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Recently an answer of mine was deleted by mods for "not meeting the required site standards". The answer didn't contain offensive material or support prejudiced concepts that might have negatively affected users, but despite that it was deleted without a previous comment or a warning to give me the possibility to fix it according to "the site standards"

The point I want to make is not on the merit but on the methodology. I know that mods can do whatever they think is appropriate with the answers and questions on this site, but I don't understand why I was not given a chance to elaborate my original answer.

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    Interesting.. Well, I always copy-paste from online dictionaries, and none of my answers so far were deleted by mods for that. – NVZ Nov 28 '16 at 16:33
  • Are you sure it was the mods? I think I saw a post of yours in the VLQ queue. Although I do not have the reputation to see it now, so I am not sure. If I recall correctly I didn't vote to delete but it's my perception that almost everything that lands in that queue is deleted. – Helmar Nov 28 '16 at 17:42
  • @Helmar: Yes, the mod left the following comment at the same time as deleting: "Your answer is essentially a direct quotation of your source, nearly verbatim but with small changes – not a paraphrase. Quote-only answers are not accepted because the Stack Exchange network is reputation-based. A quote-only answer earns reputation for the wrong person." – herisson Nov 28 '16 at 17:47
  • So basically you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. – Hot Licks Dec 6 '16 at 3:49
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I also found the immediate deletion of this post odd when I first learned of it. However, you can still edit the post and flag for mod attention asking for it to be undeleted once it has been improved. So it seems to me that you do still have a chance to elaborate on your answer.

I did find a post where Kit Z. Fox said

it would be unusual to delete a post without giving the author a chance to comply with the change in policy.

So it doesn't seem to be the usual course of action. However, this does not say that this would never happen, or should never happen.

I agree that the moderator's comment doesn't suggest editing the answer, and I don't know if this was the moderator's intention. I just see this as a potential course of action. The site mechanics allow you to edit deleted posts, and if you do so to fix the issues identified by the moderator, I don't see any reason why the post should remain deleted.

Why might a moderator have viewed this as plagiarism?

Definitions of plagiarism: it may include more than just omitting citations

Plagiarism is complicated to define. The most obvious case is copy-pasting without a citation. However, many definitions encompass using others' words, even with a citation, when it is not made clear that the wording as well as the idea comes from the source. In other words, copy-pasting specific sequences of words, even with a citation, may be considered plagiarism if there are no quotation marks to indicate that the wording comes from the cited source.

Here are some examples of this definition of plagiarism:

Forms of plagiarism

Verbatim (word for word) quotation without clear acknowledgement Quotations must always be identified as such by the use of either quotation marks or indentation, and with full referencing of the sources cited. It must always be apparent to the reader which parts are your own independent work and where you have drawn on someone else’s ideas and language. [bold italics added]

Inadequate paraphrase

When you paraphrase, your task is to distill the source's ideas in your own words. It's not enough to change a few words here and there and leave the rest; instead, you must completely restate the ideas in the passage in your own words. If your own language is too close to the original, then you are plagiarizing, even if you do provide a citation. [bold italics added]

This is also mentioned in the Wikipedia article "Plagiarism" that is linked to from the answer to the Meta SE question Users are calling me a plagiarist. What do I do? that MetaEd mentioned. Wikipedia says:

According to "The Reality and Solution of College Plagiarism" created by the Health Informatics department of the University of Illinois at Chicago there are 10 main forms of plagiarism that students commit: [...]

  1. Providing proper citations, but fails to change the structure and wording of the borrowed ideas enough.

You (I'm talking to the reader in general, not to Josh in particular) may define plagiarism differently. My point here is not to say "this is plagiarism", or to "charge" Josh with plagiarism. What I think these citations show is that it is not unreasonable for a moderator to consider this kind of thing plagiarism. If you think we shouldn't define this kind of thing as plagiarism on this site, you should ask a new Meta question to try to establish a site policy about this.

The answer in question

The Help Center page "How to reference material written by others" says

Plagiarism - posting the work of others with no indication that it is not your own - is frowned on by our community, and may result in your answer being down-voted or deleted.

It also says that when quoting external sources, "use their words and ideas to support your own".

Josh's answer uses few words of his own. The answer is nearly all quotation blocks, except for a summary paragraph at the start.

