Caveats and Context

I have been out of academia and the publishing game for nearly 2 decades so this might just be a question about changing mores, difference between disciplines, or just general mis-remembering on my part.

My question is driven by this question where someone is accused of self-plagiarism for reusing text from a grant proposal.

Comments on that question are making me feel like the definition of self-plagiarism has significantly shifted and things like below are not OK by today’s standards.

Type 1: Self-Plagiarizing Proposals

This is almost a category error in my mind, of course text is recycled from proposals all the time. I know that I have seen or even done:

  • Revising and resubmitting a proposal to a different funding agency when it was rejected elsewhere with minimal changes.
  • Reusing entire sections describing methods or facilities used in the research.
  • Reusing sections defining the problem space, notations, framing what we are working on.
  • Doing the verb tense dance to convert a proposal into a report, “we will investigate” -> “we investigated”.

Type 2: Publishing Incremental Versions

It was not uncommon in my area to see the “same” paper move through the levels of rigor in venues as the work is refined. For instance you might see a paper start off as an unrefereed seminar paper, then move to a refereed conference paper and then finally be expanded to a longer journal article. I thought this was normal and nobody tried to hide that they did this, there is always some text or comment describing how Paper X was an extended version of Paper Y that had been presented at BLAHConf in whatever year.

I even remember one of the paper indexing sites that would annotate the PDFs for you so you could see what text in particular was different between versions.

I don’t think that this was the same thing as playing the MPU (Minimal Publishable Unit) game, but maybe it was.

Type 3: Reboiling the Boilerplate

This is one I was and am (in industry) flagrantly guilty of–all the time–every day.

Maybe this is just the result of working in an empirical data driven type field, but a significant fraction of presenting a result is recording the methods and techniques applied to the problem. I don’t feel bad going back to my previous text and pulling the paragraph describing my Turbo-Encabulator and then tweaking it to mention that it had been malleated by 1.5 nofer trunnions.

One important thing in this case is I am not actually referring to the previous text, that text and the new text are actually describing two similar configurations in “my lab”. It feels ludicrous that this would also be considered to be self-plagiarism in any useful meaning of the word.

Honest Question — Not Yelling At Clouds

This question is not meant to sound ranty, I am safely removed from academia, I have no dog in this fight.

My question remains, are those cases of self-plagiarism by today’s standards? Has the standard shifted over the years? Must all text be generated anew for every publication?

  1. Authors A, B and C published paper [1] in journal X.

  2. Author B created a figure for paper [1]. The figure is not essential and does not contain any important data. It is just a geometric ilustration.

  3. Authors C and B are writing a new paper [2] for journal Y.

Can the same figure be used in paper [2] without any mention to paper [1]? Is it ethical? Does it violate copyrights of X? Is it considered plagiarism by Y? How about the situation X=Y?

(Authors A, B and C are friends, so there is no problem for author A.)

Let us assume that my prior coauthor plagiarized our common work and is going to re-publish parts of it under his/her sole name in a conference. I see a preprint of the work on a well-known preprint-site; the venue has not yet taken place. I ran free plagiarism tools; they show between nothing and 20% (tool-dependent) coincidence with public sources that the tools are aware of, whereas typical “new” papers show up to 2%. The rate would go higher if the 20%-tool were aware of our latest commonly published work before the collaboration broke apart. The author made some textual substitutions (variable XXX -> variable YYY, function(object) instead of object.function, etc.) and set-theoretical replacements (functions into powerset instead of binary relations) so that the text formally looks different. The author added a tiny bit of new (though, frankly, mediocre) content.

  1. Does the prior coauthor commit plagiarism, self-plagiarism, or both?

  2. I would like to prevent the prior coauthor publishing the paper. Moreover, I’d like the paper to get off the preprint site (or, alternatively, to have my name on the paper wherever it goes). The prior coauthor and me don’t speak to each other, so, contacting him/her is unlikely to help. Is it possible for me to actually reach my goal, and, if so, how?

I am an undergraduate who did research at my university a little while back. It was funded by a non-profit research organization, and I was paid with this money, through the university. I worked alone, but received some advice from people I worked with along the way. At the end of my time with the group, I had a poster with my findings on it, and I was preparing to begin writing a paper on the material. Unfortunately, the head of the group was let go from the university for some some immoral behavior (I’m aware that this is vague, and it intentionally so), and the group was disbanded. The university said that they would try to help me find someone else that I could publish with, but that never happened.

So here I am, sitting on some work that I’m very proud of. I don’t want for it to go to waste, but I don’t know if publishing my findings with a different group, outside of my university, will be considered plagiarizing. Any advice?

Edit: removed a separate question, asking how to bring the research up in applications

I am submitting my paper to a journal that requires to cite Arxiv pre-prints within the content of the submitted article (presenting the same work) to avoid self-plagiarism. How would I practically perform such a citation:

  • In which section of my manuscript should I cite the Arxiv reference?
  • What would be an adequate explanation for this citation?

I’m currently writing my PhD thesis, in a mathematical field in physics. I have published a handful of papers, and the thesis is going to be mostly based on these results. I assume that, even though they are published, I should be including full proofs in the thesis.

I also assume I will effectively need to rewrite these proofs, if only for copyright reasons, having surrendered some of my rights to the journals in which these papers were published, and also for self-plagiarism reasons.

Is there anything I should look out for, and are my assumptions correct?

Some time ago I was approached by a fellow researcher that had an idea on an earlier work of mine. We started a collaboration and as a result we submitted a manuscript in a prestigious journal. Recently, I stumbled on a publication of my coauthor in which he had used almost verbatim a large part of our common submission (a page long). These parts include results which were entirely mine. I am really disappointed and I am not sure how to proceed with this.