I published a paper in a reputable journal in 2021 December. I had proved a conjecture. Today I discovered that another author published a special case of the conjecture and published it, in another journal, in 2023.

I think it is wrong on the journal's part. Why did the Editors publish the paper when they can see that it is a special case of my paper?

Shall I write to the journal and ask them to remove the paper from their website? Or do I file a case of plagiarism against the author?

If someone can kindly help, I will be grateful.

  • 30
    Did the author of the other paper cite your paper?
    – Nobody
    Apr 10, 2023 at 6:35
  • 18
    Is the proof your proof adapted to the special case, or different? Apr 10, 2023 at 6:44
  • 25
    Do you have strong evidence that the author of the 2023 article was aware of your article? And was the 2023 article also published in a reputable journal? Apr 10, 2023 at 7:28
  • 25
    @Aqualone It will likely happen nothing. Lack of novelty is not a reason for retraction, which typically is reserved for cases of scientific misconduct or for egregiously wrong results. Apr 10, 2023 at 11:35
  • 23
    There are numerous cases in physics and mathematics of different authors publishing similar results, often years apart ... and we often find that the result is credited with a double-surname title as in "the Smith-Jones theorem". So your suggestion that "the new one cannot be considered original" is not, I think, correct. But that hinges on whether you take "original" to mean "first ever published", "first ever published in this language", or "something created without knowledge of, or reference to, the other". Apr 10, 2023 at 11:35

4 Answers 4


With the amount of papers that are published nowadays, it’s not rare that a result gets overlooked, whether your are an author, reviewer or editor.

If the proof published in the new paper is somewhat different from yours, it can hardly be considered plagiarism, and if the work in the new paper is legit there’s no reason to withdraw it.

My suggestion is to submit to the journal where the new paper has been published a “Comment on <published article>” where you point out that the other author’s result is a special case of yours, highlighting the differences. Keep the comment mathematical and don’t make any accusation of plagiarism, sloppiness or malfeasance.

In the above, I assumed that your paper wasn’t cited in the more recent one from the other author. From a comment below, it seems that you’ve just happened to discover that the authors did cite your work.

Then, if this is really the case, be happy with that and do nothing.

  • 56
    @Charlotte You shouldn’t take any action against the authors: overlooking a result is not a fraud, and it’s something that might happen to anyone. As I wrote above, you should not submit any allegation. You simply let a wider audience know that there is also your result, which is a more general one. Apr 10, 2023 at 14:20
  • 22
    @Charlotte What do you mean by "in a passive way"? They cited a paper which cited yours?
    – Nobody
    Apr 10, 2023 at 14:39
  • 52
    @Charlotte Please, don’t start analysing the exact words in which they cited your work. Indeed, we would all love our papers to be cited like “As the wonderful M. Ortolano brilliantly proved in [1]…”, but most of the times we are all cited as in “This problem is also considered in [1-27]”. They did cite your work, and so no further action is needed. Apr 10, 2023 at 14:42
  • 34
    I too am extremely curious about what makes a citation "passive". Could you explain what you meant, please? Apr 10, 2023 at 16:39
  • 6
    @MassimoOrtolano I think it's fair to say that "This problem is also considered in [1-27]" would be an inadequate citation in the case that the present theorem is truly a special case of that in one of the references, say [16]. It (unintentionally, I grant) misleads the reader by implying that the previous results are related but distinct and the present theorem is novel. The paper should clearly acknowledge the key previous result (OP's) and clarify the actual novelty (in the method or application).
    – nanoman
    Apr 12, 2023 at 16:48

It is possible that a special case has obvious applications that are not so obvious from the general case. It is possible that the special case had a much simpler proof (which is a good thing to have), or a proof that can be adapted to unrelated situations, while the proof for the general case can't.

  • 5
    I was also going to comment on proof techniques, and also point out that a simpler proof is not necessarily a requirement either. A merely different proof that ties in different areas of math or relates two previously unrelated concepts can be very publishable even if the result is not novel.
    – David
    Apr 11, 2023 at 13:45
  • 4
    It can also require a non-trivial amount of work to show that theorem A is a special case of theorem B.
    – quarague
    Apr 12, 2023 at 9:55
  • @quarague Which, seeing as how the OP seems to have done that, might also be a publishable paper.
    – Auspex
    Apr 12, 2023 at 15:56

You assert that "... the editors can see that it [the 2023 paper] is a special case of my paper?" but neither editors nor reviewers normally undertake extensive literature searches to check for overlaps between existing papers and newly submitted manuscripts. They rely, instead, on the general integrity and honesty of most of the authors who are making submissions.

And lest you think that I'm suggesting that the author of the 2023 paper was dishonest, I'm not! It seems to me unlikely that you have discovered a a case of plagiarism; it is much more likely to be a case of having overlooked or not noticed something. It is notoriously difficult to undertake a complete search of the the literature in any domain. Mathematics, because of the structure of Mathematical Reviews, has always seemed particularly difficult.

Even in the unlikely event that the 2023 author used precisely the approach to their proof as you used in yours, it is not uncommon to see papers that focus on even small, but non-obvious special cases of previous work.

  • 3
    I don't understand the part regarding Mathematical Reviews. Are you suggesting that MR makes literature searches in mathematics more difficult? Apr 10, 2023 at 13:24
  • 8
    @Charlotte: I think a simple and effective solution is to mention this to someone who works at Mathematical Reviews (MR) so that the review of the 2023 paper (if not yet completed) can mention your earlier more general result. I suspect having your paper cited in the MR of the 2023 paper will make your paper more visible than most anything else you can do, since probably most anyone citing the 2023 paper will read over its MR. Apr 10, 2023 at 13:43
  • 2
    @FedericoPoloni I might not have expressed myself very well; I certainly don't mean to impugn a wonderful resource like MR. What I meant was that I think it is often hard to search for, and then narrow down and identify, all the other papers that might possibly overlap with one's own. I was primarily trying to highlight how the 2023 author might reasonably have overlooked the OP's general paper (it actually turns out that the didn't, and that they cited it). Searching often seems to me to be easier in the social sciences ... but perhaps that is reflective my lesser familiarity with MR. Apr 10, 2023 at 23:41
  • @DaveLRenfro Please consider making this an answer!
    – nanoman
    Apr 13, 2023 at 3:41

(edited/extended from a comment made 2 days ago)

I think a solution that is both simple and quick to carry out, as well as likely being quite effective, is to mention this to an editor who works at Mathematical Reviews (MR) so that the review of the 2023 paper -- assuming the review is not yet finished -- can mention your earlier more general result. I suspect having your paper cited in the MR review of the 2023 paper will make your paper more visible than most anything else you can do, because people who are interested in the 2023 paper will probably look at its MR review. Looking at the list of MR editor names, I recognize 3 who participate in Stack Exchange -- 1 & 2 & 3. In fact, the first 2 of these participate in Academia SE.

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