# Copying my solution, verbatim, is just so not cool

Someone just verbatim copied my solution into his answer: Complete induction: $\sum^n_{i=1}\frac{1}{(2i-1)(2i+1)}=\frac{n}{2n+1}$ (obviously, in retrospect, claiming I did the same from him). Edit records should be able to check what is true, I assume (as well, I think I have both a somewhat recognizable voice, and way to lay things out). I should take this easy, but I am very upset, and will stay away from MSE until I calm down.

P.S.: Not that I claim the answer is particularly profound...but that isn't the point.

P.P.S.: I did flag.

• I've seen this happen before. Compare this with revision 2 of this. Not as sizeable an example, but still a verbatim copy with no attribution. – user856 Feb 20 '13 at 19:15
• Something similar happened also here, but amWhy attributed the source after my intervention (it should have been authors names, not 'Wikipedia', but that's a minor issue). – dtldarek Feb 21 '13 at 10:09
• @Jacob: She did, but the comment has been deleted. – Jonas Meyer Feb 21 '13 at 15:13
• Another example: math.stackexchange.com/a/168 vs. math.stackexchange.com/questions/251665/… (I expended very little effort finding this.) – Jonas Meyer Feb 21 '13 at 17:49
• @JonasMeyer: I hope the moderators see this!! – Thomas Feb 21 '13 at 19:15
• @JonasMeyer, Thomas: I have seen all of the threads mentioned, and acted accordingly - thank you for your helpful flags. – Eric Naslund Feb 21 '13 at 20:03
• @Eric I am sorry to have to bring this up, but here is another example in which one of my answers was copied verbatim. Revision 1 of that answer is identical to my answer in the same thread. At the time the plagiarist claimed that it was a fabulous coincidence, and I was willing to leave it at that, but I am not any longer. – MJD Feb 22 '13 at 3:44
• I would very much like to see a reaction/explanation/apology of the accused person. – Martin Feb 22 '13 at 4:07
• I understand there is no suspension policy in such repeated plagiarism cases. Is this correct? – Did Feb 22 '13 at 14:54
• I am mystified why someone would bother to blatantly plagarize time-stamped posts on an Internet forum for which there would seem to be no incentive to do so. (Unless there are people who get paid for answering a certain quota of MSE questions??) – Michael Joyce Feb 22 '13 at 17:47
• @MichaelJoyce: It particularly strikes me as hard to understand as so many high-rep users here are current, or future, graduate students in mathematics. What if their adviser, their faculty finds out? – gnometorule Feb 22 '13 at 18:05
• I don't think suspension is necessary, just tell them to cite sources. – user58512 Feb 22 '13 at 19:09
• I am surprised. To me, it is as if prison was in order for the theft of an apple but not for willful and massive corporate fraud. Oh wait, exactly as in real life... – Did Feb 22 '13 at 22:37
• @Martin There was a reaction, as a paragraph added to the now deleted answer. If you can read it, it will not strike you as particularly apologetic. – Did Feb 23 '13 at 6:19

While there was some doubt whether or not Revision 3 of this answer, directly copied gnometorule's answer, there were several other offending examples where the answer was copied verbatim, confirming amWhy's plagiarism. Notably

This has been dealt privately as is the case with all moderator affairs.

Let me emphasize the importance of flagging whenever plagiarism such as this is found. I would like to thank each user who pointed out and flagged these different threads, as discovering such plagiarism would be nearly impossible without your help.

• Another (as of writing unattributed) source for 1. is this MathOverflow answer. – Jonas Meyer Feb 22 '13 at 4:25
• Posting a permanent visible dossier on an individual user is not "dealing privately" with the matter. – zyx Feb 22 '13 at 18:10
• use of color here appeared immediately after I used color in my wrong answer here. Annoyed me so I downvoted it and the color was removed so I removed my downvote. – user58512 Feb 22 '13 at 19:06
• Using color because you saw someone else do it is not plagiarism. – MJD Feb 22 '13 at 19:15

The user amWhy strikes again here. amWhy changed his/her answer after my answer here. Since all these were done within $5$ minutes, there is no edit history to prove it. But this is just ridiculous, to say the least. And I do not see the moderators acting to prevent such blatant plagiarism.

