I am now drafting a complaint letter to the editor-in-chief of a technical journal, against an act of plagiarism committed by a famous researcher in my field. This researcher is apparently aware of my original work, written three years prior to his/her work. I've been having trouble with two of my own submissions to the same journal. I suspect this researcher may have intentionally sabotaged my review process by either offering unfair comments or delay the review process, while his/her own submission got revised, accepted and published in a whirlwind. Ironically, this researcher did actually cite my only published work, a conference paper, and at the same time pretended that he/she didn't know that I did it, and helped him/herself to do it all over again.

I am somehow confident about the objectiveness of the editor-in-chief, although it might be that the AE is also involved in this misconduct. But in case my complaint is unfortunately ignored, what can I do to defend myself?

Can I directly contact the superior of this researcher's institution to bring up the complaint again, hoping to have a different result?

Added later: for those who is unclear about what I mean and downvoted my question, please compare the difference between:

Reference [xxx] already did it. The result shown here can be found in [xxx].


Reference [xxx] mentioned it. But it is really me that first give the result.

Added much later: someone suggests that this might be an insufficient attribution. If you were in my place, what will you do then?

Suppose I am this famous researcher and I found out a nobody is not giving me sufficient attribution, will the situation be completely different?

Added much much later: Many thanks for all the comments and replies. I have drafted my letter of inquiry very carefully after taking the many suggestions given to me. Nevertheless I am prepared to eat the shxt...fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice...

Now I think it is not true that the "game" is rigged for me just because I am a Chinese...if I received my education in one of the top universities in Europe or in the states, I would have a much lower chance of knowing people like this researcher in the first place...now it sounds like it is still because I am a Chinese...damn this life played with hard mode...

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    i am slightly confused. you write he cited your prior work. to what extent has he plagiarized it, then? / blaming someone publicly via youtube is unprofessional to the extreme and guaranteed to cast a poor light on you, irrespective of whether or not your claim is substantive. Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 21:30
  • @henning That is the ironical part. My work is cited, but is not given the proper credit. Anyone with a slight sense of what I am doing and this researcher is doing will surely understand it is an act of plagiarism. I agree that youtube is not a good idea. But in the worst case, I just want the researcher to pay.
    – Troy Woo
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 21:33
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    I'm not sure you understand the limits of what plagiarism actually is - performing experiments triggered by someone's idea is not plagiarism - that is how science works. Plagiarism would be somebody else copying sections of your publication (or your submitted publication). Your suggested actions do not appear to be supportable by your story as written above.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 22:25
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    Do you not treat the citation as crediting you? What exactly are you expecting? And how is what you have described plagiarism?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 22:36
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    @TroyWoo did the author of the incriminated paper paraphrase or copy in verbatim parts of your prior work without providing a reference to the source? Then this would constitute plagiarism. If not – no plagiarism. He might have built on your prior work (in which case he must acknowledge it) or he might have had the very same idea as you had, but scooped you (then bad luck, but no plagiarism). You also suspect that the researcher intentionally sabotaged the review of your paper. Do you have any evidence to support this suspicion other than his paper being published before yours? Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 22:59

2 Answers 2


Given your addendum, what you are talking about is not plagiarism. It might be a case of insufficient attribution, but without seeing the papers and knowing the field it is impossible to tell.

You are guaranteed to fail in your efforts, and to make yourself look bad in the process, if you accuse this famous researcher of the wrong transgression simply because you don't know the difference between plagiarism and insufficient attribution.

As an aside, the fact that you don't know this difference makes me question whether you are able to objectively judge whether or not the researcher in question has violated the norms of your field. I'd strongly advise seeking advice from a trusted senior mentor before doing anything.

  • Thank you for your answer. In this case, what will you do if someone is not giving you insufficient attribution? Suppose I am this famous researcher and I found out a nobody is not giving me sufficient attribution, I would probably have no trouble in burying him? So this is like the status is in the play?
    – Troy Woo
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 8:48
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    I think any published researcher has seen papers that perhaps could have or should have cited one of theirs. So what? There are lots of papers in the literature that others may believe to be more important and more directly applicable. Our view of our own work is inherently biased. You are ascribing motivation where you should not, since you have no idea of their motivation.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 13:44
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    @TroyWoo If you are not being given sufficient attribution by an author, that author risks developing a reputation for not being thorough. Keep doing good work, and keep publishing, and force your field to give you the recognition you deserve. Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 13:48
  • @JonCuster Thanks for pointing out the generality of such situation. In fact, I was going to eat the shxt, but another famous researcher, a good friend of mine, after considering the situation, told me I should file the complaint. Now I would leave it to the editor-in-chief to determine legitimacy of my complaint. And now as I recall, this researcher whom I complain about does not really have a good reputation. I thought he/she was unfairly treated, and now I know why. I just wish someone had warned me about him/her in the first place.
    – Troy Woo
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 13:56
  • @ScottSeidman Thanks for your encouragement. I wouldn't dream of that though, as I am a Chinese and academia is a westerners' game. The game is rigged for me right from the start. But I am more disturbed by the fact that this researcher I was complaining about, pretended to be a friend of mine for all these years, but later I confirmed that he/she was behind the downplay/rejection of all my previous works (I have all the evidence). He/she was always complaining I was not writing very clearly, bad English blablabla...and now he/she seems to enjoy my research quite a lot.
    – Troy Woo
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 14:07

First, take a deep breath. There are many unknowns here and your may be correct and at it may not. Yes, cases like you describe have happened. Usually persons acting this way will be fairly known for doing so. So try to assess if this person falls into this category. If it is a known trouble maker, you have a tough decision to make. Such personalities are not easy to handle and others may be reluctant do do so as well. If the person does not carry such a reputation, then you may have to question your judgement a little harder. In any case, assess the circumstances and try to gain some understanding of the players.

So what can be done. First of all, you should definitely feel free to approach the editor. But, you should not do it with a preconceived idea of where the problem looms. Instead, try to describe your issue without casting judgement and ask the editor for advise. Remember, the editor, in this case, is very likely completely oblivious to what may or may not have happened and has most likely acted in good faith. You need to have this perspective in mind in your approach since that sets the proper tone in your request(s) or questions.

The information in your question is of course to scarce to make a deeper analysis. What you can do is to visit the COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) web site and see if there are any cases described that carry similar contexts. This may give you an idea of how editors may act and likely outcomes of their actions.


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