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A certain SE site has a new policy to blindly delete all answers that cite scholars, papers and journals without looking at the merits of the arguments and if the citation addresses the question or not.

Under the circumstances, I suppose, one option available to the site's users is, rephrase the paper's author's arguments and draw similar conclusions and not credit the author or their works.

A similar technique/loophole was recently used by a user of the same site to get around another rule: 'blog posts cannot be used as references'. On one moderator's suggestion, he ended up removing some content, all the blockquotes and links to the blog. A major portion of the answer still relies on the original arguments, the sequence of arguments, the same references used in the blog post and the conclusions. However, since there are no blockquotes and links to any blogs, all the user's references and arguments now look "original". "Problem solved". The moderator also had no issue undeleting the answer.

This site (Kent State University), for example, considers both these methods as plagiarism:

Plagiarism, very briefly, is taking another person's ideas and presenting them as if they are your own. This can happen in many ways, including but not limited to, the following:

  • Lifting phrases/sentences/paragraphs/pages from another published source and failing to put quote marks around the lifted material and properly citing the source of the material.

  • Lifting sentences/paragraphs/pages from another published source, changing a few words by substituting synonyms, and not citing the source of the material.

  • Paraphrasing (putting in your own words) another person's ideas and not making it clear that you are paraphrasing another person's ideas.

  • ...

The SE article, How to reference material written by others, however, suggests that as long as the original scholar's/blogger's arguments are "not closely rephrased/reworded", the SE user should be able to use/paraphrase their work and avoid crediting them.

If you copy (or closely rephrase/reword) content that you did not create into something you post on Meta Stack Exchange (e.g., from another site or elsewhere on Meta Stack Exchange), make sure you do all of the following:

  • Provide a link to the original page or answer
  • Quote only the relevant portion
  • Provide the name of the original author

...

Do not copy the complete text of sources; instead, use their words and ideas to support your own. In particular, answers comprised entirely of a quote (sourced or not) will often be deleted since they do not contain any original content.

Is my understanding of this SE policy correct?

Can an SE user paraphrase all the original author's arguments, arrive at the same conclusion as the author, and choose not to credit them?

If yes, what are some examples of "not closely rephrased/reworded" content where no acknowledgment is required?

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    It's fine if you don't want to mention the name of the SE site, but I'm curious; has the reason for disallowing citing scholars, papers and journals been discussed on the per-site meta? This is mainly just out of curiosity because it seems like an odd rule to me, but it also could be relevant here because depending on the reason, paraphrasing might still be not allowed in this specific case, even if it's allowed in other situations. May 10 at 0:38
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    It’s impossible to plagiarize somebody if you quote and cite that individual. However, when paraphrasing somebody, you walk a very thin line that’s easily crossed into plagiarism. If individuals are being properly quoted and cited, sounds like the moderation, is on the wrong side of the generally accepted practice of quotation abs citing a source
    – Ramhound
    May 10 at 4:17
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    Um.. to clarify, are you saying that they have banned scholarly sources because they contradict their religious beliefs? If so, is there an existing policy on that...? I couldn't find one, though
    – cocomac
    May 10 at 4:18
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    @41686d6564standsw.Palestine It's not complete ban on scholars but only scholars who don't have views in accordance with core ideas of religion (you can call them beliefs; not all beliefs but "core" beliefs). A Physics SE site can't accept sources which say God made Apple fall instead of gravity, similarly on Hinduism SE (which he refers) a person can't quote Rishis/seers were just imagining, which is against core beliefs. Only such sources are restricted. This was already discussed on Hinduism Meta SE and got community consensus. May 10 at 4:57
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    @LittlePickle. Similarly, Religious sites can also can't accept scientific sources or scientific approaches as valid sources because they are not correct framework to verify. For example, how can one verify scientifically (which is empiricism) existence of rebirth or existence of different realms as mentioned in scriptures? Correct procedure to verify them is through "Sadhana" after getting acquainted with Hindu philosophy, which may be new to non Hindus. Even if one can't agree with this framework, they can still accept it as "belief" on Hinduism SE. May 10 at 5:14
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    @LittlePickle. i don't know which post he's referring to. There are some nuances here. in Hindu scriptures, only some translations have copyright while many translations are out of copyright. Unless i see posts, i can't comment on exact issue of copyright. May 10 at 5:18
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    @TheDestroyer Absolutely. Just as in English, no-one should need to cite Shakespeare for copyright reasons. If we don't know the exact situation, then it's tricky to be specific for this case. May 10 at 5:24
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    You're correct, I don't know the first thing about the domain of Hinduism's thought and intuition or how knowledge is even sought and found there - even the notion of copyright may be quite different in this case, but without more specifics.... @TheDestroyer May 10 at 5:26
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    meta.stackexchange.com/questions/309859/… seems somewhat relevant here
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    May 10 at 11:00
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    And yet, nearly all the references seem to be primarily around your dispute with mods on a specific site, even if said site isn't named. Looking at the fuller context of this post, it very much is about one specific site
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    May 10 at 12:37
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    @sv_ The problem is that the general solution of simply citing the research paper seems to be not applicable to this particular site -- this makes your meta question special and not applicable to the rest of the network. May 10 at 12:42
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    @sv_ Sure, the title and question are very generic -- and the obvious answer would be "Why bother with finding out if this is OK if you could simply do the right thing™ and cite the article?", but this won't help you, will it? May 10 at 12:49
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    This question is answered in the FAQ: meta.stackexchange.com/q/160071/282094 - If there needs to be a clarification made there then the answer can be edited.
    – Rob
    May 10 at 16:19
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    This question is about one specific site, it even begins with "A certain SE site..." - so I think closure is the right decision. You might be asking about policy, but with clear intention to complain about one single site. So you should complain on that site meta. May 11 at 7:11
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    I don't look in any example, I just read between the lines of the question. Your only goal is to change the policy of single site, not official policy set by Stack Exchange but rather something the site community set up. This is totally fine to challenge it and ask to change it, just not here. May 11 at 11:17

