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Completely Anonymous

Junior colleague A in my department (ranked R1) submitted a paper for a conference that junior colleague B organized. After the conference, colleague A decides the paper is not worth pursuing and abandons it. Two years later, colleague A notice that this paper has been published in a journal under colleague B's name.

Colleague A notifies our department chair. Over a month passes with no response. Colleague A goes in to talk with the chair and is told that the chair can escalate the matter to the Dean, but that the accusation (although exhaustively documented) might negatively affect colleague A's chances of getting tenure. At this stage, nothing is done to colleague B. They are not even asked to explain themselves.

At this point, colleague A directly contacts the journal with an exhaustively documented claim of plagiarism. over the next six months, the journal investigates the claim, finds it to be substantiated and issues a retraction on the basis of plagiarism.

Colleague A takes this back to the chair of the department, the chair says nothing can be done to colleague B. In the meantime, colleague B has been promoted and given tenure.

Around this time, both colleague A and colleague B receive offers from other universities. Both accept these offers. Colleague A sends the portfolio of documentation collected, along with the journal's letter confirming retraction based on plagiarism to the head of colleague B's new department and their dean. Colleague B's offer is rescinded, and since they had already resigned , they are left without a job.

Justice in the end, but without any support from my colleague's department at all.

Marcus Arvan

Completely Anonymous: this is quite a bit more detailed than I would like. I'll allow it (as I think it is pretty well anonymized), but emphasize that I think comments in this thread should involve as *few* details as possible in order to make the relevant point (in this case, justice was eventually achieved, but due in no part to the person's own institution actually doing anything in response to well-documented proof).


Hmm...I'm fairly dubious about the usefulness of this exercise in general, but particularly if you only want something as such a super general level, but here goes.

Case X: justice was not achieved.

me again

I feel quite differently about Completely Anonymous' account. I think, given the outcome, it is in the communities interest to know (i) the university, and (ii) the offending colleague. I would hope my department never accidentally hires this person.

Marcus Arvan

Hmm: okay, but let me try to clarify. I'm not looking for *that* level of (extreme) generality.

Completely Anonymous's comment was fine, but someone reading could *potentially* infer, "That's my case" or "That's a case I remember in my department." I take it there are ways of describing cases where the general details couldn't be used to license that kind of inference.

Bearing this in mind, could you say a little bit more than "justice was not achieved" that would indicate the general kind of thing that happened, the general step(s) you took, and why justice was never achieved?

All I am asking for is for commenters to be reasonably careful here. That's all!

Shane Ralston

My work was plagiarized by a senior figure when I was a Ph.D. student, after I submitted an unpublished paper for a pre-doctoral fellowship. The fellowship committee conducted a phone interview with me and all they did was ask me about how I came up with the ideas for the paper. The senior figure who stole the paper (a version of it was published soon after as her own) was not among the phone interviewers. I assume that they were asking exploratory question on her behalf. To add insult to injury, I was rejected for the pre-doctoral fellowship. Whenever I shared what happened with other senior figures, I was always told that my accusations were mistaken and shameful (they never looked at the evidence, so it was all about power differential). So, as therapy, I wrote about it (without exposing the identity of the senior person): https://www.academia.edu/3039483/Getting_It_Out_on_the_Net_Decentralized_E-learning_through_On-line_Pre-publication

Michael Cholbi

A different sort of case, but a published article of mine was once plagiarized, albeit in a relatively innocent way: The author had copied text from my article and not attributed it to me. (I don't think there was any ill intent - I accepted the explanation that the plagiarism was inadvertent.) I contacted the journal editors and the paper was retracted. It later appeared in another journal. A good outcome, but it made me wonder whether the reference checking that journals do includes Turnitin-like technologies that could catch such plagiarism before it makes it into print.

Filippo Contesi

So far, I've been "swiped" of an idea once that I know of (not sure if 'plagiarism' applies to non-verbatim copying). At the time, the "swiper" and I were close friends and both PhD students. We were working on a common issue, but he was more of an expert in the relevant area and much better educated at the relevant kind of paper-writing than me. I never did anything substantial about this, except confront them privately and break up our friendship. I had some email and testimonial evidence of the "swipe" but I was advised by senior philosophers not to make a legal/institutional fuss about the issue. One piece of advice was: "You don't want to be known in academia as the guy who raises these sorts of issues". If it helps others, I will add that my fervent regret is not to have confronted my 'friend' before I did: i.e. when I had some uneasy suspicions and he had not had his paper with my idea already accepted for publication. I held him in great esteem and did not want to ruin our friendship by showing him I suspected him. Moreover, I also had a bit of an inferiority complex towards him (and the world generally) and could not really, "deep down", believe I had come up with an idea he would need to pass off as his.


A question for Shane and Filippo:
Did the thief end up having a good career, in the case you discuss?
That is, have they gone on to do well in academic philosophy?

a philosopher

"I had some email and testimonial evidence of the "swipe" but I was advised by senior philosophers not to make a legal/institutional fuss about the issue. One piece of advice was: "You don't want to be known in academia as the guy who raises these sorts of issues"."

I am mystified by this attitude and advice. I *want* to know and befriend the people who raise these sorts of issues. Why wouldn't someone like those with the integrity and courage to do what's right?


I don't really know if I was plagiarized (or, more realistically, 'swiped'), but I have suspected it. When I applied for grad school my writing sample contained a new idea X. I thought it was a great idea, something potentially publishable once I got better at academic writing. I had also been told as much by my advisors. I have since, through reading the literature fairly extensively, found that the idea genuinely was new at the time. Anyway, when I got to grad school my interests took me in a different direction and I never ended up going back to X. A few years later I found that X (the idea, not the paper itself) had been published (with some development to be fair) by somebody who would have been a research fellow in one of the research centers I applied to (this person is now pretty prominent and successful). I think there is a pretty reasonable chance they will have seen my writing sample. The paper was published a year and a bit after I submitted my paper containing X. I have definitely wondered whether they came across my writing sample and poached the core idea. It may just have been a big coincidence though. Obviously I have never done anything about it, and I never will. It has definitely made me more wary though.

Filippo Contesi

Q: Reasonably well, I guess, from what I can tell. Why wouldn’t they?


I study misconduct in science, and it often catches up with people.

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