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I recently accepted to referee a mathematics paper. This is my first referring assignment and was wondering if there are free plagiarism checkers more suitable for math papers.

side note: Several years ago I saw a paper stating a theorem which sounded so familiar to me. I happened to have a reference book in that topic. Long story short, "their theorem" in that paper was verbatim from the book without referencing it. Unfortunately, I did not contact the publisher that was surprising the mathematical society of country X (I should have).

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    Do you have some reason to believe that ordinary plagiarism checkers won't work? Even highly mathematically dense papers typically have a lot of prose to explain the mathematics. – jakebeal Dec 22 '16 at 13:47
  • @jakebeal It might be useful to have a plagiarism checker specifically for equations (or maybe not). That doesn't seem to be what the OP wants though. – Buzz Dec 22 '16 at 13:54
  • Before checking, one should verify if the software doesn't keep a copy of the manuscript uploaded on their servers. For example, viper keep a "secure" database. However, some time ago I come across a blog/forum where a researcher had some problems publishing a paper because he checked it with Viper, and then after some time the paper was uploaded freely on internet before the peer review ended. Unfortunately, I don't find the link to the discussion anymore today. – Nikey Mike Dec 22 '16 at 14:16
  • Avoid using a system like the one mentioned above if you don't read the fine print. Using it gives them the rights to sell your paper on their paper mill 9 months after you submit it. – Debora Weber-Wulff Dec 27 '16 at 19:47
  • Well reading the comments (in particular Kimball, Jakebeal and yours)and going through the first few pages of the paper, and the fact that I have not seen any flags for plagiarism ( English is bad, checked the most recent references and also my own judgment ) I assume that the paper is genuine and original unless I see something blatant while reading the rest. – BigM Dec 27 '16 at 22:10
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As in jakebeal's comment, if there is actual plagiarism, it will be picked up in the text, so you could use a generic plagiarism checker. Note the arXiv checks for text overlap and picks up quite a few things (the stated purpose is not to catch plagiarism, but it still does, though mostly "self-plagiarism" as far as I am aware).

That said, having done a fair amount of reviewing in math, this is not something that's typically done. Ideally, as a reviewer, you should be fairly aware of what's already been done in the area, and at the least, literate enough in the area to search for what has been done. (One tip: look at the crucial references, and check for papers citing them.)

What is much more likely than outright plagiarism is that some or all of the main results are already published, but unknown to the author. This may be because the results are not stated in the exact form the author is proving, or just the author wasn't aware of the appropriate papers. (I once pointed out that one of the papers the author referenced contained stronger results than the author proved--the author just didn't realize it!)

In any case, a proper literature search in the process of reviewing will turn up plagiarism almost all the time if it happens, and moreover is important for a good review. So my advice is don't worry about using a plagiarism checker, just do your homework.

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  • +1: reviewer's task as an expert goes much beyond running automated plagiarism checks, which may also give you false leads: maybe it's an anecdote, but once I've heard that anti-plagiarism tool report was triggered by using the phrase "Let G be a group" too often. – Alexander Konovalov Dec 22 '16 at 20:53
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In the journals I help edit, admittedly not in the mathematics field, a plagiarism check is one of the first internal checks undertaken on a submission. I would be surprised if there isn't one in place in most journals. The results of the check are forwarded to the deputy editor for consideration. It is not released to the reviewers. Perhaps your journal has access to math-specific checkers.

If you're worried about a particular manuscript, I suggest requesting a plagiarism check through the deputy editor who's handling the manuscript. You don't need to wait for the results before proceeding with review. I suggest incorporating your request within your review itself. For example:

Review of Manuscript 16.10634.1

Numerous typographical errors in the abstract.

I recall seeing part of the proof somewhere. Please perform a plagiarism check.

Etc.

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    I'm curious to know if any mathematics journals do this. I wouldn't have expected it. – Kimball Dec 22 '16 at 23:12
  • Me, too. My guess is that they do, but it's of limited utility. I hope the OP can reply to let us know what the resolution is. – user65587 Dec 22 '16 at 23:53
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    In my opinion, "I recall seeing part of the proof somewhere. Please perform a plagiarism check." would be a rather strange thing to write in a referee report for a math paper. This seems much more appropriate in an email inquiry to an editor before writing a report. One thing to keep in mind is that in mathematics, referee reports are usually read in their entirety by both the editor and the author(s) of the paper. As an author, I would be really taken aback by something which is so accusatory and so vague. – Pete L. Clark Dec 23 '16 at 1:50
  • There are, to my knowledge, no so-called plagiarism detection systems specific to mathematics. I know that a doctoral student is working on one, though, so this might change in 10 years or so. You are better off looking closely at the references and googling text around the algorithms, then doing a comparison yourself. This is faster and is less prone to errors (false positives and false negatives). – Debora Weber-Wulff Dec 27 '16 at 19:51

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