Among the papers indexed by MathSciNet and Zentralblatt MATH, I occasionally have seen papers which consist essentially only of text copied from elsewhere without proper attribution and without adding any significant value. I would be interested whether anyone has an idea what the frequency of such papers among those indexed in the mentioned databases roughly is. --

Are these extremely rare cases, or are such papers more common than one usually thinks, and perhaps even not easy to keep out of the databases if one doesn't want to be too restrictive in which journals to cover? -- Is there any data known on this?

Also, if one spots such a paper -- should one report this to the authors or copyright holders of the pieces of text from which the paper is composed, to the editorial board of the journal in which the paper is published, or to MathSciNet / Zentralblatt MATH -- or rather just ignore it? What is common practice in such case?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I would certainly inform at least the editorial board of the journal. Arxiv has some automated process to detect (and reject) such overlapping articles. Not sure if ZbMath has a similar process. $\endgroup$ Apr 18 '17 at 14:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In some other fields (where the financial impact is sometimes considerably more important) there exist online platforms such as PubPeer allowing such criticism; some well-known recent scandal (involving a well-recognized researcher) came from it. It's still missing in math, but these restricted access platform are maybe not the option. $\endgroup$
    – YCor
    Apr 18 '17 at 14:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @LorenoHeer I am not even sure ZbMath has access to the text of the articles. It only publishes reviews. $\endgroup$ Apr 18 '17 at 14:47
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ If you search MathSciNet for the word "plagiarism" in the "anywhere" category, you get quite a few examples spotted by reviewers (as well as many articles on the development of software for algorithmic plagiarism detection). Certain names stick out. $\endgroup$
    – Ben McKay
    Apr 18 '17 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ MathSciNet also has many entries with "retraction" in the title. Of course, in some of these, the word is used in its mathematical sense, but most involve editorial retractions of published work. In very few cases does the entry give any reason for the retraction, so we are left to wonder how many involve detection of plagiarism, and how many are due to other causes entirely. $\endgroup$ Apr 19 '17 at 0:37

On behalf of zbMATH (which is certainly also the case for MathSciNet), we would very much appreciate a notification of such cases, if they have not yet been detected at the level of editors or reviewers. There is the general impression of our editors (which has been discussed with our MathSciNet colleagues who seem to share this) that this behaviour has become significantly more widespread recently, and that such papers make it frequently into journals which usually have shown a level of decent peer review (which should generally filter such submissions).

The notification could either be done by an email to editor@zbmath.org or to volunteer to write a short review about this case https://zbmath.org/become-a-reviewer/.

We would then evaluate the level of copying and

1) Inform the editorial board, 2) our colleagues of MathSciNet, 3) Add a review or editorial remark mentioning the degree of overlap, ideally taking into account statements of the editorial board and, possibly, the author(s) if provided.

We do not display automated warnings like on arXiv because all existing tools (known to us) produce too many false positives when applied to math content, which seem unsatisfactory for public statements (e.g., arXiv claims overlap for arXiv:1609.02231 and arXiv:1412.0555 where the same problem is considered for genus three and even genus).

Searching for "plagiarism" will not result in all cases, because that means that intention and priority has been clearly identified, which is not always clear especially when things are under investigation (indeed, we had various cases where the paper which was published, or even submitted, first turned out to be a copy of ongoing unpublished other work published later). Hence, the documents will be usually labeled as "identical", "almost identical", "parts are almost identical" etc. - the results https://zbmath.org/?t=&s=0&q=%28%28%22reviewer%27s+remark%22%7C+%22editorial+remark%22%29+%26+%28identical+%7C+plagiarism%29 may give an impression.

Olaf Teschke, Managing Editor, zbMATH


On behalf of MathSciNet / Mathematical Reviews, I concur with Olaf Teschke that we appreciate notification of such cases. We too sense that the number of cases has increased. The majority of the alerts we receive come from our reviewers. We sometimes have authors contact us to say that their papers have been republished by someone else. And we do receive a number of notifications from third parties.

If you wish to notify MathSciNet of such a case, you may write to mrexec@ams.org (as in MR Executive Editor). If you wish to become a reviewer, you may write to us at mathrev@ams.org.

As with zbMATH, when a case of duplicated text or duplicated papers comes up, we contact the editorial boards of both journals, inform the editors at zbMATH, and add a note to the listing of the paper.

Edward Dunne, Executive Editor, Mathematical Reviews

  • $\begingroup$ Clearly I should accept this answer as well -- just the site lets me accept only one! $\endgroup$
    – Stefan Kohl
    Apr 21 '17 at 9:35

What you should do about it: (1) Decide if the case is blatant enough that action is demanded. There are many borderline cases where a previous paper is attributed but not adequately; probably they are not worth bothering about. (2) Send both papers to the editor of the journal which published the second paper, with a covering letter spelling out what copying has been done that you believe is unacceptable. Include a CC to the author of the first paper. A CC to the editor who published the first paper is optional. No CC to the plagiarist is needed; the editor of the second paper will take care of that if he/she decides to act.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It would be safer not to make assumption about who copy from whom before a proper investigation. $\endgroup$ Apr 20 '17 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @YiftachBarnea Often it is obvious, but you make a good point. In that case notify both editors simultaneously and let them sort it out. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 '17 at 1:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually it is not my point, but the point of the Olaf Teschke above. However, I thought it is worth stating again as it is such a sensitive issue. $\endgroup$ Apr 21 '17 at 8:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yes, it can be difficult to know which is the original. I am aware of one case where someone published a preprint version of someone else's paper. So, going by received-by date or publication-date, you would arrive at the wrong conclusion. $\endgroup$ Apr 22 '17 at 15:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.