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In my primary research project (not coauthoring with advisor), I got two results, say result A and result B, back in 2020. I wanted to submit it in 2020, but my advisor says that I need a further result, say result C, to be considered for a top journal.

I agreed with him as I find the (hypothetical) result C way more exciting. Now I am half-way through getting result C.

A competing group tried to get result A (with mistakes) and submitted a paper in 2020. The referee rejected their paper because they made a fatal mistake. They corrected the mistake and submitted the corrected version of result A again. They got their paper accepted at a top journal in March 2021.

I don't know how to speak with my advisor about this without offending him. My advisor says it is a good thing as it proves that I was at the right direction and a super active subfield. I think he is just trying to sooth me by saying nice words.

Now I am submitting the results A and B by myself. I do have timestamps on public cloud services to prove that I did get the correct version of result A before them. However, the timestamp is just on a poorly written draft rather than a fully written paper, because my advisor asked me to work on C.

It is my first time dealing with this issue. Shall I also submit the timestamps to prove that I had the result A?

I am thinking about putting result A into appendix and emphasizing result B in my paper. Am I correct? Is it best to submit the paper to the same journal?

I will cite their paper of course. I want to say that I am a concurrent worker work in parallel. I am afraid that the everyone think I am the follower, who falsely and unethically present myself as a concurrent worker.

What shall I say to make clear in my paper what happened?


PS: I was not worrying before March because I thought:

  1. The competing group made mistakes so they are not competent competitors

  2. Result A alone is not enough for top publications. Their paper still contains some technical mistakes and exaggerated claims.

However, facts proved that I underestimated the competing group. The hard lesson learnt.

The field is applied statistics. This is a primarily theoretical work that studies the properties of two widely-adopted statistical methods.

Related: Pre-print service like arXiv but with private option, so I can correct my mistakes without publicly advertising my mistakes?

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    @AnonymousPhysicist Many thanks for sharing the link. I actually bookmarked the post. But it seems to focus on a non-independent collaborator scooping the other?
    – High GPA
    Apr 17 at 8:12
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    I think not publishing your approach is a disservice to science. What if a couple years down the line someone discovers that the other group made an error in their proof that slipped through peer-review? Then your proof might still hold. Just make clear in your paper what happened.
    – Joooeey
    Apr 17 at 16:32
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    @Joooeey I fully agree with your points, Joooeey. May I ask how could I make clear what happened in my paper? What should I say in the paper?
    – High GPA
    Apr 17 at 17:57
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    I haven't been in Academia very long. Ask your advisor. They know better how to deal with the situation. Just make sure to explain how you got result A and to mention that the other group got result A as well while you were finalizing your manuscript.
    – Joooeey
    Apr 17 at 19:04
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You've been scooped, I'd say it's common. You could write: Further to publication of our preliminary results [1], X et al. showed ... Or: In parallel with this work, X et al. showed ... (You could cite your technical report elsewhere in the latter instance.) You can then explain how your work improves on theirs, especially as your results are way more exciting.

Your approach to result A may be different to X et al., which may allow you to present the result in the main body. Also, your result A may be slightly different to their result A (i.e., you may have slightly different results). Speak to your advisor about how to approach this.

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    You are right the our approaches are different. And my result A is slightly different from their A. Many thanks for your help! Are you sure that I can say that their work is "in parallel"? I think I might be attracting bad opinions on me by saying this, as their work is published first.
    – High GPA
    Apr 17 at 7:39
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    @HighGPA You conducted the work in parallel, you'd merely be stating a fact. Albeit, there's a time window for how long you can use that. Maybe a year is okay, imo
    – user2768
    Apr 17 at 7:40
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    That is the best encouraging and motivating line for me in 2021! I don't know how to express my thanks to you!
    – High GPA
    Apr 17 at 7:43
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    That is the best encouraging and motivating line for me in 2021: You're welcome! I don't know how to express my thanks to you: Go publish an awesome paper!
    – user2768
    Apr 17 at 8:11
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    I never published the "technical report": I misunderstood your cloud services remark, my apologises. It is only a poorly written draft without introduction and literature review. Is it unethical to cite it as a 2020 work?: It is ethical, but it's rather pedantic. Your readers are unlikely to be interested. Focus on selling the best parts of your work, don't work so hard on selling the part you've been partially scooped on
    – user2768
    Apr 17 at 8:14
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I am assuming this is not experimental work.

How to convince the referees that I got the results independently?

Don't. How you got the results is irrelevant to the fact that they have already been published.

It is my first time dealing with this issue. Shall I also submit the timestamps to prove that I had the result A?

No.

I am thinking about putting result A into appendix and emphasizing result B in my paper. Am I correct? What is best thing to do here?

That is reasonable. Cite the other paper.

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    Of course I must cite the other paper. Much appreciated for your suggestions, Anonymous Physicist. Shall I add in cover letter that I have been working in this project for a long time?
    – High GPA
    Apr 17 at 7:31
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Good answers here already, but I feel some points are still missing:

How you will behave depends on your research area, but I've never seen someone trying to revert a scoop situation and succeeding. Try to establish that your work came first is irrelevant in my opinion. You had the result and didn't publish it, and frankly, it doesn't make a lot of sense academically. Some areas are more competitive, but I feel researchers often forget that replicate experiments (or, in your case, run them simultaneously) are as important as reaching new findings. And you can always add or expand on former findings based on slightly different methodology.

