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I found out that my supervisor in college translated an unpublished article of mine (in Chinese) into English verbatim and published it in a top journal, without any quotation marks or acknowledgments. I have amounts of email records 5 years ago as evidence, in which my supervisor and I discussed (in Chinese as well) how to modify the paper.

I want to write an email to the journal editor to report his cheat, but I am not sure whether the evidence is sufficient to judge him as plagiarism, especially under the situation that my original work has not been published.

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    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 1, 2021 at 17:24

8 Answers 8

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Contact the journal, ask for it to be taken down.

Most top journals in English should follow academic norms, and those norms require that everyone who has contributed intellectually to a paper be listed as an author, and that publication isn't allowed without the unanimous consent of all authors.

As such, I would recommend that you contact them, inform them of the plagiarism, and, if possible, include a link to a preprint of your Chinese-language paper, or to any other evidence you possess that proves your primacy, and ask them to retract the paper. They should be happy to comply - they don't want to be known as a journal that publishes plagiarised work any more than you want your work to be plagiarised!

Of course, the professor who plagiarised you would doubtlessly find out in short order, and there'd be nothing to stop him from retaliating against you, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider doing it.

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    Like your answer much more than the super cautious answer with the majority of upvotes. Many speak a lot about the protection of intellectual property but are not ready to do anything about it.
    – yarchik
    Nov 1, 2021 at 12:56
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    @yarchik - yet some feel like they can advise a student to risk a career to follow up on it. Nov 1, 2021 at 13:20
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    Without advising about the possible risks of accusing an author of misconduct, this advice is irresponsible. Nov 1, 2021 at 13:22
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    @ScottSeidman Why do you assume the OP is a student? Five years is enough time to become permanent in many places.
    – yarchik
    Nov 1, 2021 at 13:32
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    @SupaNova Same as anything else, the journal just stops making the files associated with the paper available on its website. Of course the actual printed version can't be taken down, but the point here is not to prevent anyone from having access to the paper, the point is to disseminate the message that it has serious problems which (should have) made it unsuitable for publishing in the first place.
    – David Z
    Nov 1, 2021 at 23:24
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Your former supervisor has represented your work as their own, which is the definition of plagiarism, regardless of whether this work was published before.

What you should do about it is a different story. You should consider your current position, your potential for future positions, and how an official complaint to an editor, or official recognition of your major contribution to the published work would impact these. Getting the credit may or may not be worth the trouble you start by bringing up the issue with an editor. Your first instinct here should be to avoid doing yourself or your career irreparable harm.

In the US in an academic environment, someone who reports misconduct (and we are talking about misconduct) has a modicum of protection, in that retaliating for a report of misconduct (at least scientific misconduct, and probably some other forms) is misconduct. This means that the institution is likely to exert strong pressure on those in a position to retaliate to NOT retaliate, in fear of liability. In China, I have no idea what the legal environment protecting whistleblowers is, but I would believe it is not as robust as in the US. Even with such protection, a whisper-campaign can be hard to prove.

There are also cultural and legal differences between my particular background and people in that part of the world, and some of these involve concepts surrounding intellectual property (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_property_in_China for a bit of a review, and perhaps some good bibliographic material on the matter. You might also peek at Xu, Comparative analysis of intellectual property between China and the West: A cultural perspective, J. Intellectual Property Rights 2014(3)(http://nopr.niscair.res.in/handle/123456789/28926), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235330028_'Plagiarism'_and_the_Confucian_Heritage_Culture_CHC_Student, and https://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2010/08/plagiarism-and-confucianism.html. Beyond recognizing that there are differences, I'm not particularly well-qualified to comment on them, and would certainly welcome an additional answer that can expand on this. To my untrained eye, it's not just a legal issue, but it has something to to with the concept of intellectual property and how people think about it. You can't just make laws and expect people to follow them when the concepts lying behind a law don't match up well to concepts within a given society.

It would seem that as China is becoming more and more involved with the rest of the world, these issues are improving: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/16/china-intellectual-property-theft-progress/

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    Your advice that the OP should protect themself is the key here IMO. What is fair and what is achievable without risk are not always aligned. And self protection applies elsewhere as well, whenever a student is faced with misbehavior by someone with power/authority.
    – Buffy
    Oct 31, 2021 at 18:28
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    I beefed up the "be sure not to hurt yourself" part. Oct 31, 2021 at 18:31
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    Regardless of the cultural differences between China and other countries, the plagiarised article was translated "into English verbatim and published [] in a top journal". Since the journal is a top English-language journal, I would expect their policies are in line with cultural expectations in English-speaking countries, not China. And the OP's supervisor isn't exempt from those policies just for being from a different culture. So I think this is a red herring.
    – kaya3
    Nov 1, 2021 at 3:38
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    @kaya3 I'd say cultural differences are not a red herring. The main thrust of this answer is not whether the supervisor's behaviour was wrong, but what (if anything) the OP should do about it, and cultural differences do come into play in answering that question. Were an English-speaking/western supervisor to do the same, they would/absolutely-should know it was wrong, and that influences the question of what to do about it. (cont)
    – TripeHound
    Nov 1, 2021 at 6:58
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    However, if cultural differences mean the the OP's supervisor doesn't even conceive that they might have done something wrong, you might be less inclined to "rock the boat" if there's a risk that doing so may harm the OP's future prospects.
    – TripeHound
    Nov 1, 2021 at 6:59
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Is it possible they mistakenly attributed your work to another author of the paper and there's no intentional malice here at all? (you don't mention any other authors, but presumably the professor didn't publish it exclusively under their name)

