I've read a lot of great answers from very generous people contributing on SE:Chem. However, sometimes I've come across an occasional answer where large swaths if not the entire response was a straight 'copy/paste' answer without any indication that the information was borrowed. While I am not against borrowing information (we don't have to re-invent the wheel), we should be appropriately citing our sources.

My question is, to what extent can we borrow information before it becomes a poor answer?

Many times I've seen a user post a comment with a link, pointing the OP toward the information that they need. I don't think it would be appropriate to simply copy and paste that information as a response without sourcing it and adding your own personal interpretation, prose, etc. to the answer. Of course, blockquotes are great for setting off this type of borrowed information.

And if I may, I'd like to add one other question. Should we have a system in place that flags for blatant plagiarism?

In the professional world, plagiarism is criminal and a very serious issue. While it would be somewhat ridiculous to subject a Chem:SE user to criminal repercussions for plagiarism, I think that we should have a system in place that discourages this by being able to flag/report such incidents. Clearly, if one finds the original source, a comment should be made to the post with a link. But what happens if plagiarism becomes a problem with a particular user or as a community in general? What if the original source isn't immediately found or isn't found at all?

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    $\begingroup$ Everything that is copied verbatim should be blockquoted and linked to, at an absolute minimum. Please flag anything in violation of this and it will be dealt with. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Nov 10, 2014 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ (using the "Other:" reason -- please be somewhat specific on how the post breaks these rules) $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Nov 10, 2014 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


(Transferred from the comments)

Everything that is copied verbatim should be blockquoted and linked to, at an absolute minimum. Please flag anything in violation of this using the "Other:" reason and it will be dealt with. Please be somewhat specific on how the post breaks these rules.

To take it a step further: In principle, any ideas coming from another source should really have citations as well, but this is more of an ideal.

Keeping up the site's integrity is the most important reason for doing this, as we are aiming to be an extensive repository of chemistry knowledge that people will refer to now and in the future.


Having unique content from experts that seeks to gather different resources together and synthesize new material from those (properly cited!) sources helps from a practical perspective as well:

Google Panda is a change to Google's search results ranking algorithm that was first >released in February 2011. The change aimed to lower the rank of "low-quality sites" or >"thin sites", and return higher-quality sites near the top of the search results.

From Wikipedia

We are in no danger of ever being "low-quality", but if taken to an extreme, copy/pasting large chunks of sites like Wikipedia "thins" out the content that the site provides. It's okay (and welcomed) to use the information there to back up your answers, but supporting the quotes with your own substantive prose is almost always better.

I think most people abide by this anyway, but it bears mentioning it explicitly from time to time.

  • $\begingroup$ There's a lot written on this on Meta Stack Exchange already. Some proposals like Automate on-site plagiarism detection are worth a read. I don't know how practical anything like that would be. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Nov 18, 2014 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ How about images taken from Google Images, should they be referenced? If so, how? Should the Google Image link be supplied or the originating web page link? $\endgroup$
    – ron
    Nov 18, 2014 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @ron This MSE post is the closest thing I've found to a consensus. My personal choice is putting a link to the source (and the author, if it's something like a Wikimedia picture -- they have a built in feature that is relatively new to get the author's link). The Google image links are unwieldy at best, so if folks are going to use them, they should definitely be linkified in the markdown. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Nov 18, 2014 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ Images with a Creative Commons license should definitely have a link to the original one, per the stipulation of their regulations. Other than that, these waters are a little more murky than those for printed text, so as long as we do the best we can, there shouldn't be a problem. For images with copyrights, there's always the possibility that the original artist can issue a DMCA (PDF) request to take the image down, but that's rare on SE, as far as I know. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Nov 18, 2014 at 23:02

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