Although the summary paragraph does not use quotation marks, its wording is actually very similar to that of the cited source. In particular, there is one sequence of fourteen words that is identical in the source and the answer. Here I have bolded and italicized the most noticeable identical parts:

The two terms "Baptism" and "Christening" are often used interchangeably as their connotations mean basically the same thing. However there are significant literal and historical differences among which the more important is probably the fact that Baptism is a sacrament while Christening refers to the ceremony of baptizing a child:

The source for comparison:

Most people use the words "Baptism" and "Christening" interchangeably. This is OK in the sense that the connotations mean basically the same thing. However there are significant literal and historical differences often forgotten, overlooked, or misconstrued.

History

Baptism: Baptism is a Greek word. Prior to Christianity, baptism was the ritual use of water for purification. Christian baptism is defined as a sacrament marked by the ritual use of water and admitting the recipient into the Christian community. This is the traditional term used and is an official sacrament of the Catholic Church. Baptism practices vary between churches, however it almost always involves the Trinitarian invocation ("I baptize you in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit"). In some cases recipients are fully submerged in water, and in other cases it may be poured or sprinkled over the head. The earliest non-biblical forms of baptism were referred to in the Didache around 100 AD. This reference speaks to the baptism of adults rather than children. Around the same time we have references from others about infant baptism being customary. From the 3rd century, onward, groups of Christians baptized infants as standard practice (although some families preferred to wait until the child was older).

Christening: Introduced in the 14th century, Christening is the ceremony of baptizing and naming a child. It comes from English culture and isn’t properly defined in the modern day. Many dictionaries will refer to "baptism".

  • So you are saying that it was appropriate to delete it the way it was. I am not making a question on merit here. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 14:14
  • I agree with sumelic. @JOSH Your question is very difficult to answer because it rarely happened. I was also surprised (enough to ask the Meta question you asked me to delete), but I think it is a very delicate matter. – user140086 Nov 28 '16 at 14:20
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    @JOSH: I think it is appropriate because there are still various options for you to elaborate and improve your answer if you want to do that. You can edit your original answer. You could even post a new version of the answer with the original issues fixed. You can bring it up on Meta, as you have here. – herisson Nov 28 '16 at 14:22
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    @Rathony - you asked to undelete the answer, that is not what I am asking here. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 14:22
  • @sumelic - ok, so that's the normal course of action in cases like this. I appreciate your view. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 14:25
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    @sumelic - I think there is a big difference bewteen asking to elaborate on an answer and deleting it, but it is probably just a personal impression. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 14:38
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    @JOSH: The way I see it, deleting an answer only says that the person who deleted it thinks it does not belong on the site as-is. If the answer were improved, it might be undeleted. In that sense, deletion can be seen as something that asks for elaboration of an answer. – herisson Nov 28 '16 at 14:44
  • @sumelic - you may be right, but there is nothing in the deletion message that sounds like an suggestion to improve the deleted answer. But that is probably due to my poor understanding. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 15:00
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    I think it is appropriate because there are still various options for you to elaborate and improve your answer if you want to do that. What is especially "wrong" or "weak" about Josh's answer that called for its deletion? You say it can be improved, well that is almost true for any answer posted on EL&U, don't you think? Why was Josh's answer selected from the hundreds of answers submitted weekly that are, objectively speaking, of a much lower quality. – Mari-Lou A Nov 28 '16 at 15:49
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    @Rathony Not a good enough reason to delete the post. Downvote it if you must, but not deletion. – Mari-Lou A Nov 28 '16 at 15:59
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    Hmm... Josh's reworded introduction is actually an improvement, it's not copied verbatim but it's certainly inspired from that source; however, if the reference is correctly attributed, and it is linked, the user cannot be accused of plagiarism. The answer is properly formatted, properly cited, properly attributed, it ticks all the boxes. – Mari-Lou A Nov 28 '16 at 17:55
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    @sumelic Let's please be careful with charges of plagiarism, which means taking unwarranted credit for authorship. A proper citation is an absolute defense against plagiarism. This site may have its own rules about unwarranted credit for rep points, and US copyright law has its own rules about unwarranted use, but plagiarism requires the misleading of readers as to who wrote what they're reading. – deadrat Nov 28 '16 at 18:55
  • @sumelic - excuse me, but where do you see the "inadequate paraphrasing"? What words or turn of phrase can one possibly use to say the two expresssions are used 'interchangeably" and that there are "literal and historical" differences? Is it a question of a scarse use of synonyms? – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 19:45
  • @sumelic With no objection, I amend my use of the word charges and substitute the word mention. And I had the opposite impression: I assumed that the whole thing had been copied and pasted. Harvard is walking a very fine line here: an inadequate but credited paraphrase will allow the reader to conclude that the paraphrased words are the author's own, when they're actually directly quoted. They may be on the side of the angels because they're granting degrees. I'd be hesitant to assume an equivalency with ELU. – deadrat Nov 28 '16 at 19:45
  • @JOSH: The biggest issue I think is the sequence of 14 words that is the same in the source and your answer. Beyond that, yes, I think you might have avoided deletion if you had used more synonyms rather than using the same words as the source. – herisson Nov 28 '16 at 20:33
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A user flagged the content for problems with the Stack Exchange network’s policy on attribution. The flag was useful, and the content was deleted. I encourage you to edit the answer, correct these two problems, and then flag it for re-review and undeletion:

