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Recently, I felt thrilled because I was finally (after few months of non-stop work) able to mathematically prove the mathematical (physical) transformation which I use to prove some new laws of physics. Everything adds up so nicely using this transformation and everything seems logical.

To much of my disappointment, I have learned that in 1950's two papers are written where exactly the same mathematical transformation appears. However, in neither of these two papers this mathematical transformation was not proven and it was only guessed from physical laws. Probably because of this lack of proof, both papers were forgotten, otherwise I suppose these papers would be breakthrough papers. These two researchers were not only researchers trying to find the correct form of this transform and in last century there is at least dozen of papers trying to find this transform (although not explicitly stated).

Now, I've been able to mathematically prove this transform and I am writing the paper about some new physical laws emerging from this transform. My question is should I mention these papers at all? Since no one before (without fake modesty) was able to prove it and the rest of the papers were on this track (but not explicitly stated) I was thinking about not mentioning these papers at all. Otherwise I would have to explain what these researchers did and its rather irrelevant for my paper (sole discussion about this would represent another paper). What do you people think about this? I would like to hear your opinions, and of course, the constructive criticism from you

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    Yes you should reference them. You can say they conjectured the same transformation formula. – Kimball Jan 20 at 15:19
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    You should decide how much you want to say about their work based on how much it would contribute to the narrative you want to tell. A single sentence could be perfectly fine. That said, don't belittle their works (just be factual: they did not provide proofs) and don't speculate (e.g. on the reason why it didn't revolutionalize the field). – Kimball Jan 20 at 16:29
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    As a general rule: When in doubt, cite it. – user76284 Jan 20 at 21:20
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    gallileo skipping that is not proper to the earlier researcher. It's also not INTERESTING because you are leaving part of the history out. If, while presenting the history, you can give yourself a little credit (after all it was kind of a lost idea that you rediscovered), I would do that. [Do it subtley though.] – guest Jan 20 at 21:40
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    You have an opportunity to validate another scientists hard work and contributions, and you don't want to? You would want future generations to treat your work better than that. – Issel Jan 20 at 23:16
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If something has appeared, pretty much in any form, you need to cite it. If you don't you will always be open to a charge of plagiarism.

I'll note that the proof is more important, in the grand scheme of mathematics, than the statement of it, so you don't lose anything by citing past work.

Authorship is different from "ownership". You can't own mathematics, but you can copyright your own expression of it (or anything, basically).

But if you don't cite it and someone later asks "why didn't he/she know about this" then it is a negative for you. Always cite your predecessors. Celebrate their work as well as your own advances.

Some of the intervening work has now been put on a firmer ground by your work, but that will only be obvious if you make the connection.

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    Thank you very much for your elaborate answer, I will be writing about the history of this equation. You helped resolving my dilemma;) – gallieo1985 Jan 20 at 15:42
  • You have to cite it. If you can (gracefully) mention that you found the effect before seeing the papers, this would be nice to yourself. I'm not sure exactly how, but I would give it some shot: "After deriving this theoretical result, we became aware of earlier experimental work that made these conjectures but did not prove the effects or develop the implications." Be careful about being too personal, but I would be motivated to give yourself some credit. – guest Jan 20 at 21:23
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    @guest, what you suggest might be appropriate in a memoir, but not in a scientific/mathematical paper. Don't try to make it about you. The result and its proof stands on its own. Your proof is all the credit that you need. – Buffy Jan 20 at 21:28
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    @guest, sorry. No. Do mathematics. Leave it at that. There is no reason to make yourself look foolish in a math paper. – Buffy Jan 20 at 21:32
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    @guest, please stop digging. "get away with something"???? Why don't you think mathematics itself is enough. Primp and preen??? Please. – Buffy Jan 20 at 21:42

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