I've noticed that AtillaNYC has been copying questions from other cooking sites verbatim. Is this acceptable and/or encouraged?

Edit by Dinah:

My original question is above except that I did not include any names. Below is an edit by hobodave as is the user link above. I'm not removing his edits since they are relevant. However, my intention was to discuss a practice and not a person.

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3 (sort of):

These were all on the front page of ochef.com:

alt text alt text

Regarding my edit (hobodave)

I think this discussion will be much simpler if we're including concrete examples depicting what Dinah describes.

The inclusion of these examples, as well as the images, do not in any way indicate my approval or disapproval of Atilla's actions.

When my opinion is given it will be in the form of an answer and/or voting on other answers.

  • I included Example 3 as an example of a question inspired by another site, as opposed to copied. – hobodave Sep 11 '10 at 5:28
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    Kudos to you if you were the one who originally caught this, by the way; this is exactly the kind of community self-policing we need to see in the long haul. – Aaronut Sep 11 '10 at 15:33
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    Regarding your last edit, Dinah. I think context is important. I would say that the behavior is okay if the user is a useful contributing member to the site, but it becomes borderline when it's the only thing they add. That said, I don't particularly like this specific user, but new questions are what drive this site prior to critical mass. So I'm a little conflicted. – yossarian Sep 12 '10 at 2:56
  • Sorry for not making it clearer which edits were mine Dinah. – hobodave Sep 12 '10 at 17:12

This should be an interesting discussion. We have someone who is a very active contributor (AtillaNYC is actually responsible for 7.5% of our questions). However, many of the questions asked are clearly direct cut & pastes from another source on the web.

I actually have two opinions on this that I'm going to separate into two sections. I have a "technical" opinion and a personal opinion. I want to make clear what I'm suggesting the site policy should be vs what I think as a non-moderator. First, I'll address the technical opinion .

I see this as being closely related to the easy to Google topic. Overall I think it's great to have questions asked even if they are inspired by another source. Example 3 given in the question above is a great example of this. If you see a question asked elsewhere, a forum for example, please do feel free to ask it here! This is a great way to find out if the answer from the other source is really accurate, and find out even more potential answers, as well as see how the community votes on them.

That said, I don't think it's appropriate to cut & paste questions from another source. This just isn't ethical, and feels morally wrong to boot. It also raises the concern of potential copyright infringement. Is it? I'm not a lawyer, so I can't answer that.

So I say "gleaning" a question from another source is fine. However the questioner should make it their own. They should put some effort into improving the question before asking it here. We should draw the line at blatant/near cut & paste though.

Personally, I'm rather disappointed in Atilla. I've questioned the quality of some of his questions before due primarily to their brevity and simplicity. However, I just chalked it up to idiosyncrasy and appreciated the contributions nonetheless. I was actually kind of fascinated that one guy could have so many questions, and I was quite impressed by the wide variety of dishes he was "cooking".

Now, I feel cheated. "I'm baking a flourless chocolate cake", "I was wondering ...", "I..." seem to have all been lies. What seemed like an eccentric user now seems like a mindless automaton. This feels closer to stealing than "gleaning". I spot checked random questions in his history and many are direct cut & pastes from ochef.com. This makes me feel like taking my votes back, but I'm not going to edit questions just to do that (please no one else do that either).

Going forward if I find a question that is a direct/near cut & paste from another source I'm going to speak with my votes. Simple questions are great. Asking a question you saw from another source is great. Copying questions outright, and in such quantity is just lame.

For those interested, meta.math.SE has a similar topic going on regarding a user who posts a large volume of questions taken verbatim from textbooks. There are some really good answers there that may be worth a read.


One paragraph by Tom Stephens really appealed to me (paraphrased in brackets):

With respect to building a community, the more nuanced, genuine issues ... will cultivate mutual respect and provide an interesting place to visit for [cooks] of all levels. A site catering to questions stated as textbook problems will create a repository of homework problems populated by askers only, and I think there are enough sites like this out there already.