  1. The entire post consists of the work of others.

  2. Some direct quotations are not marked as quotations.

References

Two good sources of information about the attribution policy:

Users are calling me a plagiarist. What do I do?” in the main Stack Exchange series of frequently answered questions. Relevant excerpts:

It is possible that moderators delete some of your content if plagiarism has been discovered.

“You still have to write an actual answer, in your own words. A post that consists only of copied text, even when attributed, is not your work either.”

How to reference material written by others” in this site’s help center. Relevant excerpt:

Posting the work of others with no indication that it is not your own may result in your answer being down-voted or deleted.

Why this content?

NVZ made a good point in a comment on your question:

I always copy-paste from online dictionaries, and none of my answers so far were deleted by mods for that.

Yes, there are many other posts with attribution problems. It takes awhile for users to learn how Stack Exchange differs from other help networks. I would bet money that my own post history includes content that has attribution problems.

Moderators get involved when there are flags. Another Stack Exchange FAQ, “What to do when plagiarism is discovered”, points out that moderators are not expected to go hunting for problems. They don’t have time, for one thing.

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    Not my downvote, though. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 19:54
  • Let me understand this, from the links you have posted, are you accusing Josh of plagiarism? He has correctly formated his post, cited and attributed the source. On what grounds exactly? The DV is mine. – Mari-Lou A Nov 28 '16 at 20:06
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    @Mari-LouA Problem #2 arises from direct quotations not marked as quotations, especially in the first paragraph of the answer. – MetaEd Nov 28 '16 at 20:30
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    @sumelic I still think it's terribly unfair to delete an answer based on a couple of expressions. Besides, exactly how does one avoid using the words Christening, Baptism and a child? What's missing here is a sense of balance, a little common sense, and I don't know what else, words fail me. All I know is that if you brought this case in front of a judge, he'd probably laugh at your face, and tell you has better things to worry about. – Mari-Lou A Nov 28 '16 at 20:43
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    @Mari-LouA: Maybe it should not have been deleted, but I think MetaEd was just doing his best to follow the Help Center policy which says that "Plagiarism [...] may result in your answer being down-voted or deleted" and which links to the Wikipedia article that defines plagiarism to include using too much of the same phrasing, structure and wording as the source. – herisson Nov 28 '16 at 20:55
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    @Mari-LouA: If you think it should not have been deleted, rather than blaming MetaEd, I think the right thing to do is to ask a question on Meta to try to establish a clear policy for mods to follow in the future for cases like this. It may not be possible though if the plagiarism policy is defined on a network-wide basis rather than site-by-site. – herisson Nov 28 '16 at 20:56
  • @Rathony - Yes, I know who flagged. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 20:59
  • @Rathony - thanks for doing that. I do hope they will investigate. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 21:00
  • @MetaEd - going back to my question, why not contact me and try to solve the issue on a "friendly" basis? Why an outright deletion without any previous contact ? – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 21:05
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    @sumelic - so the "flagger" asked for deletion and mods executed? No please. But, whatever the case, why not contact me first? – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 21:13
  • @sumelic - why are you answering a question I asked a mod? – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 21:17
  • @JOSH You originally asked why the post got deleted without comment and without a chance to fix it. My answer above in a nutshell is it was not. A constructive comment was left, and you do have the option to fix it. If your real question was why not just comment without deleting the post, the answer is to prevent reputation (positive or negative) from accruing against the post until you had a chance to consider what to do next. – MetaEd Nov 28 '16 at 23:07
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    @JOSH However, you could edit your post to address that, in which case it might be undeleted; or you could write an answer which addressed it. Sumelic has already suggested that. As for your previous comment, moderators do not simply act on requests -- even if the flag requests something, which in this case it didn't. We do make judgement calls, but every flag is individually judged. – Andrew Leach Nov 29 '16 at 0:28
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    @medica Taken out of context, the quote could be seen as inflammatory, but in its entirety much less so IMO. @sumelic I still think it's terribly unfair to delete an answer based on a couple of expressions. Besides, exactly how does one avoid using the words Christening, Baptism and a child? What's missing here is a sense of balance, a little common sense, and I don't know what else, words fail me. All I know is that if you brought this case in front of a judge, he'd probably laugh at your face, and tell you has better things to worry about. The "you" stands for anyone. – Mari-Lou A Nov 29 '16 at 6:21
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    @WillHunting thank you. Let's hope I'm still here in a week's time ;) – Mari-Lou A Nov 30 '16 at 9:25
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...it was deleted without a previous comment or a warning to give me the possibility to fix it according to "the site standards"...

