So I'm feeling a bit guilty. I've been working on a publication proof (my first) of an interesting theorem. The issue is I've been using StackExchange (Mathematics) to answer some similar questions when I get stuck on much smaller parts of the proof.

So the question here is, is it generally ethical to put just my name on a paper, even if I may not have come up with the lemma's using only my ideas, or is there a good way to I should reference StackExchange in a publication?

On one hand, most of the stuff I received answers for was for a learning purpose, similar to that of me asking a professor or teacher, not so much as a co-author. And although relevant to the publication, the answers I received could be very common in other proofs as well and were not directly related the lemmas themselves.

On the other hand, it was not necessarily my ideas that first assisted the lemma, but those of others through SE.

Take for example a question I asked earlier today. I wanted to see an alternate proof to an equation, so that I could use it as a new method of proving a lemma related, it as the original proof (Euler's Thereom) could not be generalized with such a method Proving $a^{(p-1)p^{k-1}} \equiv 1 \pmod {p^k}$ without Euler's Theorem. The proof I was looking for was simply done using the Binomial Theorem. Therefore the idea of using the Binomial Theorem in my proof will assist me in my own similar generalization. But even though I was just given the tool, the work will be done myself.

  • 4
    This is a good question, but perhaps it's better suited for the Meta Stack Exchange?
    – Paul
    Feb 26 '15 at 21:37
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    For example, see here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/49760/…
    – Paul
    Feb 26 '15 at 21:38
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    Link those questions in your post and let the community make an individual decision for each question.
    – barak manos
    Feb 26 '15 at 21:42
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    It would be extremely nice of you to go after the authors who answered you, indicate that they helped you, ask if they would share their real name, and then thank them in the paper. Feb 26 '15 at 21:54
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    I think this question could be a good fit for Academia SE. There has been some related questions you may find enlightening or helpful.
    – Davidmh
    Feb 26 '15 at 21:56

In my publishing experience, and from what I have seen elsewhere, I think the most appropriate thing to do in this scenario is to simply have an acknowledgment. This is standard for most professional publications.

For example, consider the article Counting Triangles to Sum Squares by Joe DeMaio that appeared in the College Mathematics Journal (a periodical of the MAA). Here's a snippet from the article:

enter image description here

As you can see, it would probably be appropriate for you to have an acknowledgment section at the end of your article that ran something like this:

Acknowledgment: Many thanks to members of the Math Stack Exchange community, anonymous and otherwise, for helpful comments and suggestions.

  • 4
    Depending on space constraints, it may also be appropriate to name the exact users involved, IMHO. Also, in such situations, once the paper is accepted for publication I think it is worth it to comment on the answers involved to point to the paper, if the paper may interest people who look at the answer.
    – a3nm
    Feb 26 '15 at 23:54
  • @a3nm Right--it completely depends on just how much help you've received I think. I honestly would never cite an exact user unless that user had a legitimate name (how ridiculous would it sound to thank "moddedbear", for instance). It would also be appropriate, in some instances, to give thanks for specific help; that is, what a user(s) helped with in regards to a particular part of the article or whatever written composition is being put out. There are many ways to go, but I think the most important thing is that whatever kind of acknowledgment is given is given in its own little section. Feb 27 '15 at 7:45

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