2

I found two papers related to my current research (A published in 2021, and B published in 2023). More precisely, all authors of paper A & paper B are from the same institute. Actually, one person appears in the author list of both paper A and paper B, so I assume that all the authors of paper B are (supposed to be) aware of the presence paper A.

However, I checked the reference list of paper B (the one published later) and didn't find paper A there. Actually, some of the key ideas of paper B are based on paper A, and I would say the authors of paper B must cite paper A to provide the readers a full understanding of the research background. I cannot really understand why the authors of paper B "forgot" to mention paper A there. It happens sometimes that people didn't cite relevant work from other people due to unawareness, but how it could happen to the same person with only a two-year gap puzzles me a lot.

I would like to ask: Is there any benefit for researchers to "hide" their previous research on purpose in any cases?

Background: I published another paper with some overlap with paper A without being aware of its presence between the publication date of paper A and paper B. I also forgot to cite paper A in my own paper.

9
  • 2
    I can't think of any benefits. Perhaps it was just an oversight. Checking whether they cited their own recent work might not have been high on their list of things to check. Perhaps the one person who appears in both author lists didn't actually contribute very much to the later paper and didn't tell the others about the earlier one. Despite the apparent 2-year difference, it might be possible that the two papers were submitted around the same time or went through final checks around the same time.
    – toby544
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 13:04
  • And just how big is this institute?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 13:05
  • 1
    @DanielR.Collins Corrected. Thanks for pointing it out!
    – Yunzhe
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 14:32
  • 1
    @corey979 It's a very specific subfield and I won't share the links out here. It doesn't count for me of course, but why can't I describe a phenomenon I have observed in academia in this StackExchange channel? I don't understand the reason behind it and put the question here for discussion. Isn't it abnormal that people don't cite their own very relevant work? Or do you think it's a common practice for people to ignore their own previous relevant work? Why is it important to you to know why it is important to me?
    – Yunzhe
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 2:48
  • 1
    @can'tstopmenow No. Both the two papers are published in a famous journal known for its single-blind review process.
    – Yunzhe
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 14:22

3 Answers 3

5

Despite the dates, they could have been originally submitted in parallel and one or both rejected from previous journals, possibly several of them. This sort of thing might happen when two groups are working in parallel within a lab: they are working from the same background, are communicating back and forth, but don't necessarily publish in the most logical order. The PI may feel it's important to keep them separate to ensure the separate authors get proper credit for their work. I'd say this is a mistake, though: probably one of the works should still cite the other, and these days the easiest solution would be to submit one as a preprint and cite it if wanting to avoid messiness around citing a separate unpublished manuscript. I could imagine a case where Manuscript A gets feedback that it's incomplete or doesn't advance things enough, so the authors are working on Manuscript B to extend it, while also hoping Manuscript A is still publishable by itself, and between varying delays and submissions Manuscript A ends up accepted and they keep Manuscript B in the form it was in rather than pulling out the parts from A after acceptance. This situation seems extremely lazy to me but also busy people make mistakes.

Possibly, the explanation is more innocent even if sloppy, but it's also possible something nefarious is going on: the work could have been intentionally re-published to inflate publication counts. Disclosing to journals/reviewers that a big chunk of the paper is already published might reduce the impact and cause rejection, since journals want to publish new things, not re-publish what already exists (and publication agreements might forbid them doing so). The overall lack of overlap in the authors adds to the suspicion to me, though. It's one thing to fail to cite yourself, it's another to fail to credit your colleagues working on the same problem. That, too, could have been an advisor's misguided attempt to let all their students obtain publications, if the other authors are all trainees.

In summary, I'd say it's not possible with the information provided to know what exactly happened here, but I can't think of an explanation that isn't at least partly lazy if not outright misconduct. Without a broader pattern, there's probably not anything you really need to do about it, besides doing your best with your own work.

2

To answer the actual question as to whether there is any benefit for researchers to "hide" their previous research on purpose: Yes.

Editors and referees at a journal generally prefer papers that they perceive to make a significant new contribution with respect to the existing literature. If this existing literature is not presented honestly, the contribution will look bigger than it really is.

0

You've given no proof that the researchers have "hidden" anything, so there's 0 reason so far to suspect mal-intent, and the characterization strikes me as hyperbolic. I think people get too hung up about this sometimes (not saying this time is one of them).

In my field, for example, there are at least three foundational papers on the "synthetic control method" in the econometrics literature. Abadie 2003, Abadie Diamond and Hainmuller 2010 and ADH 2015. I've reviewed papers which use SCM before. I don't remember if each paper cited all of these, and to be honest I don't care. Someone usually cites Abadie's newer 2021 paper from Journal of Economic Literature, which naturally refers to his previous papers, so if an author even just cites that, in my book, there's no issue. Why? Because the literature they cite shows people one important reference where all the others may be found at, so it's okay. I don't demand an author present every single reference. This paper, for example, is very very similar to one of the references they cite (Calderon 2015), but at various points in the publication process (I remember reading these as pre-prints/working papers), I think the works didn't even cite each other because the authors were simply unaware of them, which is okay. So, it's not totally unheard of that certain papers we think are relevant don't cite each other for different stages of the publication process.

I guess my point here is, ask yourself: "Is it really that important that the other paper be cited? Are their conclusions or results necessary for the other paper to function? If so, then I guess we can talk details, but barring that, if they don't go together like water and a hot summer day, then don't worry about if they cite the other paper or not.

Bryan above says to worry about doing the best with your work, and I agree. Just cite both papers in your work, assuming they're both relevant, and keep moving, no reason (again, barring more serious/well founded concerns) to worry too much about it. Not everyone needs to cite every single paper that's relevant to their work, otherwise lit reviews c/w/ould take 4 pages.

You must log in to answer this question.

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