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My brother has written a paper which is essentially a survey of different techniques to accomplish a certain security related goal. He has also managed to present it in some conference.

Unfortunately, I do not think that this paper meets the standard of a rigorous research article for a few reasons. For instance, the surveying done in the paper seems to be shallow. Essentially anyone who has done a first course in security, or seen a few textbooks could write such an article with some rehashing. I also think that the classification he suggests in the paper is not very coherent.

So, I believe that this paper neither meets the standard of a research paper (because it lacks novelty) nor meets the standards of a rigorous survey (since he summarizes secondary sources, rather than primary sources). I believe it would me more worthwhile to publish this as a blogpost, or in a newspaper column instead of as an academic paper.

I am not certain how reputable this conference is. I suppose there was an accept/reject phase, but there was no feedback from the reviewers (if there were any).

Should I have a conversation with my brother about this?

  • Arguments for: This will inform my brother of what research articles typically consist of. Also, it is in the general interest of academia to not have tertiary material labelled as "research articles".
  • Arguments against: This might offend my brother. Also, it is better for the academic system to collectively express their assesment via standard channels (reviewer feedback, citations, etc) rather than me expressing my individual informal opinion.

Edited to add more context:

  • My brother is a second year undergraduate student.
  • This paper is co-authored with a professor in his university. However, (based on their Google Scholar profile) it does not seem like they have a solid track record of publishing security related papers. Most of their papers seem to be unrelated to security, and some of their most cited papers seem to be related to management/leadership.
  • While this institution happens to be reputed, it is not reputed for their research (as far as I know). I am led to believe that this is the standard to which publications are held in this institution (and also by this certain professor).
  • I am a graduate student, several years into my program.
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    I think that you are well aware of the relevant arguments. Everything else depends on the personalities of the two of you and the dynamic between you, maybe also personal history, and we can't know about this. (For sure you don't have an "obligation".) Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 14:48
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    why? how old is your brother? why are judging his work but you are not helping him bringing it to a publishable status?
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 15:01
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    Is the security feature IT/computer science-related? Is the conference a computer science conference? If the conference is more management/leadership focused, that may be why the paper was considered appropriate
    – mkennedy
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 21:29
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    A general rule to live by is to not give people harsh feedback unless they asked for it. It does not sound like anybody is actually harmed by this paper (it's not plagiarised, it's not a spam conference that would hurt your brother in the future), so why not give your brother this small achievement in his early career stage?
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 31, 2023 at 11:50
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    You say that he is co-authoring the paper with his professor. Let the professor advise him.
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 1, 2023 at 14:30

8 Answers 8

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Don't pollute your sibling relationship with critical academic feedback

There are plenty of people who can give your brother critical feedback on his research article, including journal referees and other academics. Not only are you under no obligation to be the one to give him critical feedback, but it seems to me that as his sibling you are poorly placed to do this. (Why not tell him that he's not very good looking while you're at it.) I recommend that you leave the critical appraisal of defects in his research to journal referees and other non-related parties. If you are in a position where you have academic expertise that could be useful, then presumably you also know other colleagues who could do the same as a favour to you, so that any adverse feedback comes from someone who is not his sibling. If you must involve yourself with his paper at all, you should consider doing so in a more positive spirit --- i.e., help him identify ways he could improve his paper to bring it up to a standard where it can be published.

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  • Golden rule in (family) relationships: never act transitively (A -> B -> C) - always act directly if you are going to act. People hate to see structured interference in their work.
    – Trunk
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 15:48
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Whether you have an obligation or not is probably dependent on cultural norms, including those of your family. In general, though, you wouldn't have an "obligation" (I must do this), but likely it would be doing a service to him to learn the standards.

So, whether there is an obligation or not, I suggest you give it a try, gently, perhaps, if you worry about his reaction. And make it clear you aren't the judge.

This would be especially valuable to him if additional effort could bring it up to standard. Having a first attempt at a publication rejected is pretty common, though, and an education in its own right.

You might ask him whether he would value your opinion on what you think the response of reviewers might be. You might also point him to papers in a reasonably close journal and point out what elements made them acceptable.

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Leave your brother to submit the paper and you will be surprised that others will give positive feedback and might even see that the work is worthwhile for publication. In any case, it is your brother who clearly knows the question he is answering. You might also be having a 'I know the person' syndrome where we label people as competent or not competent to accomplish a task depending on our interactions with them. Thank you

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Sure, tell him if you don't think the article is publishable. It's a bit hard to tell by your description if this is really not publication worthy but I'll take your word for it.

I guess the bigger issue is why does this matter? Is your brother in academia? At what stage of his career is he? At what stage of your career are you?

Constructive criticism and useful feedback is different than just dumping on his work, you probably can't go wrong with the former.

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  • Thanks, I edited to add more context Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 15:12
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I would not call it an obligation. However, I would assume that telling a brother your opinion on their work and (potentially) giving them an advice is not an issue and a common everyday behavior. I don't see a downside. If he would be offended, he needs to be told twice as much.

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Has he asked you for your opinion on whether it's publishable? Is there something on the line, e.g. the professor won't pay for publication and he/your family would have to foot the bill for submission fees? It appears like you're trying to take on the role of mentor here instead of brother and it's unclear why you feel like you need to take on that role (as you say, he has a mentor, even if you don't feel there credentials are as strong as you might personally prefer, but perhaps they have contacts and expertise that aren't immediately obvious). Is this typical for your dynamic with each other? Is this something he usually responds to positively?

Rather than potentially creating an issue in your personal relationship, it seems like it could be the better path, if your brother has requested help to put your brother in touch with security researchers who might perform peer review outside of the publication process, e.g. your PI or postdocs you work with. This would allow you to maintain a supportive family member role while also getting him the advice you feel he needs from people you respect. It's also worth keeping in mind that it's not uncommon for work done in undergrad to be published in undergrad-specific journals with somewhat different standards and that if he's just a sophomore now, this may well not be the final draft. And besides, not everything has to be top tier work to be valuable or publishable.

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  • Putting a brother at the advice of one's own supervisor is effectively having a remote control over their own choices and decisions. It is also very unfair to ask a third party (supervisor) into what really is a lack of trust (personal as much as professional) between brothers.
    – Trunk
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 15:53
  • Remote control? I was imagining OP explaining their concerns to their advisor and asking them to review it as a favor with the acknowledgement that their views may be biased by familial ties. All advisors I've had would review it objectively while being kind due to personal relationships, but I'd have no control of them. I agree, it'd be messed up to use a third party to force OP's views on the brother, and while I guess you could interpret the suggestion like that, it's contrary to my first paragraph, no? I suspect OP is being harsher than is warranted and the brother will get good feedback.
    – GenesRus
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 17:45
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Your brother seems to have written a review paper, and those can be important contributions to academic literature. I don't see a reason to share unsolicited criticism.

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Keep your nose out of your brother's affairs - both directly and indirectly.

If the relationship was adequate you wouldn't need to involve third parties.

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