Imagine that I make a post in which I propose a new theory or idea, but I don't write any paper about it. Then, some years later, a researcher independently and completely unaware of my post, proposes the same theory/idea in a peer-reviewed paper.

In what circumstances could I claim co-authorship of that theory/idea and how could I handle that?

EDIT: As suggested, I rephrased this question. I kept the original question below, for future reference. The context of how this question arose was maybe idiotic, and that was making the answers to drift away from a general view of the problem. As I said in the comments, I was not realistically considering to claim any authorship for the idea or act on it in any way - it is a genuine curiosity of how things could be handled in a generic way. At least, I'm glad to see that this community can engage in a controversial question like this without being disrespectful (no sarcasm).

Some years ago I made this question which was closed soon after. I was basically suggesting that sleeping could be an evolution advantage as they allow dreams to happen, which in turn allow you to simulate different situations in a safe environment, thus being more well prepared to react in new situations in real life.

Recently, a researcher proposed the same (similar?) idea.

Now, I honestly don't think he stole the idea from my post. It's perfectly reasonable that someone in this field could come to the same hypothesis. However, I am creature with an ego bigger than one could consider healthy, and this feeling of "I also had that idea before, and I think I deserve some acknowledgment for that" is lurking on the back of my head. I'm sure that with it will go away, but what I would like to ask here is: do I have any reason/right to claim co-authorship of such theory?

I know that history of science has many cases of independent researchers doing the same discover, and I'm sure all around the world there are people who already experienced this "ah! but I had that idea before!". So, even though this really doesn't matter and it's just food to the ego, I am curious to know how this type of situations can be handled.

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    I hate to say it, but it isn't like many of us have not had that idea in the past. And, like you, did nothing in particular about it.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 5, 2021 at 21:22
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    Yeah, it's not a particularly novel idea Jan 5, 2021 at 21:23
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    Recall that ideas are worth a dime a dozen: researchers have all plenty of ideas. The difference is made by those who fully develop the ideas. Jan 5, 2021 at 21:26
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    I think the recent paper/proposal/idea is based on new and recent information about how the brain works. Especially the speed with which parts of the brain can be "repurposed". Not my field, but I think that is new.
    – Buffy
    Jan 5, 2021 at 21:41
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    I work in neuroscience, specifically in the area of consciousness and anesthesia which relates a lot to sleep. This is a really old idea, not novel at all. I knew Erik when he was a grad student. I don't have access to the full article, but I suspect the novel contribution he's suggesting is a specific mathematical approach to this particular hypothesis. He's not suggesting he's first to the generic idea.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 5, 2021 at 21:44

2 Answers 2


No, you have no reason/right to claim co-authorship, or I believe any acknowledgement at all.

For those curious about the paper a preprint is here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2007.09560

I have skimmed through the paper and have some background in AI, but even ignoring the fact that the topic of the paper is different to what you wrote about, what you have linked to is no more then a random thought. Any contributions from you can be summed up in the following hypothesis:

Dreaming can be a significant advantage since it allows you to experience a virtual world, simulated situations and reactions, without taking any risks. In this way specimens who could dream were better prepared to face new situations and how to react.

This statement is very vague and doesn't actually specify anything. How are dreams simulating a virtual world? Why are dreams better than being able to run simulations while awake? How does the specimen decide upon which simulations to run? Possibly a good starting point to develop a more specific research question but not a research question by itself. The statement was also after you asking if anyone else had ever looked at this kind of idea.

Even if the author had read your statement and that had inspired him to start thinking more about the subject I don't believe there would be any ethical issues by not referencing you since the statement above feels lacking in substance to me (just like you wouldn't reference a handwaved/madeup science fact from some sci-fi book if it had inspired you to look into a topic).

Now considering the actual paper, and based on my skim of the paper a few months ago, the topic is actually different to what you suggested. The paper proposes that dreaming solves the problem of over-fitting. This occurs in reinforcement learning (AI) where the algorithm is trained on a data-set and can perform very well on classifying/responding to that data-set, but when input that it wasn't trained on comes in the algorithm does something stupid.

So instead of simulating the situations and reactions that the creature may run into, the paper suggests that dreams are the result of training yourself from your daily experiences, but with added random noise to the input training set (your daily observations). This means that you won't assume that everything will occur exactly the same as what you observed today, and that will be beneficial. Specifically it balances against the innumerable number of variables that you couldn't have been aware of which impacted your daily experience.


Posting an idea on stackexchange does not count as prior publication when thinking about coauthorship or some other way to establish priority. The scientist in the post you link to seems to have done some actual work on the hypothesis in question. I don't think what you have done amounts to "discovery" or calls for any acknowledgment.

In your situation I might consider a polite email to the author, saying that you had a similar idea several years ago. If you actually followed up on your idea you might try to engage with them to see if your thoughts ran along similar lines. Your goal should be to advance the science, not to get some credit.

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    Next week on Academia.SE: "I published a paper, and now someone has emailed me claiming they had a similar idea and posted it on a now-deleted website... how am I supposed to respond?"
    – avid
    Jan 5, 2021 at 21:18
  • I mean, you're right of course. I was not realistically expecting to get credit for this and I understand that the author did some work based on AI. But again, imagine that I'm fully driven by ego (not the case)... I am curious to know in what situation could I demand co-authorship for a theory.
    – cinico
    Jan 5, 2021 at 21:19
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    I can imagine a situation where you could expect (not demand) co-authorship. This isn't one. In any such situation the actual chain of events, not your ego, should determine what happens. Jan 5, 2021 at 21:22
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    "Posting an idea on stackexchange does not count as prior publication": I severely disagree - in the sense where "publication" means "claiming priority" (which I assume it does). There is no "rule" what establishes priority on an idea, it can be a published paper, a preprint (which in the past also did not count), a talk, or a SE post. Sometimes even just the knowlegde in the community that someone found a result (and how) is sufficient reason to establish priority.
    – user151413
    Jan 5, 2021 at 21:28
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    @avid This is nonsense. A traceable and timestamped post and a unfounded claim of priority are in no way the same. Next, only publications in ISI-indexed journals will count.
    – user151413
    Jan 5, 2021 at 21:30

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