You've been here for a long time now. How is it that you actually believe a mod needs to notify you before deleting an answer, or to give you a warning or a chance to edit?

Newbies need to have 'intro to ELU' type comments. If your rep was under 300, I think the following would be appropriate:

Hi, Josh, and welcome to the site. This answer is perilously close to the site's definition for plagiarism. Please read the guidelines and edit your answer accordingly, or this answer risks being deleted. Thanks!

You have been here longer than is necessary to really learn the ropes. Or, maybe not. In which case, there is a help center addressing how to answer in great detail.

As others have stated, please feel free to edit and flag for reopening.

  • "I thought we were all supposed to be nice. Treat others as we want to be treated, etc. – medica 2 hours ago" Yes, that is also the point. – user66974 Nov 29 '16 at 6:32
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    @JOSH But I'd go farther than @medica. You've been here for a long time now. How is it that you actually believe anyone here, including mods, feels the slightest obligation to treat you with anything but derisive contempt? Although contemptuous derision is also considered acceptable. – deadrat Nov 29 '16 at 9:14
  • I'm one of the downvoters. If it isn't obvious, explanation upon request. – deadrat Nov 29 '16 at 9:22
  • @deadrat - I don't know about users and mods, but that is certainly your feeling about me. Thanks for being frank, though. – user66974 Nov 29 '16 at 9:23
  • @JOSH Folks here (including mods) love to give links that they claim supports their point of view on policy. Always follow the links and check for yourself. Here's what the one above says: In the context of Stack Exchange sites, any copying and pasting of any amount of text or code that wasn't written by you is plagiarism if you fail to acknowledge the original author, and to link to the original source. (Emphasis in the original) Unperilously remote, I'd say. – deadrat Nov 29 '16 at 9:23
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    @JOSH Oh, dear. If I've given you the impression that I'm contemptuous of you, please allow me to correct that. I'm slightly surprised that after 2 years and 9 months, you think the culture here is supposed to be nice, but that's all. The low stakes here generally lead me to advise against taking cyber-umbrage, but plagiarism is a high crime, so I deplore its mention in this particular discussion. – deadrat Nov 29 '16 at 9:32
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    @deadrat imperiously remote :) Josh, Mx deadrat is an astute observer of hypocrisy, if they don't mind me saying that. – Mari-Lou A Nov 29 '16 at 9:55
  • @Mari-LouA I know you're walking on eggshells, but who would mind you saying that? The same people who asked you to delete an answer people around here need to read? – deadrat Nov 29 '16 at 10:04
  • @Mari-LouA So what do think would happen if I copied the answer and published it in an answer unattributed? You think anyone would accuse me of plagiarism? Request (read: demand) that I delete it? – deadrat Nov 29 '16 at 10:13
  • REVISED @deadrat it was Josh who asked me to delete it. Perhaps it was too close to home. Let's respect his wishes. – Mari-Lou A Nov 29 '16 at 13:07
  • @JOSH - I don't understand the comment. Do you think the mods aren't nice> I'm not nice> what? – anongoodnurse Nov 29 '16 at 13:52
  • @Mari-LouA Well, haven't I jumped to an erroneous conclusion! At least I'm in good company. In case it needs saying, I'll respect JOSH's wishes and yours. – deadrat Nov 29 '16 at 16:30

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