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I work in a field that heavily uses arxiv.org and posts papers before submitting them to journals, so it's common for people to send a citation request when they see a preprint that they think has overlooked their work. I do this pretty rarely, because I think it's often abused by people looking to pad their citation count by asking for citations from work that's only marginally related. Still, when I see work that very closely resembles something I've done, I generally send an email.

My question is what to do when a paper appears that is very closely related to my work, has not cited me, and it was clearly intentional. In this case one of the authors had a previous paper that followed up on--and cited--one of my papers, so I know they were aware of my work in the past. Furthermore, in their current paper they use a technical term that I introduced. There is no possible way that they could have written their current paper without being aware of its close relationship to my work, but they haven't cited my papers.

In this context, the usual email of the form "I have read your interesting new paper and wanted to make you aware of my related work" would be so disingenuous as to be ridiculous: they are clearly already aware of my related work. I can only conclude that they have intentionally chosen not to cite it. All of my encounters with these authors in the past have been friendly, at least from my perspective, so I can't imagine any interpersonal conflict that's behind the omission.

A similar thing happened to me once before when some authors wrote a paper that had enormous overlap with one of my papers, which they cited, and they corrected, in passing, a minor technical mistake that didn't change any significant conclusions. Subsequently they built a minor industry on this work but never again referred to my previous work, with the result that their papers that were only a very minor improvement on mine have been cited several hundred times more than my paper has. So I may be overly touchy about this sort of possibility.

At the moment I'm inclined to do nothing, because any message I could imagine sending them would come across as either disingenuous or combative. But I wonder if anyone has a suggestion for dealing with this situation.

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    There are a million ways you can not cite a paper and few are intentional. You are reading quite a lot into something they did not say. You are worried about asking because it might seem disingenuous. Honestly, right now, you are sounding a little paranoid. Try your best to assume good faith and send a nice email. – Benjamin Mako Hill Sep 11 '14 at 5:42
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I don't know the details of your case, but in any case like this I tend to liberally apply Hanlon's Razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

It does sound as if they know about your paper, but it seems to me entirely possible that they could have intended to cite it and accidentally omitted to actually do so. I think you can contact them tactfully and point out that the original source for the technical term is your paper (give the complete reference). They will probably reply with an apology for the oversight.

If you want to be even more circumspect, you could ask a colleague in your subfield to contact them. ("I saw your preprint and it looks interesting. The paper of Anonymous looks very relevant. Do you think you should cite it?")

I've been guilty of such an accident myself. I use BiBTeX to manage citations. I have a large file containing an entry for every paper I've ever considered citing. Then for each paper I write, I include inline citations where they belong, and BiBTeX automatically picks the papers I've cited and generates the list of references. In the case in question, I wanted to cite paper X in two places: in the introduction (as background) and in a specific technical passage. I neglected to cite it in the introduction, but since it was also cited in the technical passage, paper X still appeared in the list of references, so when I saw it there I thought to myself "Good, I remembered to cite X." Then in a later edit I changed the technical passage in such a way that X was no longer directly relevant there, so I removed that citation, thinking it was also cited elsewhere in the paper. It wasn't, so BiBTeX accordingly removed it from the list of references, and it might certainly have looked to anyone as though I had intentionally failed to cite X (which was a well-known paper and clearly relevant). The omission made it into a public preprint and was pointed out by a colleague (though not the author of paper X; he is long deceased), fortunately before the paper was submitted.

It was clearly my responsibility to have caught this and cited X correctly, and technical issues do not excuse my failure to do so, but I mention this as a specific example where such an error was due to stupidity rather than malice, and as evidence that the former could be an adequate explanation.

  • particularly like the 'ask a colleague' suggestion... everybody keeps face all around... – Joe Sep 13 '14 at 17:10
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    I've heard Hanlon's razor before but didn't know it had a name. The more human behavior I observe, the more I think this razor would be even more accurate if augmented with, "never attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by laziness, and never attibute to laziness that which is adequately explained by busy-ness." – Mark Meckes May 12 '15 at 23:25
  • Of course, some would say that laziness is simply the most common cause of stupidity, or that busy-ness is simply the most common cause of laziness. – Mark Meckes May 12 '15 at 23:26
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There are three options:

  1. They overlooked it. Then it's fine to contact them.

  2. They intentionally did not include it. Then they are deliberately obtuse and the mail can't change anything at all.

  3. It's only you who thinks that the citation is proper. I know you crossed out this option. Yet, since then the mail could hurt your relationships and reputation, I suggest that you first ask a 3rd party (your colleague) for their opinion.

Then you can IMHO simply contact the authors, of course politely, maybe showing some passion, pointing out something interesting you found there etc. The level of politeness is up to you I'd say.

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I feel like the best you can do is send them a note while it's still at the pre-publication stage. If it appears in a journal or you are asked to review it, you should note it to the editor. Given that you invented the terminology, I'd be surprised if you weren't asked to review it.

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Assuming you are right about the authors' behavior (like @NateEldredge, I am skeptical) then you have nothing to gain by bringing the subject up. However, if you inform the authors that you enjoyed reading their work, maybe they will be nicer to you in the future.

If I received a request for a citation, I would include the citation if it was relevant but my view of the requester's motivations would decline. Collecting citations is not the goal of science.

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    This advice is not correct. If they intentionally not cited the OP's paper, an email reminder will tell them that they were caught doing that. And perhaps it might convince / "scare" them not to proceed with that – Alexandros Sep 13 '14 at 12:33
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    @guest: collecting citations is certainly not the goal in science, but it is often essential to get enough money to be able to do the science. – Martin Argerami Sep 13 '14 at 12:42
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    @Alexandros You are not "caught" if there is no punishment. Diplomacy is the only tool available here. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 14 '14 at 23:50
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If the article went to referees in your field who should know of the work, and didn't point the authors at it, perhaps their work indeed stands alone, or the refs just didn't seem to think it was important that your work be cited.

Whether that is the case, or not, try not to let it get under your skin. If somebody in your community chooses to look silly by allowing themselves to appear less than aware of the latest work, that's their choice, and the community will eventually recognize this.

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