Two researchers (or teams) working on the same topic will eventually get results for the same questions. That doesn't mean your work is wasted. At the very minimum, you have your own independent results to corroborate (or contradict) the already published material. This will only strengthen your publication with possible result C as you can present your findings: "results A and B, published in XYZ, are confirmed in my independent experiment, and we further explored our research, reaching the astonishing result C." Simultaneously, you are in a position to evaluate the competing group's work in your future publication (that makes more sense in some areas than others).

I understand it would be nicer if the first findings (results A and B) were in your publication, but it seems the ship has sailed.

Finally, as stated in other answers, speak to your advisor about the situation. It depends on your relationship with your advisor, but stating the facts and discussing the next steps with no finger-pointing should not offending him.

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    Thanks for your answer, Meneses. It will offend him because now he still think that I should do more work and complete the (hypothetical) result C. I think his previous requirement was one of the reasons why I lost this priority, though I have not directly bring this up to him.
    – High GPA
    Apr 17 at 18:03
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    @HighGPA That's why I wrote "It shouldn't" ;), relationships are complex. Right now it seems (I don't have the full picture here) that without result C it will be hard to publish on high-level journals. Unfortunately, replicating experiments/results are not an academic priority unless you prove the former results wrong. Apr 17 at 18:37
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To expand on earlier answers, the following is offered. One of the hardest things to do is to not worry about the primacy of one's research. That other researchers independently determined your answer A should not detract from your own independent work in the determination of answer A, or consequential answer B, or the culmination in your determining C. This can be easily dispensed with in publication of your own work within the explanation of the development of C (for instance) by stating that independent to your development of answer A, researchers X and XW have subsequently published this result. This does not detract from your own independent work. Nevertheless, the statement is factual and establishes your own work as original independent thinking on the problem, without overtly calling attention to who was first. Don't let establishing the primacy of your results distract from the importance and correctness of your work.

Many researchers are faced with the realization that other people are interested in the same research area and are capable in making the same determinations that one is able to make, or that one has already made. The total state of independent research is obviously unknown. Only what is published is known if not lost in obscurity. Consequently, people readily glean valuable insights from published research abstracts or grant applications. Beware, there is also research espionage where people glean information from conferences or prepublication sites, hidden ftp sites or through unauthorized electronic access, or even thru guest visitations to research offices and laboratories. Hidden information can be determined by casual observation and making mental notes; this happens all the time. Tacit information is sometimes inadvertently disclosed, and that can open the whole book on what one is doing or thinking.

So lets presume that one's thinking on a specific research problem is largely, or entirely, known only to one's self and closest colleagues in confidence, being in one's notebooks and hidden from view, not generally or openly discussed except in closed, confidential meetings in the direction of the work. Very few, if any, other people have reached one's state of thinking and development regarding this particular research problem. Deep thinking on particular technical aspects of this mathematical or statistical problem is not likely being done by many people independently, and simultaneously. And even if others are working in the same arena, they may not have achieved the same state or advanced position of one's own thinking. Tempered with self doubt, one may become overly concerned that the path to get to the current state of one's research was relatively easy and that others have achieved this and may be far ahead in their own advanced developments, or at least not far behind. Yet realistically this may actually not be so. Your work has been developed by your own applied critical reasoning to attain its current state. You have seen the result in care you have exercised, and the consequences in the work of others fraught with error who have not used that same care. As suggestions for thought: Persevere and publish your own complete work when its impeccability is certain. Be dedicated but not hurried or competitively driven by others. Don't be overly concerned with what has passed elsewhere in print, especially if of no ultimate consequence to the direction of your own work.

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    Very detailed answer! Great advices and directions that I will follow. You made a point that my development process of A, B, C cannot be replicated by others. This is truly encouraging.
    – High GPA
    Apr 18 at 0:01
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I want to stress just a single point:

Now I am submitting the results A and B by myself.

I would not do this. Your advisor is most probably part of the journey to reach A and B. Publishing the results without his name is very likely misconduct.
This might harm the relationship and trust between your advisor and you!

He told you, that A and B is not enough for a top journal. I guess he is right. He thinks you can also get C. So focus on achieving C. There is no point in regretting not having published A and now reclaiming you were first.
The price waiting for you is getting C published first. Without any scoop situation, without getting in conflict with your advisor.

If you insist, you can still put your proof for A und B into the paper containing C. It might not fit the paper and a reviewer might ask you to remove it. Difficult to say without knowing the whole story.

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    Much appreciated for your answer! I will definitely ask for his permission before submitting anything.
    – High GPA
    Apr 17 at 22:00
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    "Publishing the results without his name is very likely misconduct." Not very likely. Possibly. Apr 18 at 2:36
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If you look up most groundbreaking discoveries you'll find that many if not all* end up in this situation: two completely independent researchers or research groups come up with pretty much the same result (be it a prediction, measurement, discovery...) around the same time**. This is exactly the reason many Nobel Prizes are actually shared among multiple people, e.g. the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson.

If you're aware of the other publication, read it, digest it, and integrate its presence into your own work. As you say, they may have glanced over certain aspects. Highlight the differences (and reasons for these differences), and expose the similarities. Don't just think the others made "mistakes". Maybe it is you that made the "mistake", or both of you just approached it differently (e.g. disregard a specific class of influences, or chose to neglect certain parts of an interaction because you deemed them "small" for some reason, be it mathematical or just based on "a feeling"/experience/...).

*This may be a small exaggeration from my part, but I do find this simultaneity occurs more than you'd first expect.

**Time here is relative; while experimental progression is often fast (and simultaneously reported discoveries will lie close to each other in absolute time), more theoretical or more general discoveries can be spread over decades, only later to be "united" as really being the same thing all along.

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  • I agree with you. This is very encouraging to me. I will not loss my hope. Thanks again.
    – High GPA
    Apr 19 at 23:38

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