I appreciate the technical answer to this is "zero", but in reality, there is probably some room for pragmatism.

I have identified a senior academic, who in two published books has copied and pasted short sections (up to a paragraph) without citiation, or copied and pasted verbatim without using quotes, but citing the source, to make it look they have paraphrased the work.

I have identified so far around 50 examples. Would you consider this a serious case of plagiarism, or would it be assessed as minor?

closed as primarily opinion-based by GEdgar, user3209815, scaaahu, Fábio Dias, tonysdg Jun 7 '17 at 18:46

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    Just a short comment: pragmatism != plagiarism.^^ Regarding your main question: There are no strict rules saying "10% is ok, everything more is bad" and I think this site is the wrong place for opinion based questions... – Dirk Jun 7 '17 at 11:39
  • I suppose a fairer question then might be, how do I get some independent advice on how much is too much? – user73276 Jun 7 '17 at 11:48
  • For such advice you might want to find an expert on the field, who knows both the book and the cited (or maybe mis-cited) papers. – Dirk Jun 7 '17 at 12:06
  • I disagree with the close votes. There is certainly some margin of appreciation, but this doesn't make the question "opinion-based". The margin itself can be specified. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 7 '17 at 13:12
  • Why are you asking? What are you going to do if our answer is: too much? How are you related to the author and publisher of the book? How are your respective seniorities related? – Walter Jun 7 '17 at 14:54

There is no clear quantitative cut-off point, if that's what you're looking for.

The severity of plagiarism has to be evaluated qualitatively and within the context of the work itself and of the discipline and its conventions (e.g. regarding citations and "public", unattributable knowledge). Qualitatively here means several things:

  • Has the author fraudulently claimed a major idea or a finding? Even with perfect paraphrasing, this -- it might be argued -- is the most severe form of plagiarism.
  • Has the author claimed an idea as original that is only tangential to the author's contribution (but doesn't bear much argumentative weight)?
  • Is the author merely sloppy with citations, i.e. can it be guessed from the context that the passage was meant as citation, that the attribution was (conveniently) forgotten; or is it merely incomplete or erroneous?
  • Are we talking about "self-plagiarism" (if that exits)?

Depending on the answers to these questions, 50 examples might be a scandal or not worth making a fuzz about.

Moreover, even if plagiarism could be evaluated only quantitatively, it is unclear what you would measure. The number of copied and unattributed passages? The length of each problematic passage? The ratio of changed words in a paraphrase?

  • Thanks, i know there's no magic figure (12.7% and it's a scandal). What I'm faced with are two books that sit somewhere between a textbook and an academic monograph. Much of the book reads like an extended literature review. The books aren't particularly orignal therefore. There are then around 50 paragraphs (at least) that are copied and pasted from other works. I would be interested in seeking independent advice on whether this is a scandal, or merely sloppy. – user73276 Jun 7 '17 at 12:04
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    @user73276 Other works by the same author or by different authors? If by the same author, it might be self-plagiarism (depending on particular standards of the community), but almost certainly not significant in this case. If the material is take from different authors and not in a context where it could reasonably be sloppy quotations, then it sounds pretty scandalous to me. – jakebeal Jun 7 '17 at 12:38
  • It is the work of other authors – user73276 Jun 7 '17 at 13:05
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    I agree with @jakebeal here. In the way you describe it, it sounds like quite severe plagiarism. – henning -- reinstate Monica Jun 7 '17 at 13:10
  • That should be a question to the publishers of the books. They are the copyright holders, I suppose.

  • if there is some misattribution of scientific results, the story is different - could be the case if one book was published with a coauthor, and a more prominent version was published without the same coauthor (that would be an authorship issue)

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