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I was recently reading a paper in some journal which described part of their method in the following way:

Our goal is to perform [something] on our data, which is drawn from [distribution]. This poses a problem because [reason]. We therefore took inspiration from Author et al. (1970) and propose to augment our method by [description of the modifications, including equations]. There are two challenges in this case: [first challenge, including a citation] and [second challenge]. We solve these by [mathematical description, including equations].

I wanted to learn more and looked up the cited paper (from different authors). Unfortunately, there wasn't more to learn as it turns out that the description (about 2 paragraphs, including the brackets) was copied near verbatim. In the quote above, the italic part was obviously added, and the wording was slightly changed a few times (e.g. from "there exist many ways to ..." to "there are many ways to ..."), but most of it is completely identical.

IMHO, this is way above the threshold of plagiarism. But it is a good idea to do something about it (e.g., contact the journal, or politely tell the authors to get their scholarly act together if I happen to meet them at a poster session) or is it better to let it go?

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  • Nobody cares about these pedantics. Dec 24 '21 at 20:32
  • If you are not personally involved, then the correct thing to do is to go find something more important to do. I suggest you edit the question to clarify if you are personally involved. Either way, this is probably a duplicate. Dec 24 '21 at 23:10
  • I have to say, I'm pretty surprised by the ethics displayed by the sample of people on this site, and I hope they're not representative of academia as a whole.
    – cheersmate
    Dec 27 '21 at 6:34
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So article A copies from article B while prominently citing article B. This is technically plagiarism since the text copied from B is not clearly presented as a quote.

However, this type of plagiarism is harmless if not beneficial to science. After all, the authors of A have rescued the old article B from obscurity and made it more easily accessible.

You might ask the authors of A to add explicit quotation marks, but this looks like a waste of time.

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  • "the authors of A have rescued the old article B from obscurity and made it more easily accessible" Not really. The original paper has 4-5x more citations and isn't really obscure in any way.
    – cheersmate
    Dec 29 '21 at 8:51
  • Thank you for these additional details. Still, old papers are not always easy to access. It is often convenient to have some material reproduced, paraphrased or otherwise reviewed in more recent texts. Dec 30 '21 at 17:26
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Post about your suspicion on PubPeer, a platform for post-publication review.

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Plagiarism is not about computer programs (or humans) counting the number of identical words and comparing them to an arbitrary threshold. "Plagiarism is the representation of another author's language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions as one's own original work."

In other words: if they solve the same problem as the original authors in a different way, and explicitly cite the paper used for inspiration, this is not plagiarism. If the problem is the same as in paper A, it makes sense to take the problem description from paper A. If it is cited correctly (which it is - very explicitly even), this is not plagiarism. It could possibly be a copyright issue if the wording is copied literally, but copyright and plagiarism are different issues.

Of course this changes if the solution presented in paper B is the same as in paper A, and the authors of paper B pretend that they came up with the solution themselves and only cite paper B for the problem statement, that would be plagiarism.

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  • You misread the question. The parts in the brackets have been copied almost verbatim, as well as the rest. I just didn't want to make the paper findable via search.
    – cheersmate
    Dec 24 '21 at 9:12
  • Clearly, other people's expressions have been presented here as own work?
    – cheersmate
    Dec 24 '21 at 9:17
  • No, it is not about the expressions (that is what the citation is also for), it is about the originality of the research. Also, I did not misread the question - you edited it.
    – Louic
    Dec 24 '21 at 10:44
  • I edited to clarify. The information was already there before the edit. Also, "expressions" comes directly from your quote. I don't know why you use this quote as an argument if you don't agree with it.
    – cheersmate
    Dec 24 '21 at 11:53
  • So to summarize your argument: copying text is not plagiarism (but may constitute a copyright violation), only presenting other's ideas as one's one. I don't think I agree, and the Wikipedia article you cite certainly doesn't as it mentions writing multiple times. Before you say "they copied the writing but added a citation, so it is ok", it is not, as they did not indicate to which extent text was copied.
    – cheersmate
    Dec 24 '21 at 12:00

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