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I came across a paper published in the Journal of Mathematical Physics in the year 2016. In the paper, the authors claimed to have developed a methodology which extends the dimension of an existing method. But this extension has already been discussed in a paper published in 2014. This seems to be a kind of cheating which the reviewers of journal failed to identify. The bibliography also appears to the suspicious as a large number of papers of a particular author has been cited without any motivation. I want to report this unscrupulous work, how can I report to the journal?

PS. This is not a case of plagiarism but a kind of unscrupulous research.

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  • Send them an email?
    – Louic
    Sep 19, 2018 at 8:39

2 Answers 2

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For the case of the "forgotten" reference to previous similar work, I'd say you should assume good faith: maybe they just missed it. If it's not plagiarized then it's not really fraudulent. Re-discoveries happen all the time and it's not generally expected that all papers cite all the relevant literature. It can however be frustrating to the authors of the original paper.

If your intention is to notify the community that a very similar work exists, which can be very useful, then you could write a letter to the editor. These are often published if the journal find they are of value. Word it without hinting that you suspect the omission was made on purpose as this will not achieve anything.

For the large number of citations to seemingly unrelated papers from a given author, again it might just be a coincidence. But you cannot exclude a "citation ring" scheme. What you can do is communicate your concerns privately to the journal. If you gather enough evidence of an organized fraud you can also make it public through post publication review-websites (pubpeer.com, etc.). Do not hold your breath though, it's very possible that it will have no consequences whatsoever.

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    To add to it: apply Hanlon's razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity".
    – user68958
    Sep 19, 2018 at 16:02
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    A letter to the editor? In mathematical physics? Nobody will read it. People do not read journals, they read arXiv. Sep 20, 2018 at 8:09
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    @SylvainRibault if you don’t read journals then there is no issue to start with. This answer is meant for the broader audience.
    – Cape Code
    Sep 20, 2018 at 8:19
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    @CapeCode The same issue can arise with arXiv. And in mathematical physics, you just cannot presume that people follow the journal, which makes the problem more difficult than in other disciplines. Sep 20, 2018 at 21:00
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Do not just think of the referees who should have spotted this, but of the handling editor. Either that person was not paying much attention either, or, worse, in cahoots with the author(s). (It is not sour grapes on my part to point this out. It is a fact of life that people form friendships, and that these friendships result in favours being done. Now, although sometimes one does wonder, academics are people. QED)

If you point it out to the journal's editorial board, your message may land on the same HE's desk. You should be able to imagine how this will play out for you and your good intentions. Not so great.

However, sometimes a journal changes editors and editorial policies. Example: Nobel Prize winner 't Hooft took over as editor of chief of a philosophy-oriented physics journal. To his dismay he found that his predecessor had been a weirdo promoting the crackpot theories of his mates. 't Hooft took action, publishing a series of papers by competent people outlining the flaws in the journal's previous contents.

But this example is probably the exception rather than the rule.

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