• I wouldn't go there. Just wait for one of the people defending her then to get active, and - most likely - suggest closing this question: as it "invites subjective, unproven accusations,", or something to the sort. Example: a high-rep user who suggested closing this (my) question way back when just left a comment on her congratulatory "Question" suggesting to remove any and all comments from that question wondering why it got down-voted. I faced open hostility by some over this at the time, as you can expect to. – gnometorule Nov 29 '13 at 0:21
• @gnometorule: I repeat. What I would have liked to see gone was the comments wondering why amWhy's "100k congratulatory" post got downvoted. Your comment was not my intended target. Nor this thread. I earlier gave a link to this thread as a comment in the 100k thread. Apparently you didn't see it, because I deleted it after 24hours or thereabouts. You are not alone. Count the downvotes to the 100k thread. I removed mine to be able to comment with a clear conscience, but... – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 29 '13 at 10:56
• The moderators have investigated this case as fully as we are able to (which admittedly is not very much). We agree that there isn't sufficient evidence to declare that amWhy's answer was copied from yours. The basis of our reasoning is as follows: – user642796 Nov 29 '13 at 11:03
• (1) amWhy's original answer was posted at 2013-11-28 17:04:08Z, while your answer was posted at 2013-11-28 17:05:14Z. Even assuming that your answer was instantaneously available to amWhy (which is itself a dubious assumption) this leaves amWhy with less than 4 minutes to read (it's doubtful that anyone would plagiarise an answer without first checking it over), copy and sufficiently edit the answer to fit within the grace period. Realistically there would be significantly less than 4 minutes remaining of the grace period. – user642796 Nov 29 '13 at 11:03
• (2) Three of the four given answers are very similar (V-X's minimalist answer being somewhat of an outlier). Were any of the moderators to provide an answer to the question, it would most likely end up being very similar to those given. Similarity between the internal logic of these answers is therefore not a good indicator that one was copied from the other. Also, doing a diff analysis of the sources shows very little in common, in vast difference to the previous case. – user642796 Nov 29 '13 at 11:03
• (3) Whatever the original answer provided by amWhy was, we have no access to it, and we cannot say how much this original version differs from the current one. (We also have to take your word for it that the current version was not the original version.) – user642796 Nov 29 '13 at 11:04
• user17762: Can you take your browser offline and search through the cache to see if some intermediate version of the page might have been saved locally? (I checked Google's cache, but it shows the question prior to any comments or answers being added.) The turn of phrase "make use of the logarithm" and the introduction of three new variables $y = a^x$ used in exactly the same positions lends some credence to some "borrowing" of content happening in one direction or the other, though I agree with @Arthur that there's no truly smoking gun here. (cont.) – cardinal Nov 29 '13 at 14:15
• @gnometorule Maybe I did not look carefully enough, but I can't find any reference to plagiarism in the local constitution. Ironically though, we can read this: "Last but not least, edit and improve the existing questions and answers!". To move on, you could post a new question on meta asking that they add: "without making it yours". I am sure a few people would agree. – Julien Nov 29 '13 at 19:35
• @julien: see, eg, here. 4-5 of the 9 most participating users took clear positions defending the plagiarist then, ranging from calling this question "nonsense", to strongly expressing a desire to keep it non-public (where nothing happens as the standard applied here appears letter by letter copy), to laughing about it in chat transcripts I used to have, to calling checking layout "ridiculous", to applying unwanted humor in a situation I found not very h – gnometorule Nov 29 '13 at 20:13
• @julien: There were tangible differences in which my participation on the site was treated differently after, into which I won't go. With that reception and treatment by the true opinion-makers (participants), you cannot reasonably expect change. I moved on by quitting, which, after a week of being in the dumps, has proved wise. Very, very rarely I check back for sentimental reasons, when I noticed this which struck me as absurd; but I won't get truly involved again. – gnometorule Nov 29 '13 at 20:18
• @gnometorule: I do not think your question was called nonsense. The comment linking to this question with the word "nonsense" was referring to the behavior of the problem-user in question. (Unless you are referring to the use of the word "nonsense" in a comment by the poster of the heavily downvoted answer, where the vote count indicates the amount of attention that should be given.) – Jonas Meyer Nov 30 '13 at 3:03
• Just curious: what do you think moderators should do? I did a bit of googling and here is what I found on the SE network: thread 1, thread 2, thread 3. Finally, a remark: Eric Naslund was a moderator when he posted this answer and obviously he did act. – Julien Nov 30 '13 at 13:52
• @Jonas Meyer: if you link a question, making the tag "this nonsense", I find it natural to translate this to "this question is nonsense." But maybe you are right. – gnometorule Nov 30 '13 at 14:02
• @julien: I have no idea what should be done, and - despite possible appearances - never had an issue with a moderator (on the contrary, from his participation, Willy, say, sounds great). But I do feel strongly that pooh-poohing and coddling don't help make a user change. This is just the tip of the iceberg - I also had chat transcripts discussing strategic mutual upvoting (how to best circumvent the script preventing it) by same user. None of this is "forbidden", none of this is easily handled by a moderator, but from how I grew up behavior I never felt entitled to use. – gnometorule Nov 30 '13 at 14:09
• @gnometorule: In the context of the sentence, the link is to an example of plagiarism between users, along with an editorial about how nonsensical such behavior is. That is always how I understood it, and still what it looks like. – Jonas Meyer Nov 30 '13 at 20:10

