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I am a reviewer at a conference. An author submitted a paper, and I searched the author's previous papers. I found they have one paper with a very similar title accepted to a conference in 2012. I downloaded the paper, and about 1.5 pages of the 6 page document is exactly the same as the 2012 paper (all words and everything else.) So is that plagiarism?

There is no reference to their own 2012 work. Without paying attention to the rest of paper? Should I drop that or not?

Update: Yes the paper was accepted and indexed on IEEE web site. and I download the paper from IEEE web site.

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    What kind of paper is the 2012 paper? Is it a working paper, or is it some kind of publication. In the last case it would be selfplagiarism (asuming she is the only author of both papers) which is a slippery slope. I would ask her what is going on – Maarten van Wesel Apr 10 '15 at 20:27
  • Was it accepted? Was it given? If it was submitted and rejected, it is definitely not self plagiarism. If it was accepted but never given, it is definitely not self-plagiarism. Because in those 2 cases, it was never published. Submission does not amount to publication, and without publication there is no self-plagiarism. [If it were somebody else's submission, that would be different, of course.] – cfr Apr 11 '15 at 2:46
  • It depends on the field, I suppose, but I can think of situations where 1.5 pages of repeated material is acceptable. If the results presented are genuinely new and the repeated parts are just explanations of existing concepts and definitions, and reviews of related work I don't see a problem. There's usually some boilerplate preliminaries that you have to repeat for every paper, and there's only so many different ways to write them. – Peter Apr 11 '15 at 5:36
  • @Peter I disagree. 1.5 pages of repeated materials of total 60 pages document would be acceptable. 1.5 pages repaeted materials of only 6 pages? Usually, there would be at least half to one page Reference. So, how much new materials are in the new paper? This is definitely self-plagiarism. – scaaahu Apr 11 '15 at 5:47
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Yeah, copying 25% of a prior paper without attribution is definitely self-plagiarism. Report it to the program chairs of the conference, and let them sort out how to manage the problem from there.

Additional information, for any coming from different publication cultures: electrical engineering / computer science conferences are serious publications that take originality very seriously, and IEEE policy on the matter is quite explicit.

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    While definitely self-plagiarism, it may still be acceptable behavior. The work may still count as unpublished or the conference may allow previously published material. Depending on the timescale of the review and how on top of things the program chair is, it might be best to conduct a formal review, and include the self plagiarism in that. That way if it is allowed, the authors and program chair still have a helpful review. – StrongBad Apr 11 '15 at 1:57
  • The question says it was submitted to a conference. Was it accepted? Was the paper actually given? If not, there is no question of self-plagiarism. Only if it was actually accepted and actually given at the conference is there a potential issue. – cfr Apr 11 '15 at 2:44
  • I think it much clearer to expand the IMHO rather misleading term "self-plagiarism" into the 2 questions whether there's a copyright infringement (if exclusive copyright was signed over to the old conference, the new conference would not make itself liable by accepting this paper) and whether the new conference has a novelty requirement. If neither of these is the case, the OP can go on and ask himself whether the paper is interesting for the conference. – cbeleites Apr 11 '15 at 18:38
  • @cbeleites Despite the semantic objections of many, self-plagiarism has a well-established meaning as a particular class of academic dishonesty, of which this case is a clear example. – jakebeal Apr 11 '15 at 19:29
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    @cbeleites As somebody who does a lot of cross-disciplinary work, I'm familiar with both forms of conference submission. IEEE policy, however, is quite explicit on the responsibilities of authors with respect to reuse of materials. – jakebeal Apr 11 '15 at 20:44
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As others have noted, this is a lot of copying, and it would be difficult to justify, but I would say that it is not by itself unacceptable. Ultimately, it boils down not to how much of the paper is replicated, but to how much of the result is replicated.

If it just happens that for this problem, describing the preliminaries takes up 1.5 pages, and they've copied that from an earlier paper on the same subject, it can still be justified, so long as the thing that is actually being presented is sufficiently new. A good proof, for instance, may only take up a page and a half itself, and still be well worth publishing.

