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Google Scholar pointed me to a plagiarism of my paper

03 Dec 2012

I love Google Scholar, especially the recently introduced Updates feature. In a nutshell, this feature continuously searches for and recommends new articles relevant to your research based on a statistical model that incorporates your publications and citations. And it works really well! Google Scholar already recommended me dozens of relevant papers and, because Google keeps a good watch over the Web, it recommends papers soon after they are put online.

However, two weeks ago something special happened. As I opened and glanced one of the papers recommended by Google Scholar, I realized that the recommended paper was a plagiarism of one of the papers I co-authored and was published two and a half years ago. Yes, I'm 100% certain that the paper is a plagiarism; 80%-90% of the text and 100% figures were just copy/pasted. Only the abstract and title of the paper have been significantly changed since the authors probably thought this was the only way to detect foul play (since the title and abstract are usually the only parts of papers that are available for free and indexed by search engines). The original paper I co-authored is here (link to publisher site with the paper is here) while the plagiarized paper is here (link to publisher site with the paper is here.

I don't want to turn this blog post into a long rant about honesty, but I do want to highlight two points. First, without going into who plagiarized the paper, where they work or live, and in which journal the plagiarism was published -- this is just another piece of evidence of the corruption and apathy that's more and more present in all segments of academia and higher education.

Second, Google Scholar kicks ass! I've made no effort whatsoever in finding this plagiarism, it was all Google Scholar. While the service didn't really tell me that it was a plagiarism of my paper (just that it was relevant material), that's just a tiny step from here. Imagine what other things the service could do if Google made a stronger effort. Imagine publishers partnering with Google to help them find plagiarisms. Or imagine Google creating an open, Web-based platform for academic publishing and relevance/impact computation. (Google, I know you're reading this. If you need help -- call me. You know my number.) Anyway, good things are on their way, I'm sure of it. That's why I'm happy to see people boycotting academic publishers that lock-in research papers behind paywalls. And that's why I'm glad that companies like Coursera, Udacity and Khan Academy and services like Google Scholar are transforming university-level education and shaking up everyone in academia.

We reported everything to the publisher of the journal which contains the plagiarism, but haven't received any real response for more than 12 days. If anyone has been in a similar situation - let me know if you pursued the issue in other ways and how that turned out (e.g. through institutions or legal suits).