
    – Lee Mosher
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 11:20
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    I am sorry, but that does not convince me. Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


should the author of the original paper let him/her go away with this excuse?

I honestly don't know what you mean by "let him/her go away", but I think you're overestimating your own power in this situation. The rest of my answer will basically say not to accuse someone of something unless you can prove it, but even if you can you are not this person's boss. Your main course of action open to you, if you can prove plagiarism and the author denies it after you talk to them, is to write to preprint server or journal and present your evidence. At that point, it is up to them to decide what they want to do.

But people also read the literature and your work has priority, so a more positive spin on things is that you proved the result first and people should cite your work if that result gets used.

How to prove plagiarism? and How to spot accidental/ deliberate plagiarism?

The most clear situation is if there is word-for-word matching of text. A murkier situation is if the two pieces of text are similar. There's a spectrum of "text similarity" where you could see that the text is almost the same with just a few words changed, to text where the ideas are the same but formulated in a different way. You could probably make an argument for plagiarism for text near the "significant text overlap with a few words changed" end of the spectrum.

Assuming you are not in one of the clear cut cases, there's really not much you can do to prove plagiarism unless you can read the other person's mind or have access to some incriminating document where the person admits to plagiarism in writing.

Anyway, you should not accuse someone of a serious crime without serious evidence. Plagiarism is about as serious as it gets in academia. Don't accuse someone of it unless you are absolutely sure that is what is happening. Keep in mind that people do have similar ideas and so overlapping ideas in papers is not sufficient evidence to prove plagiarism.

My unsolicited advice is that life is too short for this. Focus on your work, which anyway was published first and should get cited.

  • Indeed, life's too short for this. Being concerned about getting credit for past achievements is dangerously close to resting on one's laurels; all that effort is best spent working on something new and exciting. I'd surely act upon it though if I'd see the article I've sent to Advances in the Hamster Nutrition Research in Nature few months later, signed by their [AHNR] editorial board. Less extremely, if their work was published in something far more visible and there's a real concern it'd get cited over yours... Still it's the best to get over it IMO.
    – Lodinn
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 10:08

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