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I am working on a project where the objective is to test if X causes Y. In the field, there are two methods for calculating X. One is considered more accurate, but require data often not available for many geographic location. The other is the opposite: less accurate, but use easier-to-acquire data.

In our study area, someone has published results of calculating X using the more accurate method. The paper has been published in a journal with a dubious reputation. The article claims they used data from a local government's data repository. However, I looked for this data and found less than 30% of the required amount.

Steps taken so far:

  1. Contacted corresponding author asking for clarification or providing us data. - "PhD student who is lead author has left. I don't know exactly what was used for this. Please see paper for data sources and search there".

  2. Asked contacts at local government if such data has existed in past. Answer: "Probably no" with clear instruction that their response is based on informal request and cannot be published in media or otherwise.

My issues is that if I calculated X using the other, less accurate method and then tried to publish, reviewers would point out that this work has already been done using the more accurate method, and so my contribution is minimal. Which would be true, if the other paper had actually done as they claim.

How to proceed?

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. I've made a few edits, as it is difficult to follow stories where people X and Y work at places A and B studying topics P and Q....feel free to make further edits if I botched anything.
    – cag51
    Aug 21, 2022 at 4:42
  • If the results in the other paper are not reproducible, isn't that sufficient justification for your work? Do you have an advisor or mentor you can ask for specific advice?
    – Kimball
    Aug 21, 2022 at 9:00
  • I want to comment on update. my advisor decided to change location to avoid conflict.
    – Martan
    Sep 3, 2022 at 11:59

1 Answer 1

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Academia gains from discussions. There is no reason to not put your reasons to doubt the other results in a paper, even if you are de facto accusing the Ph.D. student of fraud.

Now, strong claims demand strong proof. In your case, you need to try accessing the same data sources as the other paper did (I understand that you already did this.), and you should also try to read the thesis as it might contain more data. Professional courtesy implies that before you submit your paper, you send a copy of your draft to the authors of the other paper. That at least should give you a reaction. If the reaction shows that they did indeed obtain the data, you do not have a publication. If the reaction shows that they did not do a good job, you have burned some bridges, but gained in reputation among other researchers.

You could also as an intermediate step tell the authors that you are intending on publicly criticizing their work as fraudulent. Just do not express it as bluntly.

In all of this you can and should be polite. For example, instead of saying that the data does not exist, you can say that you could not find the data and that the first set of authors could not provide you with a data source.

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    "There is no reason to not put your reasons to doubt the other results in a paper, even if you are de facto accusing the Ph.D. student of fraud." - No reason? Retaliation, loss of reputation if your accusation is unfounded, risk of appearing petty... On balance might still be the right thing to do but "no reason" seems to miss a lot.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 21, 2022 at 19:29

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