2 Answers 2

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Plagiarism is plagiarism. If you present someone else's work without identifying it as a quote and without attribution, that’s plagiarism, and it must be deleted.

That the motivation for plagiarising is a site ban on certain sources, is no excuse.

So the answer to Is paraphrasing someone else's ideas and not crediting them considered plagiarism? is yes.

A site that bans certain sources has only made their curation harder, and not solved the "problem" of not wanting to hear certain arguments.

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    Re On one moderator's suggestion, he ended up removing some content, all the blockquotes and links to the blog if a mod is encouraging plagiarism (to be clear, it's entirely clear if that's what you are suggesting) then that needs to be called out. Raise a custom flag, make it clear what your concerns are and identify the mod. Other mods from the site will handle the flag. There is also the "contact us" to raise it with staff May 10 at 6:37
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    I would even go further in that statement. Contributions based on plagiarized content, should be downvoted and flagged, and in the end deleted if not properly cited with a source. If a contributions is citing a source, that is considered to be invalid for whatever reason, then the answer is ultimately NOT helpful. If edits are being performed on those contributions, that result in plagiarism, then those edits should be reversed and the answer then "judged" based on how helpful it is to the community.
    – Ramhound
    May 10 at 18:45
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I think the difference between Kent State University's guidelines & https://meta.stackexchange.com/help/referencing is mainly due to the fact that the latter is trying to set a minimum, enforceable, standard appropriate for a collection of Q&A websites moderated by volunteers. Even so, it's still not advocating your answer consist of someone else's material loosely paraphrased without attribution—"Use their words and ideas to support your own" already evinces a presumption that you have some ideas of your own to share.

There are undoubtedly gray areas around how much you lean on a particular source, what's common knowledge & what needs referencing: but the cases you describe—one a précis & one a mechanical re-casting of the original text, neither with attribution—seem fair neither to the original authors nor to readers. If site policies prohibit the use of certain sources, then just don't use them.


† There's also the consideration that the former are intended to prepare students for publishing in academic journals, in which the lack of a citation of previous work is more liable to be construed as a claim to originality.

‡ I don't know the background here, but—in general—it could be worth making a distinction between authoritative sources that support assertions made in answers, perhaps even requiring these, & the rest.

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