The title is misleading mainly because there is not much room to write a detailed question.

I am currently working on a (Maths) paper. While doing the literature review, I first found something interesting that I would like to include in my paper in another paper (A) from a not-indexed journal. The researchers who wrote the paper come from a no-name university.

Later, I found somewhat the same thing in another paper (B) from another journal which is well-reputed in my field. (B) is better written than (A). The paper (B) was published before (A). However, I can not tell whether or not A plagiarised B.

I decided to cite only the paper (B) in my paper because of the reputation of the journal/researchers.

Is that unethical and disrespectful to the researchers who wrote the paper (A)?

  • 5
    The question in the title is essentially the reverse of Is including references of journals with low or no reputation considered bad practice?, but the body of your question doesn't make clear if the sources are interrelated, their chronological order, or who first discussed/established the "interesting thing".
    – Anyon
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 22:43
  • 5
    I don't understand why this is even an issue. Cite both. If (B) was published later than (A) (by at least a few years), then it will be apparent that possibly (A) "copied off of (B)" without you having to explicitly say so (which would be saying something you don't actually know to be true). Otherwise, I don't see the concern. Publishing something in a non-reputed journal doesn't make something non-reputed, it only raises suspicions until you've double-checked the result yourself (if possible). Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 22:43
  • 3
    Does "not-reputable" mean "actual scam" or "low IF"? Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 23:26
  • 1
    Please clarify: Did A plagiarize B?
    – user9482
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 6:12
  • 2
    I doubt this was the intent of paper (A), but supposing you are ethically obliged to cite it, then I see a prolific and rather annoying future for some troll, publishing previously-known results in trash journals, with plausible deniability as to whether they're plagiarised. Or, some kind of AI prover honestly would not be plagiarising the original papers, and might even come up with novel proofs, but it would be a faff to have to cite them all every time you use Cauchy's Theorem (any of them). A should have cited B anyway, if they'd found it, so one hopes they simply didn't. Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:15

2 Answers 2


You’ve cited the earliest reference for the results your paper is relying on, so you’ve fulfilled your ethical obligations to the readers and to the researchers who deserve the credit for those results. You have no ethical obligation to do anything else.

The fact that that earliest reference is also a better written paper than a later published paper is another reason to be satisfied that the citation serves your readers in the best way by directing them to the best written source explaining the results. But this consideration is a more minor one and not related to ethics in my opinion.

The reputation of the two journals, and the ranking of the universities the authors work in, are completely irrelevant and have no bearing on the question of which paper to cite.

You are still free to cite paper (A). This may make sense as a show of recognition to the authors of the paper if you believe that their discovery of the results was made independently of the authors of paper (B) (this happens frequently in mathematics for example). In that case one can argue that they deserve some minor credit even if they were later to publish, and even if they didn’t do as good of a job writing up their results. But this too doesn’t rise to the level of an ethical imperative, in my opinion.

  • 1
    I draw attention to "somewhat the same thing in another paper". If B is only loosely what you want to use in your paper, or perhaps it fairly obviously implies it, or provides a framework that proves it, whereas A is precisely what you want to use in your paper, would A then deserve a citation for saving you the need to narrow B's observation down to the exact observation you need? Assuming for the sake of argument no plagiarism, that A was independent work. Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 14:21

I decided to cite only the paper (B) in my paper because of the reputation of the journal/researchers.

If it wasn't the case that B had been published earlier, I would not see this as good practice. So looking at this problem from a more general standpoint, I would not let the "reputation" be the decider on who to cite. In many cases, it doesn't even hurt to simply cite both sources.

Citing a source/a researcher solely because they have "better" reputation will perpeptuate the status quo (or even make it worse): the already reputable will become more reputable (if that status can be measured by citation count alone) and the less reputable will be left behind. Even the most reputable researcher started with no citations to their name, and being at a no-name university doesn't imply inferiority (just imagine someone prioritizing taking care of loved ones over their career which makes them less mobile).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .