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Asking this question for a friend (also motivated by this PhD thesis: novelty at the time of proposal but not submission). Field: Neuroscience.

Initially, when the paper was written up, there was no other paper that showed that XYZ could happen. It got rejected by the first journal (edited suggested submitting to more specialized journal). Now, at the second journal, the paper has been under review for a while (~7 months). All in all about a year or so has passed between when the work was done and the current peer review process.

Now that the reviews have come, I see that the reviewers say that there is no novelty in the paper because a recent paper (published two months ago) has shown the exact same thing. The editor has marked it as major revision and said that we should address the novelty issue.

My question is: is there anyway to argue that the novelty is supposedly missing because the journal took forever and that its not the authors fault? In general, is there anything to be done in case of getting scooped except for swallow your pride, do more work, submit to pre-print server next time, and hope for the best?

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  • The timeline could be a bit sketchy as I have approximated from a discussion; also, I do not know the exact remark that the editor has made – stuckstat Jan 5 at 19:57
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    You could/should have a discussion about priority with the editor. Don't complain that they were inefficient, though, even if just for strategic reasons. I can't predict the outcome. – Buffy Jan 5 at 20:00
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    In Engineering, I've seen papers where the authors say that another paper on the same widget appeared at time of writing/review. They do point out what they have 'extra' as compared to the other paper. Maybe you could use the other paper to support your finding? – Prof. Santa Claus Jan 5 at 20:03
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    You could add to your paper's introduction a sentence like "While this paper was under review, X published the paper Y, which contains the same results" (or "similar results" or "some of the same results" or whatever is actually the case). Of course it would be better if you could add material to your paper that isn't in Y. – Andreas Blass Jan 5 at 20:16
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    Very closely related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/151446/… – Snijderfrey Jan 5 at 20:46
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I would respond to the editor that:

Our paper was submitted on DATE. Paper A was published on DATE. Both works show that XYZ. The publication of A in the well-known Journal of W is evidence that our work is important.

Most editors are decent people and will realize that the prior publication of A is not within your control, nor is it something you overlooked.

Do revise your manuscript to clearly compare your work with A. In the manuscript, you can state that the paper A was published after your initial submission, if you wish.

Publishing multiple papers that independently get the same result is good for science and should be rewarded with publication.

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  • +1, and see if you can emphasize how you arrived at similar results differently, supporting the main findings in a novel way. – ObscureOwl Jan 6 at 15:51
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My question is: is there anyway to argue that the novelty is supposedly missing because the journal took forever and that its not the authors fault? In general, is there anything to be done in case of getting scooped except for swallow your pride, do more work, submit to pre-print server next time, and hope for the best?

The reason why a paper may not get published because a similar story was published elsewhere is not necessarily related to not being recognized as having the work done first. So arguing about whose fault it was or whether you were first to submit to a preprint server will not change anything. (For-profit) journals are not there to report unpublished scientific advances. They are a commercial enterprise trying to make money by selling ads and subscriptions.

If the editor believes that a) the paper in question still will bring readership and b) there is no chance that it was the result of plagiarism they will still publish it. In general, no two papers, even when ostensibly showing the same findings are truly identical. And often journals publish back-to-back papers from different authors on the same topic in the same issue or competing journals do so.

However, if the editor does no longer believe the paper will attract readers then they will pass. The only recourse is to either extend the findings to generate renewed interest or go to a different journal where a different editor might reach a different conclusion. In my view this is likely something that could be ascertained with an inquiry to an editor before reformatting the manuscript for submission to a specific journal. In the meantime, since novelty is lost, I would also publish it on a pre-print server--but that's a personal decision to make.

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    "They are a commercial enterprise trying to make money by selling ads and subscriptions." Your argument is flawed because the editor who makes the decision is usually an unpaid academic. They don't care one bit how much money the journal makes. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 6 at 2:51
  • Doesn't that depend on the journal? Many of the editors I worked with across various journals are full-time editors employed by the journal and not academics. – Mario Niepel Jan 6 at 2:56
  • For example the Cell or Nature family both have professional editors and an academic advisory board. – Mario Niepel Jan 6 at 12:52

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