This is why I said, in my earlier comment that it depends on the field. In some fields the text of the paper is itself the result (like a particularly well-researched line of reasoning). In that case self-plagiarizing is a big deal. In other fields the text serves only to present the results, like a proof, some emperical results or an algorithm, and copy-pasting the preliminaries is almost standard practice. It's kind of inadvisable, but it's not by devinition unacceptable.

Even the fact that they've not cited their previous paper can be justified if the previous result is not relevant for this result. Citing yourself when it's not relevant is a different kind of dishonesty all in itself, so you're caught between two fires.

Of course, the other side is that they could be trying to artificially inflate their publication record and they've not cited their previous work in an effort embellish that fact. At the very least, they've not gone through any effort to show that their intentions are honest.

You should mention to your co-reviewers and editor that this is the case. The important point is that there's no automatic rule saying that copying 20 percent is acceptable and 25% is crossing the line. You (and the other reviewers) should make the judgment on whether the self-plagiarism concerns just the text or also the actual results.

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    Even if you are repeating background material, you still need to explicitly credit the previous paper that it is repeated from. – jakebeal Apr 11 '15 at 13:23
  • Please note that the OP said "1.5 pages of the 6 page document is exactly the same as the 2012 paper (all words and everything else)". Can't the author(s) find some little bit different ways to write that 1.5 pages? This is why I think it is self plagiarism with no doubt. But, I appreciate your explanation. At least, this is your opinion. I do not want to downvote it. – scaaahu Apr 11 '15 at 13:39
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    @scaaahu: while this is lazy (and may even make the sumbission borderline spam), rephrasing would not resolve the lack of novelty (which is required by IEEE as jakebeals's edit now shows). It would just make it harder to detect. – cbeleites Apr 11 '15 at 22:12
  • @cbeleites I agree. I should have said "extensive rewriting" instead of "some little bit different ways to write " Thanks for pointing out. – scaaahu Apr 12 '15 at 4:18
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    Just to clarify, I would never write papers like this, and I think it's a lazy way to operate. I think you can always rewrite the peliminaries to tailor them to your current audience. So it's a lazy and dangerous approach to writing papers. But the question was whether it's unacceptable, which I don't think it is. That decision should always be about the results presented, not the text itself. – Peter Apr 12 '15 at 4:28
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Answer to the question: no it is not plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as passing off someone else's text, idea, representation as your own. As the author in question is actually the author of the old paper, it is not plagiarized.

If the author signed over the exclusive copyright, it is a copyright violation.

If your conference requires contributions to be novel (but see below), then it fails on that account - regardless whether the abstract is copy&paste or rephrased (and even in that case you may report that the citations are not appropriate, and previous work is missing).

In addition, as reviewer you may decide that it is not interesting enough (e.g. because it is known already) even if there is no formal novelty requirement.


Personally I find self-plagiarism a misleading and unfortunate term (but yes I do know what it means, and I totally agree that we need to fight the underlying problems). But IMHO is not a straightforward extension of plagiarism, and in my experience, there are better terms to unambiguously name the problems.

In addition, the term has the clear connotation of an offense - but whether and how much one should cite oneself depends a lot on circumstances. In particular, not saying that this your idea is 5 years old is offensive (only) if there is a requirement or expectation of novelty. On the other hand, one would expect a lifetime-achievement award lecture to be full of widely known ideas.

But even in a paper I'd not cite all my previous papers that are somehow relevant but only the one (or maybe two) that is of most use to the reader. Excessive self-citation isn't better than not citing yourself - it is just a different problem.

I thus find it much more practical to require a contribution to be novel (no duplicate publication) and substantial (no salami publication - though for a conference presentation less is often more). There are further requirements (outside the self-plagiarism questions), e.g. the contribution must be the authors' own (no plagiarism).

