Without mentioning any names, I observe the following. Some answers given on the main site by certain individuals are consistently long and not really relevant to the question, instead giving inappropriate amount of minute and highly technical details related to keywords in the questions - without really addressing or answering the question, often not even showing any understanding of what is being asked.

My instinct is to identify this as a quick cut and paste job. Not to open a can of worms here, but I am wondering if answers are occasionally checked for this sort of thing. If I encountered this phenomena in an essay I gave as an assignment, I'd definitely run one of the standard tools to check for similarities to other texts out there.

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    $\begingroup$ it would be really helpful if you did mention some names or gave some examples. While I have seen plenty of long answers I have not yet noticed any problems of the sort you mention. $\endgroup$ – Deepak Vaid Mar 8 '11 at 3:10
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    $\begingroup$ Not a good idea. Even if I am sure of some specific instance of this, which I am not close to being, I'd flag it for moderator attention instead of dealing with this publicly. I was curious about the site's policy towards this question and how it is dealt with, and I got my answer. $\endgroup$ – user566 Mar 8 '11 at 3:33
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    $\begingroup$ Dear Moshe, I think that your intuition about copy-and-paste is just flawed. This can be checked pretty easily. Take a representative ensemble of sentences written by the same user, and chances are 90% that our similar reasoning means that we're primarily thinking about the same user with the same initials as a resonant circuit :-), and find them on the web. You will fail because they're just original. That's how he's thinking (or not so thinking). Moreover, this website is primarily meant to give valid answers to the questions, rather than "original answers". Use arXiv for the latter. $\endgroup$ – Luboš Motl Mar 9 '11 at 3:11
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    $\begingroup$ Just to be clear, this is a general question not referring to any specific user. As for the last comment: there is a difference between relying on knowledge acquired by other people, and copying their work without attribution. The latter (as I pointed out) is also not likely to result in coherent answers. $\endgroup$ – user566 Mar 9 '11 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ As I am involved...I do know what the issue is. Let me be more explictly. $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ My name does not matter. But I believe this post is due to the reaction of Carlos Castro Perelman to this question I posted here. $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ The question of the controversy is this one I wrote it some days ago physics.stackexchange.com/questions/61522/… I was trying to help a friend who is working on that stuff right now. His name is Carlos Castro Perelman. He has devoted the last 15 years to the developement of a generalization of the Born's relativity and he has built a whole theory, independent from other approaches, called Extended Relativity in Clifford spaces. $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ What I don't really expect was his reaction or even I was not expecting you WOULD erase his comments. He IS right about the fact I am working in that direction...That is why I wrote in the question: "(...) (I am interested in that topic for more than one reason I can not tell you here).(...)" One of my fears was that you erased mentions to Carlos Castro work about HIS stuff. He deserves to BE QUOTED... $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ I did not inform him about that I was trying to seek for help in our problem to extend the relativity theory to curved phase-spaces/higher-order relativities...So the fault was MINE not HIS fault...So, please, did not remove references to him or his works about higher order relativity, he deserves the credit for his works THERE. We don't deserve not to be allowe do post papers in hep-th in the arxiv either. I know he can be controversial, but his theory must an opportunity. After all, have we found evidences from something like strings or quantum gravity at the moment? $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ Likely, he over-reacted to know this, and I do know what my fault was, but you should have NOT erased his comments without having known MY POSITION to the incidents, shouldn't you? Of course, I can be wrong about my "procedure"...Let me know... $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ And he is right too in saying that the question I did here was motivated by our discussion during some mails we had. I wanted to help him, and since I am not an expert on group theory (just studying advanced group theory at the moment while I post general group theory stuff), I decided to search for help. I was informed of the existence of stackexchange about one week ago (you can check this seeing how old am I in activity here)... $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ Therefore, despite the fact he was likely unpolite in his comments, HE WAS RIGHT ALL THE TIME: I edited the question from our mail discussion, but I DID NOT KNOW THAT HE HAD A PAPER ABOUT IT...So, the plagiarism issue is not "correct" from my vision, since I was only trying to seek for help... $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ @riemannium: this post is more than 2 years old. It is not a reaction to anything you have done. $\endgroup$ – user1504 Apr 20 '13 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ @user1504 Thanks! I did not see the date...Should I begin a new thread in Meta due to the events that happened some hours ago? $\endgroup$ – riemannium Apr 20 '13 at 13:54
  • $\begingroup$ @riemannium, It would definitely be better to set up a separate Meta thread for than than to have it attached to this thread. But it might be even better to bring up that situation in Physics Chat. $\endgroup$ – Colin McFaul Apr 22 '13 at 17:17

To answer your question directly, there is no automatic plagiarism detection (as far as I know). Generally we rely on alert users to notice when something appears to be copied and pasted from another source. If you see something that you suspect might be plagiarized and you'd like to do something about it, pick out a distinctive phrase or two and run it through Google. If you have access to plagiarism detection software and you'd like to use it on the post, although that'd be a little more extreme, there's nothing wrong with doing so (assuming it doesn't violate the terms of your license to use that software).

If, by any method, you find a match from which the post content has been copied, you have two options:

  1. Edit the post to bring it into compliance with our guidelines on plagiarism. Specifically, that means it needs to identify exactly what was copied (using quote blocks or quotation marks or some other clear method), and it needs to say where each piece was copied from.
  2. If you can't do that (or don't want to), leave a comment on the post including the source and mentioning what was copied, and flag it for moderator attention.

The policy is that content which is copied from another source should be either deleted, or edited to make it clear what was copied and where it came from. If it happens repeatedly, it could lead to moderator action. Plagiarism is not tolerated on the site as an ethical matter.

Note that moderators are only authorized to handle cases of plagiarism, not copyright violations. When you cast your flag, make sure to say "plagiarism," not "copyright violation" (because if you do the latter, there are potentially tricky legal implications). If you do want to report content as a copyright violation, not as an instance of plagiarism, you will need to go through the DMCA takedown process described on the legal page.


I personally don't mind such answers, they give a bit of information even if it is not very relevant. I would prefer if this was explicitly pointed out in the answer. What annoys me is people upvoting such answers because they found them interesting or informative. I wish voting was based on how good the answer is as an answer to the question, not how much users liked it. After all, the votes next to the answer should indicate a good answer not a good blog post.

About plagiarism, so that my answer is not one more example of answers not on topic, I don't find this as a problem. After all this is not a test, it is Q&A site. If the information is copy-pasted or written in the user's own words it serve the same purpose. Of course elementary ethics requires people to cite their source.

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    $\begingroup$ It's both elementary ethics and copyright law, actually. As an independent issue - if your answer is copied verbatim from some source, it is not likely to address the specific question asked. I am also annoyed at the tendency to upvote incoherent and irrelevant yet technical sounding answers, but that's a separate issue. $\endgroup$ – user566 Mar 7 '11 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ To give an answer using outside material, I prefer the user link to the material (or cite it if it's in print) and provide their own summary tailored to the question as opposed to copying, even with a reference. $\endgroup$ – Mark Eichenlaub Mar 7 '11 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, me too. But, the real problem is that copying without understanding rarely provides an answer relevant to the question being asked. $\endgroup$ – user566 Mar 7 '11 at 19:45


I have a certain "standard" to "flag" an answer/post. In the case you're describing (borderline ethical, crackpot-ty, devoid of content, etc)... i usually flag it for review by the moderators: if they think it's a valid post, fine; otherwise, they know better what to do. ;-)


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