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The main result of my paper X (in mathematics) turns out to be a special case of another paper Y. How should I acknowledge their priority without making my paper look worthless?

This is the situation: in terms of the main theoretical result...

  • X is a special case of Y
  • X was posted on arXiv after Y
  • X was presented at a conference before Y even started (there is no conference proceedings though)
  • I was not aware of Y until I put X on arXiv.
  • Is the proof technique similar? – Peter Taylor Jan 6 at 22:24
  • I believe the proofs are quite different in the two papers. – ssquidd Jan 6 at 22:34
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    If the proof techniques are very different, that should be enough to justify it getting published. If your result preceeded the general result then it should also be enough. The two of them together should both be mentioned explicitly. – JoshuaZ Jan 6 at 22:52
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Cite it as usual. You can note that the paper is an extension of your work. You can, if you feel the need, give the date of the conference, etc. It may be that Y was aware of X from the conference, or it may just be parallel work.

In any case, your work isn't worthless. Just a symptom, perhaps, of a subfield with a lot of current activity.

But you should also look at how you and they achieved the respective results. It may be that your, more specialized, paper has proof techniques that are valuable in themselves. There is more to mathematics than the results.

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