With students if necessary for the purpose I clarify that novelty includes written from scratch. In addition, even if that is independent of self-plagiarism, I make people aware of the fact that they can violate the copyright of somehing they hold the (in my legislation inalienable) authorship rights to.

(I do think though, that academia would be better off if the novelty requirement would be somewhat dropped in favor of replication studies)


I'd like to throw in a slightly different view from a field with presumably very different conference culture, which I'd formulte as

When reviewing conference abstracts, I ask myself:

  • Overall quality (as far as one can tell from 200 words)?
  • How well does it fit with the interests of the audience?
  • I rather disregard "global" novelty compared to novelty to the audience at that conference.
    Our conferences do not have novelty requirements and neither do they ask for an exclusive copyright transfer (unlike our journals). Ultimately, if the topic is too old and well-known, it will fail at the "interesting?" question.

Long story: we submit 200 words or maybe 1 page abstracts - so 1.5 copied pages are plain impossible. More importantly, our conferences don't count as peer-reviewed publication, for that we publish in a proper journal (we often don't even have conference proceedings but instead have a special issue of one of the reputable peer-reviewed journals). In particular with my medical colleagues I see a trend that they are concerned someone could steal their idea - so they will present only results that have already been published in a peer-reviewed journal (pretty much the opposite of "novelty").

For me the important point of a conference presentation is to tell the audience something interesting for them. I freely admit that I hate presentations that don't convey any useful message to anyone in the audience beyond "I, the author, am a hero" or "This [totally useless crap] is sooo new".

If there is already an accepted paper, I include the reference into the conference abstract, for several reasons: the reference serves as "topic has passed peer-review" tag and of course it is an additional advertisement for the paper. The propriety* of citing oneself is only a minor point as we don't have strict novelty requirements; and the lower the number of allowed words, the less usual it is.

Due to our few 100 word limits, I'd also never look for much originality in a conference abstract: once you've found a formulation that saves 5 words, you're not gonna give it up easily ;-)

As I work at the interface between some disciplines doing statistical data analysis for chemical data and medical diagnostic problems, I attend conferences with rather disjunct attendees.

Consequently,

  • I've been presenting the same software (poster) at three conferences (within 2 months) with a total of probably close to 2000 attendees but an overlap that I estimate to be < 20 people. I submitted it to those conferences because I thought it interesting for their respective audiences and I did not expect many people to attend more than one of them.
  • I'm invited to speak in more detail about a topic that I first presented 3 years ago at a chemometrics conference. (The paper was published 2 years ago and of course I refer to it: after all I want people to read it - but not to the previous conference) Again, I am the overlap in attendance between the statistics-heavy first conference and the application-centered conference now.

And, by the way, I was taught about scientific writing to avoid synonyms and always try to stick to the same terms (once good terms are found) - even if that is repetitive throughout the paper, and use easy language in order to be unambiguous and as understandable as possible to other non-native English readers. This is another source of not so very original formulations.

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    The expectations for 100 word conference abstracts is completely different than 6-page papers: a 6-page paper in IEEE format is the same amount of size and novelty expectation as a full journal papers in many areas. – jakebeal Apr 11 '15 at 20:37
  • @jakebeal: we totally agree that the submission is unacceptable. Nevertheless this forum is about the whole of academia where other fields exist with other conventions exist as well. The submission does have problems with novelty/no duplicate publication and citation requires, and yes also with self-plagiarism. But the OP asked about plagiarism and the actual author of the original work is about the one problem that the submission does not have. There may even be intercontintal cultural differences here: the speaker of the DFG ombudsmen for science ... – cbeleites Apr 11 '15 at 22:13
  • ... as well as his successor (e.g. uni-regensburg.de/universitaet/ombudspersonen/medien/…) point out that a whole bunch of totally different misconduct is grouped together and that there is not unified view in the literature (which they discuss piecewise). They tie the offense character to a deception (here: pretending novelty). Maybe it is a rather German view to discuss the underlying problems piecemeal. – cbeleites Apr 11 '15 at 22:40

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