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I recently found a paper published in an high-impact journal containing as a main contribution a result which is rather well-known among the people working in the field. (In fact, this result has been firstly established in a paper in the 60s).

On the one hand, I think that the authors of the paper did not do that on purpose. In fact, they are not expert in that particular research field, and so, they probably were not aware that this result was already established when they wrote the paper. On the other hand, being myself a researcher working in that field, I would like to point this out to the authors and/or to the editorial board of the journal, so that the readers can be referred to the original paper establishing this result.

At this point, I was wondering what the right thing to do is. I would really appreciate any comment/suggestion.

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    That reminds me of the 1994 "rediscovery" of calculus. – Anyon Jul 13 at 21:46
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    I'd advise caution since its also common for a reader to miss the nuances of a result and presume it is not novel. Particularly when they're reviewing my manuscripts. – A Simple Algorithm Jul 14 at 3:24
  • I wanted to say the same as Anyon :)) – Alchimista Jul 14 at 9:36
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    A replication should include a reference to the original work, right? – GEdgar Jul 14 at 12:39
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    The result is well known, but what about the proof or method? In mathematics, novel or even slightly-modified ways to show an old result can be valuable. Of course an author should be aware that he or she is "rediscovering" an old theorem. – o.m. Jul 14 at 17:56
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It is simple enough and not rude to just send them a note with a reference to the older work. "In your recent paper, you haven't discussed the relationship to ...".

And note that even if they have some fault, which you don't suggest, it is shared by editors and reviewers who, themselves, missed the older work.

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    There's seven billion people in the world and many of them are pretty smart. Independent discovery should be less frowned upon in my opinion. But if I ever did it on accident I'd appreciate such a note. – some_guy632 Jul 14 at 1:06
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This is not an unusual occurrence. You do not need to do anything.

Some journals allow the submission of comments. You could submit a comment comparing the new paper to previous results. I would only do that if it were somehow more interesting than a simple case of inadvertent duplication.

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As far as the readers are concerned, there is no way you can bring this before them without sounding rude or unconstructive or worse. You risk sounding as if you're just jealous that they've got publicity that you haven't.

But as far as the authors themselves are concerned, being constructive is easy and quite possibly even your duty. Write privately to them and say that in their excellent paper they have addressed some questions which (it seems to you) have been addressed before by workers in your field. You are writing to them to encourage them to have a look round that field to see what else has been covered, because it may be beneficial to them and save them trouble in their future work.

With care you can phrase it so that if they do want to look into this further, they know that they can ask you for some suggested reading.

Thus you help to improve their work; show a proper attitude of collegiality; and you may even be laying the foundations for future communication and collaboration.

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    While contacting the authors first is the polite thing to do, and gives them the chance to look good/better, I fail to see why I as a reader would necessarily consider a published comment of the form "The authors appear to have rediscovered a result by Smith (1960)." rude. Providing proper credit also isn't unconstructive (especially if the authors haven't been responsive). Unless Smith writes that comment and words it poorly, it wouldn't come off as jealous either. – Anyon Jul 14 at 14:32
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    I think it suffices to write "The Sibling-Steering-Difference Theorem was proved independently by Dewey (1927), Cheetham (1969), and Howe (2004)." – JeffE Jul 14 at 22:41

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