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    Well said. One thing you didn't mention, and one of the things that bothers me greatly is that somebody has been able to accumulate nearly 2500 rep from what appears to be largely copy and pasting. As a rule of thumb, if you understand enough about the "source" question to correctly paraphrase it so it's not totally obvious where it came from, then you probably have the right to be asking it; if you don't even really understand what it means, you don't deserve the rep. – Aaronut Sep 11 '10 at 15:31
  • @Aaronut, +1 it bothers me greatly too. – Sam Holder Sep 11 '10 at 18:07
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    @Aaronut, it has bothered me a bit that he gained all his rep just from asking questions and never answering. I know that good questions are integral to the site, but it seemed like a help vampire, and I find it rather irritating. Interestingly, his bio claims he actually works for StackOverflow. – yossarian Sep 11 '10 at 19:11
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    I agree with @hobodave's answer and everyone's comments so far. I had wondered about Atilla's questions as well, but it hadn't occurred to me that they might just be copied. I find it repugnant. – Michael Natkin Sep 11 '10 at 19:57
  • @yossarian: That concern is one of the oldest ones around; it's the reason why several months ago, they changed the weight of question votes from 10 reputation to 5 reputation. Still, we have to encourage people to ask good questions, and the number of questions you can ask is already limited (maybe not limited enough...) – Aaronut Sep 11 '10 at 23:10
  • @yossarian, @hobodave, @aaronut, @Sam Holder et al So should we stop answering his questions? Should we start closing any question that we can clearly see is copied? – Michael Natkin Sep 12 '10 at 2:39
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    @Michael: What would we close them as? I don't think we have any reasons that make sense. If they're truly plagiarized, word-for-word, then they probably need to be deleted outright, in which case you should flag them for moderator attention. Otherwise do the same thing you'd do for a plagiarized answer - downvote it. – Aaronut Sep 12 '10 at 16:51
  • @Michael: We will be addressing the plagiarized content. If you feel like helping search, please flag for mod attention and include the original source. Thanks! – hobodave Sep 12 '10 at 22:28
  • @yossarian: We will be addressing the plagiarized content. If you feel like helping search, please flag for mod attention and include the original source. Thanks! – hobodave Sep 12 '10 at 22:33

I thought it at least worth mentioning that if you're posting your own questions on multiple forums, that's just fine. That could be the case here (though it's unlikely).

Also, I think that if you find a great question on a not-so-great site, it would be okay to leave some sort of mssg for the OP on said site, alerting them that you have asked their question here. That way the OP could find great answers on our great site. :)
... Of course, you could just leave them a mssg to let them know they could ask their question here.

In this case, the volume of questions is impressive; they have sparked much discussion for our community. However, 45 of his questions (40% of his total number of questions) have a vote of 2 or less; 13 (11.5% of his questions) have zero votes, and 6 questions have been closed.

For perspective, I have asked a lot of questions, compared to most users. 13% of my Qs have a vote of 2 or less, the only one w/ zero votes was asked 25 minutes ago, and none have been closed.

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    I stopped voting for his questions on principal a while ago. – yossarian Sep 11 '10 at 23:58
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    The questions are way too random for that to be the case; it seems almost obvious that they're just being copied off the recent questions or top ten. And simply telling somebody you're about to plagiarize them doesn't override their copyright; he'd have to get permission from the site owners, who likely own the copyright on any user-contributed content. – Aaronut Sep 12 '10 at 16:57
  • @Aaronut - You're right about the copyright... I hadn't thought about that. I was just thinking, "What if someone's being well-intentioned, asking the OP's question on a diff't site for them?" But copy law doesn't care so much about intentions, does it? – JustRightMenus Sep 12 '10 at 19:09
  • Sadly, no it doesn't. The only way to legally duplicate copyrighted content is to get permission from the copyright owner first. Notification/attribution only help if they're part of the license. – Aaronut Sep 12 '10 at 21:55

I think that there is real diplomacy in @Justright 's answer, and thoughtfulness in @hobo 's; and I agree with the logic and reasoning behind both. However if you take questions from one site, and paste them, UNATTRIBUTED, onto another site it is plagiarism. It does not matter whether it is paraphrased, cut and paste, verbatim, or gleaned the intent is to pass off for one's own work what is actually another's work.

Essentially, if it is your intent to seek an answer, and you are asking genuine questions and attributing them it is fair use of a seeded question. On the other hand, if you are plagiarizing questions, for the sake of seeding a community or simply your reputation, it is wrong. It abuses the community, the respondents, and diminishes the reputation of Stack Exchange overall for people to be out there doing that driving ill-gotten gains, material or otherwise. The community should be against such practices and the shrewd policing already praised I would like to praise again.

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