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I am a postdoc in math. Recently, I wrote a paper in which I used a theorem from a friend's paper. She left academia 6 months ago. Her paper has not been submitted to a journal but it is on arXiv. I read her paper and believe that it is correct.

Can a journal reject my paper because her paper isn't published?

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    If one journal does then you submit to another journal which isn't so stupid. Jan 28, 2023 at 19:49
  • If the journal objects, there are several ways to proceed. If your friend's paper is reasonably short, you can ask if it can be added to your paper as an appendix. Another option: if the proof of the specific result from that paper is short you can ask if it can be added as an appendix... Jan 28, 2023 at 20:22

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Assuming you give proper citation then it is unlikely that a journal would reject your paper without review. The reviewers might question the validity of the other paper, of course, which would bring the validity of yours into question.

Note that putting a paper on arXiv is publishing, though without the usual review.


Note how much scholarship would be slowed if no journal would look at any paper until all cited papers had actually appeared in formal (reviewed) venues. That process can take up to a year - or even longer. There would be no such thing as a "hot" topic.

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  • Thanks for your answer. I know they review the paper. I meant that they say something like " Since you used a paper that is not published, we reject your paper".
    – Adam
    Jan 28, 2023 at 19:56
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    Very unlikely unless, as Alexander Woo suggests, the editor is very stupid. Even completely unpublished "private communications" can be used, though they may draw extra scrutiny from reviewers.
    – Buffy
    Jan 28, 2023 at 19:58
  • Oh! thanks! your comment make me feel better; thanks!
    – Adam
    Jan 28, 2023 at 20:00
  • @Adam You say "something like ..." in your comment. If you edit the question to show us the precise wording, and tell us that's the only reason given for rejection, we might be able to say more. Jan 28, 2023 at 21:33
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    @EthanBolker, I don't read the question as implying that it has happened, but only wondering if it is likely.
    – Buffy
    Jan 28, 2023 at 21:37
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There are tons of published papers that cite arXiv papers, so the answer is "no".

Here is one paper I'm aware of that has been on the arXiv for years but has never been submitted to a journal. According to Google Scholar, it has been cited 23 times as of time of writing.

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I have to (weakly) disagree with Buffy.

If you're a reviewer, you may assume that a published peer-reviewed result is correct. If you rely on a result that has not gone through peer-review, then you essentially ask the reviewer to find the arxiv paper and (for all intents and purposes) review that paper first. That might not be what they signed up for.

A reviewer may therefore ask you to provide a proof of the result you rely, and thus reject the paper until that's in place.

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    How is it different if the OP provides a proof as opposed to the original providing it? Review is still needed in such a case. And, replicating the proof in another paper is a copyright violation. The job of the reviewer is only marginally harder.
    – Buffy
    Jan 28, 2023 at 21:46
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    I think this answer needs some qualification, in particlar the sentence "If you're a reviewer, you may assume that a published peer-reviewed result is correct." How much credibility one gives to a result in a paper depends on various factors, peer review is only one of which. I could (but for obvious reasons won't) name mathematicians, call them A and B, such that I will easily believe most results that A uploads on arXiv, while I wouldn't believe a word in an article of B without checking the details myself, no matter whether peer reviewed or not. Jan 28, 2023 at 21:47
  • @Buffy I'm not saying to copy-paste the proof without crediting the source, most papers are in any case cc-by (on arxiv).
    – Pål GD
    Jan 28, 2023 at 22:04
  • @JochenGlueck yes, that's why I say that a reviewer might ask you to provide a proof. Anyone can put stuff on arxiv, if you use a bunch of unpublished results by random people, I don't think the reviewer is going to be happy.
    – Pål GD
    Jan 28, 2023 at 22:07
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    @Buffy the difference is that you're reviewing OP's paper, not the paper on arxiv. You can't give feedback and ask for improvements on someone else's arxiv paper.
    – Pål GD
    Jan 28, 2023 at 22:10

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