For an objective comparison, here is a graphical diff of the relevant parts of @gnometorule's answer and revision 3 of @amWhy's answer, computed automatically using the Meld program. Click for bigger.

• Here we see the formatting of the align environments with each line starting & = . This is the same as in many of gnometorule's answers. – robjohn Feb 20 '13 at 20:05
• math.stackexchange.com/questions/299478/… – amWhy Feb 20 '13 at 20:15

I hope we can all agree that copying someone else's answers without attribution is completely inappropriate behavior. Moreover, it violates the stack exchange license.

In this particular case, the evidence that the answer was copied strikes me as clear and convincing. That said, I wish that in the future these types of incidents would be handled in private by the moderators, with a public trial on meta only a very last resort.

• +1 for I wish that in the future these types of incidents would be handled in private by the moderators, with a public trial on meta only a very last resort. Although there are some occasions where it cannot be avoided, we have no naming policy on meta. – Martin Sleziak Feb 22 '13 at 9:26
• The consensus in the thread to which you linked was that the no-naming policy only makes sense when the intention is to discuss a general issue. But when the discussion is about a specific user's specific actions, as it is here, the no-naming policy is pointless. Arthur Magidin's answer and Michael Greinecker's comments in the "no naming policy" thread argue this, and are very popular. – MJD Feb 22 '13 at 22:27
• @MJD's remarks mis-state the contents and the supposed consensus in the previous thread. Greinecker's comment was not all that popular given that it was immune to downvotes. The answer by Magidin was considerably more popular, 16 upvotes and no downvotes. It argued that names should be avoided wherever possible, and that user-specific material should first go privately to the moderators, then be generalized to a non-specific form for discussion on the meta, with individuated personal discussion only as a last resort if the other methods do not and cannot apply. – zyx Feb 23 '13 at 20:59
• Arturo's comment was well-considered and thoughtful, and on rereading it I think we have both mischaracterized it. I strongly recommend that everyone interested should read it for themselves, perhaps more than once. – MJD Feb 23 '13 at 21:01
• I'm content to leave the discussion in place, but if you feel strongly about removing our earlier comments, I am willing to do that. – MJD Feb 23 '13 at 21:08
• Arturo's comment contains two paragraphs. Mine describes the second paragraph but not the first. Yours emphasizes the first paragraph, but gives an interpretation to the second paragraph that I did not see after several readings: you claimed that he suggested that personal discussion be a "last resort"; but I see nothing like this in Arturo's comment. Instead, I see that he said "if what you are discussing is a very particular action of a specific user, then it makes little sense to try to keep it at the generic level". – MJD Feb 24 '13 at 18:20
• My original comment here said "when the discussion is about a specific user's specific actions, the no-naming policy is pointless. Arthur Magidin's answer ... argues this". I believe that this is exactly correct, as supported by my quotation above. If you are still unhappy with this discussion, let us agree to delete our comments about it. – MJD Feb 24 '13 at 18:21
• The two paragraphs can't be separated. The first paragraph states the general philosophy: in public, discuss behavior, not individual users. The second paragraph contemplates exceptions to the general case, but carves out so many qualifications and "exceptions to the exceptions" (in line with, and further articulating, the philosophy of the first paragraph) that it is not clear if the exceptional case can ever materialize. It is a reversal of the meaning to read Paragraph 2 as a proposal to name users whenever peculiar individual actions are involved. – zyx Feb 24 '13 at 19:14
• he said "if what you are discussing is a very particular action of a specific user, then it makes little sense to try to keep it at the generic level" ----- he also said several other things about why it is preferable to keep it at the generic level, even in relation to very particular sorts of actions by a single user. You write as though it is automatically legitimate to raise the idiosyncratic user issues as such on the meta without generalizing them, while Magidin's answer advocated using the meta for the general, and moderator flags for the personal, individual, specific material. – zyx Feb 24 '13 at 23:57
• @MJD: the poll on the "naming is a good thing" comment appears to have stabilized. 4 votes up, 5 down, 1 missing downvote by poll author who can't vote = 6/4 ratio of down to up votes. meta.math.stackexchange.com/a/8572/14120 . Poll or no, I think that the idea of "naming names" is controversial in every case where it might be done. – zyx Feb 26 '13 at 17:37

Thank you, @Eric Naslund, and everyone else who spent time with this unpleasant matter.

I want to believe that this was in the community's interest more than in my own. While the public handling of the matter was probably not ideal (and likely the reason why 3 people downvoted the question, more than being opposed to ask the question - at least that is my guess), I believe it helped fact-finding as it drew attention to a matter that had to be dealt with; I gave my original reason why I posted (as opposed to simply flagging) in a comment elsewhere. Both my gf's artwork, and some of my work in grad school have been misappropriated, which makes me even more uncomfortable with the action, and more puzzled by who would do this, and why.

Thank you for looking into this. There is some argument about perfect proof, or whatever you call it. However, as it happens, in my past I spent a lot of time drafting legal documents corresponding to U.S. standards, which served to protect deals in the hundreds of millions - not against such form of theft (although there were court cases), but against any other foreseeable contingency. The appropriate term would be 'beyond a reasonable doubt', as 'could reasonably be inferred.' Beyond the answer formulations that I recognize as my own, even without the context of having written the answer, look at - surprise - labelling the same two lines with (1) and (2) for future reference. How likely is that?

Please do accept my thanks for taking the time to look into something that is certainly not what this site should be about. As I said recently at another occasion, I would not want to be a moderator of a site of this magnitude, and certainly appreciate the effort of anyone involved in maintaining this site, and devoting so much of their own time to administration too.

Edit (02/26): deleted an irrelevant 3rd paragraph

• Well, somehow you have to gain 30k reputation ;) And if you cannot do so, why not copy other peoples' text. Here in germany, there have been over 5 doctortitles of leading politicians removed over the course of the last 5 years. What I am saying, dont get let down by this. In the end, its just an answer, and illegal copying is everywhere. – CBenni Feb 21 '13 at 12:45
• @gnometorule Do not go! I like your answers! Consider imitation as the best form of flattery and move on! (That does not mean the if there is plagiarism it should be let off though, we should be strict against plagiarism.) – user14082 Feb 21 '13 at 18:16
• @gnometorule: Every time I catch a student cheating, I think to myself, "How could anyone do that?" I have similar feelings about this situation. I marvel at the idea that anyone would plagiarize stackexchange answers, but obviously that's what happened.I wouldn't let it bother you, and I definitely wouldn't take it personally. – Cheerful Parsnip Feb 21 '13 at 21:01
• @CBenni: I'm German too! :) Maybe it was an homage of sorts: given the way you handle politics over in Germany, you probably appreciate this. – gnometorule Feb 21 '13 at 21:05
• @CBenni: Regardless to what happened or not happened, I honestly doubt anyone can get to 30k with only copying others. – Asaf Karagila Feb 22 '13 at 2:53
• Well, Gordon Gecko, this is definitely not Wall Street. :-) – Asaf Karagila Feb 22 '13 at 4:17
• You mean people without choice, and infinite sets without countably infinite subsets? :-) – Asaf Karagila Feb 22 '13 at 4:19
• That's what she said? But more to the point, I am a reference machine. Most of the mathematics I know is citations and connecting the dots with minor creativity (although in my Ph.D. I am facing new frontiers where no citations can be given thus far). The most interesting corollary is that I know most movies, TV series, and music that I have watched, seen, investigated, and heard enough (more than three times) almost verbatim. Hooray for being Abed Nadir-like person. – Asaf Karagila Feb 22 '13 at 4:22
• Wait, which pun did she get? The one about Gordon Gecko or the one about the axiom of choice? – Asaf Karagila Feb 22 '13 at 12:38
• I did that? Great. Let's keep thinking it was intentional and not a happy accident. :-) Also, I grew up in an area where there was a lot of small lizards, so I very familiar with chameleons. I wouldn't have mistaken it for a gecko... – Asaf Karagila Feb 22 '13 at 18:27

If it's any consolation (likely not, I know) the same thing happened to me on this question. Admittedly, the other answer was somewhat more complete than mine, but I was extremely upset to notice that an edit to the other answer was made after I posted mine and essentially included a portion of my answer without attribution. Sure, it could have been a coincidence, but I've been grading homework for more decades than I'd care to admit and have gotten pretty good at spotting questionable behavior.

