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My team and I recently encountered a situation where another research team, also funded by the same agency as us, had a paper accepted at a conference. Upon reviewing their paper, we noticed significant similarities to our own work, which was published half a year ago and also presented at an internal meeting organized by the funding agency. These similarities are evident in both the task definition and methods.

Despite the clear parallels, our work was not cited in their submission. I find it unlikely that they were unaware of our paper, especially considering the context – both teams are funded by the same agency and we have shared our work in internal meetings. This leads us to be concerned about the ethical implications of their omission. I have reason to believe this is due to the fact that we are competitors.

So far, we have reached out to the first author, a student, requesting a citation, but have not received a response. We are contemplating our next steps, which might include contacting his supervisor.

My questions to the community are:

  1. In this situation, is the non-citation of our work by the other team an ethical concern?

  2. What are the advisable next steps to address this issue? Would reaching out to their supervisor be appropriate, or are there other recommended actions? Their team has a much bigger name than ours.

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  • Here’s a related question you might want to check out: academia.stackexchange.com/q/204333/126108
    – user126108
    Dec 1, 2023 at 3:53
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    @leonos I don't think this is the same issue. In their situation, they were cited by the follow-up work, although later, their work did not receive as much attention as the follow-up work. In contrast, mine wasn't even cited.
    – hidemyname
    Dec 1, 2023 at 4:07

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On the surface there's nothing outright unethical about not citing a particular related work, assuming there isn't plagiarism involved. No-one is expected to cite every single prior paper on a topic. I would say it isn't great science to omit important papers, but obviously people miss things.

But I'm hearing that there is more to your situation. It sounds like you found some objective similarities between the papers and also feel like you have evidence that they should know about your work.

So the question is, did they take ideas from you work without citation? Or did they just fail to give you a shout-out? I think those two situations are different. The first is unethical and you can rightfully ask to be properly cited, the second is a bit of a grey area and probably not actionable.

Either way, reaching out to the first author is probably a fine first step. I might have cc'd the supervisor on that initial email, but since it sounds like you didn't, I think you should give the student some time to respond. Anything past that depends on what they say and what your expectations are in terms of a satisfactory resolution.

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  • Thanks. It is indeed a grey area. This is pretty annoying, actually, especially considering that during the competition, there were some other things that happened, like them intentionally delivering lower-quality work to us. I wonder why scholars from such a fine university would do something unpleasant. We cited their works in our paper with no bias. But in this case, I guess I cannot be overwhelmed by emotions. If they do nothing, indeed what we can do is just to send emails.
    – hidemyname
    Dec 1, 2023 at 9:20
  • That is frustrating. It sounds like there is something of a one sided rivalry - all I recommend is to do good work and not give in to the temptation to be petty.
    – sErISaNo
    Dec 2, 2023 at 6:15
  • True, it’s always great to reach out to the first author as a first step, to know where to go from there Dec 8, 2023 at 19:05

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