Reminding the professor of your contribution may be all that's needed to correct the mistake.

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I think that with cultural differences across the world and department differences across research disciplines it is hard to give advice here on the best course of action. I would advise you to seek input from a trusted faculty member or ombudsperson at your institution to figure out how to proceed with damaging your current and future positions.

The bottom line is this: Your supervisor acted unethically in taking your work and passing it off as his own. But you need to ensure that you follow a path that is best for you overall—and not just consider this manuscript.

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I think you should write to the editor and let the editor know you believe this article has plagiarized your original work. You probably should send the original paper and pdfs of email messages you have exchanged with your supervisor (perhaps the originals and rough translations).

Your supervisor won't be happy but your supervisor should not have plagiarized.

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We cannot judge the strength of the evidence for you, but ultimately that is going to hinge on whether you have records of your unpublished paper which will allow an independent person to verify its existence, its genesis, and (roughly) when it was created. If you have records of past emails working on the paper between you and your supervisor, that sounds like strong evidence to me.

In any case, if you have enough evidence for a prima facie case on the matter, you can make a complaint to the journal and the university employing your supervisor. Both journals and universities have established procedures to investigate allegations of plagiarism. They will be able to guide you through the complaint process and advise you on what evidence is useful in the matter. Ultimately it is up to them (not you) to judge the strength of the evidence. Nevertheless, if you have records showing the prior existence of the paper, the fact that you wrote it, and corroboration that it existed at a date prior to the translated version, that sounds sufficient to make a complaint.

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    "If you have records of past emails working on the paper between you and your supervisor, that sounds like strong evidence to me." Not to me. I am quite sure the professor would go full power with the claim "the emails printout are falsified" ... how to prove the email exchanges are true? simply by contacting the email provider. Managed in China, by a chinese employee of the university where the professor has a very powerful role... good luck! Please include some part of this comment in your answer, comments get deleted (and answers get downvoted by "the" party minions ... get ready :/ ).
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 1, 2021 at 16:16
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    There are pretty well-established legal procedures for dealing with this issue (although I'm not sure of the situation in China), and it is unusual for people to deny the authenticity of genuine communications. As you say, if the authenticity is denied then the student can seek evidence directly from the email provider. I see no reason that a Chinese court would be beholden to the position of a Chinese professor, and if that professor is found to have lied about the authenticity of the communications, that would presumably be serious misconduct.
    – Ben
    Nov 1, 2021 at 23:42
  • @ben the implied email provider is the university and professor has already removed all evidence from servers.
    – Basilevs
    Nov 2, 2021 at 7:03
  • The professor has unsupervised access to the university email servers now? What is this guy, a personal friend of Xi? (Does he also have access to the servers for the email provider the student used to send his emails? His own police force too perhaps?)
    – Ben
    Nov 2, 2021 at 20:22
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    @Ben Professors can be quite powerful figure in the (local) party. Rules are in place, but are enforced only when convenient to a higher goal (for example: removing an inconvenient person from the (local) party elite). Xi is not Stalin, but ...
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 4, 2021 at 20:02
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You may think the emails are a strong enough proof. I am quite sure the professor would go full power with the claim "the emails printout are falsified" How can you prove the email exchanges are true? Contact the email provider. Managed in China? by a chinese employee of the university? The same university where the professor has a very powerful role... good luck!

Ps: I really feel for your situation, but to face such a situation would already be very difficult in the western world, even by having an equally powerful professor by your side. In the chinese world (mainland or not)? you would neet a lot of friends that want to topple that professor ...

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The institution itself could be a good starting point. Consider speaking to higher authorities or trusted personnel in the college to seek some insights into protection of your interests from the college and self-protection, before any contact with the journal which may help with your credit but could alert the supervisor. The college most likely values its own reputation as much as a journal does, and an incidence like this either gets intentionally covered up, goes unnoticed, or be addressed seriously and then that's where any evidence helps, to convince people. Consider the power of a supervisor, are they capable of causing irreparable damage to your career even if all odds are against you? Knowing them for long, what's their personality like, do they tend to seek retaliation? Have you talked to the supervisor at all? Perhaps, this is simply an imprudence of the supervisor and they just didn't think about this being plagiarism.

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