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I recently read a paper, which posed some interesting questions in a section named further research.

They concluded the section by writing, "we leave all these questions for our future research".

I am really interested in one of the questions, is it considered inappropriate to write a paper handling one of those questions? The pronoun "our" indicates that the author wish to dig in to this question himself. However the paper was published in 2012, and by browsing the authors personal webpage I get no sign of a paper like that in progress.

In case I wish to write a paper on that particular topic, should I notify the author who posed the question? (Say, by asking, is question X still open?)

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What field of study is this? –  Oswald Veblen Jun 17 at 11:45
    
Depending on your area you have to estimate the likelihood of them working on that. It's possible that they don't have funding/projects/students that could work on it, and it's possible that they would gladly collaborate with you if you filled that gap. So the things to consider are: 1) the risk of them working on it, 2) the interest in collaborating with them. If both are low, I'd not write to them, if you think one of those is high enough, then you should write them for that reason. –  Trylks Jun 17 at 12:32
    
Related (not dupe) : academia.stackexchange.com/q/23240/8394 –  Simon W Jun 19 at 6:06

4 Answers 4

Just because an author puts forth a question doesn't mean that she or he owns that area of science. You are free to pursue any question that was posed in or inspired by an article. Even if the authors are actively pursuing the question, your research on the question will likely take a different form. It is unlikely that you will have exactly the same methodology, so the results will be different. And, even if the studies are exactly the same, the contribution you are making is important -- i.e., replication is essential to the advancement of science.

So, if you are inspired to pursue a given research question, full speed ahead!

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The value of replication is rather field-dependent. In mathematics, for example, there's often not a whole lot of value in doing the same thing two different ways, unless the second method is a major improvement on the first or develops techniques that are independently useful. –  David Richerby Jun 17 at 18:55

The reason I put questions into my papers is to try to get other people to work on them.

Once someone publishes a question, or even mentions it in a talk, it's fair game for other people to work on it. This has a flip side for authors: it's bad practice to publish questions that you could already address with the methods of the paper, with a modest amount of additional work.

It's not a bad idea, if you are going to work on a question that was published a long time in the past, to ask the authors if it is still open. But, unless you are trying to collaborate with them, you should write the request in a fairly generic way. Don't tell them your ideas, or ask them if they have ideas, since that is how you would start a collaboration. Just ask whether they know of any progress since the paper was published.

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Getting in touch with those authors might help you get to your answers quicker. They might have worked their questions without publishing. Estimated reason could be long term research is required to answer them. However, I am not aware of any rules that prevents you from addressing those questions (of your current interest) as long as the paper is published.

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This is really not a copyright issue at all; you can't copyright an idea –  ff524 Jun 17 at 12:24

Go for it! As Brian P pointed out, nobody owns a question in science, and, as you observe, not everyone pursues the future research proposed in their papers. I usually include future research ideas in my papers, and I advise my students to also, but I can't think of a time the research has actually gotten done. I see it as a way of putting one's name on an idea without actually implementing it. (FWIW, my area is computer science.)

As to whether to contact the authors, that's optional. If it's a narrow problem with a straightforward solution, you might want to contact them to make sure you're not duplicating work that they've already started and are likely to complete before you can. You can also use it as a networking opportunity. Assuming you're not in a highly competitive field, I see no harm in writing that you were inspired by their paper to do the work they proposed and (optionally) would like to know if they are interested in collaborating. If you're a student or post-doc, collaborating with someone at another institution might help your career even more than being a sole author.

Your only responsibility is to cite the authors' paper(s) if you make use of their idea. Citations are the authors' reward. Send them a copy of your paper and a nice note (email). It will make them feel good, increases the chances of their citing your paper, and is good networking.

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