• But you're half a replicant half a blade runner anyway. :-) – Asaf Karagila Feb 22 '13 at 0:27

Here is what I commented on gnometorule's answer:

Looking at the edit records, gnometorule answered the question at 2013-02-20 18:13:32Z and amWhy's edit at 2013-02-20 18:19:07Z shows the same content from "Assume next that it holds for some generic $n$." The edits are more than 5 minutes apart (5:35), so it doesn't appear that gnometorule could have copied from amWhy's edit.

Closer examination of AmWhy's third edit and gnometorule's answer shows that the two are not exactly the same; AmWhy's edit has $k$ as the index variable and gnometorule's has $n$, most of the idiosyncratic spacing is the same, etc. I haven't looked at the chat records to see if someone posted a solution there that might have been copied, but I would be surprised if two people typed these independently, however, it is not impossible.

Looking at the last 50 answers of each, I see that gnometorule formats align blocks exactly the same as in the answer in question. I did not find an example where AmWhy used the align environment, but rather simply stacked equations separated by \\.

• @WillJagy: it is not just that phrase. I meant from that phrase on. – robjohn Feb 20 '13 at 19:43
• math.stackexchange.com/questions/299478/… I'll find more, many many more...like here – amWhy Feb 20 '13 at 20:06
• @amWhy: that does indeed show the align environment. I note that the lines start with &= . – robjohn Feb 20 '13 at 20:18
• I am not taking sides, but the appeal to writing and LaTeX style is ridiculous. I constantly switch from \cal to \mathcal and from \mathbb to \Bbb, and from linebreaks to no linebreaks to whatever in align environments. What does that mean? Do we all have to fixate on one particular style, and it must be discernibly ours?? – Asaf Karagila Feb 21 '13 at 0:25
• @gnometorule: You shouldn't leave or reduce your activity. If someone like me can stick around, surely you can too. – Asaf Karagila Feb 21 '13 at 0:33
• @gnometorule: I have big toes. Physically, and mentally. They can be easily stepped on, but I easily forget when it's not a big of deal for me. Whatever you might have done, I can't remember. :-) – Asaf Karagila Feb 21 '13 at 0:36
• @gnometorule: For me there is only one OSS, and it's a bad replacement for ALSA. :-) – Asaf Karagila Feb 21 '13 at 0:43
• @AsafKaragila: I am not taking sides either. Personally, I don't think that AmWhy would copy another answer. However, I don't see how gnometorule could copy from something posted later. The answers are very similar in idiosyncratic details. The last part certainly looks as if it were written by one person and customized. – robjohn Feb 21 '13 at 0:45
• @gnometorule: I, too, would ask you not to reduce your participation here. Your contributions have been valuable. – robjohn Feb 21 '13 at 0:52
• @gnometorule You can't leave. Not before KDE vs GNOME war is finally decided! Please! – user14082 Feb 22 '13 at 5:21
• @gnometorule: I, personally, was shocked of seeing someone dared to copy one's answer and gave it as his/hers. I never thought of happening it here at M.S.E. Be sure, if I my writing was well, as many did here nicely, I would do for you in a long story. Honestly, I felt this pint before here, but always, I told to myself that is impossible here. Anyway, I hope you be in peace and your decision be changed positively. I am glad, I have just ordinary Maths knowledge and so my answers are not that valuable to be copied somewhere. Stay with your friends here. ;-) – mrs Feb 22 '13 at 11:50
• @BabakS.: It's always harder to write clearly when it's not your first language, and you - probably - don't live in a country where English is the main language...but you keep learning, and improving your way of laying out arguments. In terms of content, you sure deserve more to be copied, than I do. :) - and I mean that. That's not to say that the co-student and good friend from grad school I admired most as truly brilliant had horrific English, but, upon completion of his Ph.D., found himself in a position to turn down an offer from Harvard to teach there. – gnometorule Feb 22 '13 at 18:16
• @robjohn, re: "Personally, I don't think that AmWhy would copy another answer.", is that a joke? How can you possibly explain all of this evidence if AmWhy hasn't been copying answers? In the question that inspired this thread, it is clear that someone copied - the wording was uncannily similar in a way that defies coincidence. But, we know the OP posted his answer first - what is the controversy? – Macro Feb 22 '13 at 19:59
• @gnometorule: Thanks for your kind words. – mrs Feb 22 '13 at 20:14
• @Macro The Mean Square does not have a mean bone in his body. – Math Gems Feb 22 '13 at 21:41