I have a paper that is currently in review but that has been available via bioRxiv for a while. While my paper was in review, a paper was published elsewhere which essentially scoops my paper. I am wondering how this could affect my paper in review seeing as my results were available earlier.

To clarify, I guess my question is about priority. We uploaded the manuscript because we were scared of being scooped. We thought that by uploading the manuscript, it would make it impossible for another group to publish the same results. The question is twofold:

Is it ethical that the other group published the same results whilst they were aware of the preprint? Secondly, would a journal take preprint priority into account when assessing a manuscript which has been scooped by another paper?

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    Is it a scoop, as in both of you did the same thing, but one published earlier, or, did they take your paper via Biorxiv and plagiarize it to get published?
    – MikeP
    Jul 19, 2016 at 16:48
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    This isn't technically a question. Could you be more specific? Jul 20, 2016 at 11:14
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    Is the submitted date of the other group's paper before or after your submitted date. The preprint 'date' is mostly irrelevant (in my field).
    – Carol
    Jul 20, 2016 at 16:17
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    They achieved their results in an independent manner.... why wouldn't they try to publish it?? And you are assuming that you exposition somehow affected their work, which isn't necessarily true... Jul 23, 2016 at 3:38
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    Is it even feasible that they performed their experiment(s) and composed and submitted a manuscript to a journal in the span of one week? Jul 23, 2016 at 8:16

4 Answers 4


This answer is under context that the OP's preprint was submitted primarily by him as a game piece in a competition with another group..

We uploaded the manuscript because we were scared of being scooped. We thought that by uploading the manuscript, it would make it impossible for another group to publish the same results.

This answer uses the context that two or more groups were working on similar measurements in competition, simultaneously and independently; likely there was awareness of each other as the competition for this result; and that the only effect on group B (if they even saw the preprint) is 'lighting a fire' under someone to finish the write up the results to try to either beat a submission date to publication (just in case the OP's preprint was prematurely posted to try to bluff the competition) or to try to show how close both groups were in time and get an 'also ran' credit. Notice that there was no mention of which group thought of these experiments first, or giving credit for the ideas.

Yes, It is ethical for group B to submit a paper for work done independently even knowing that there is a 'preprint' floating around from group A who appear completing their independent results simultaneously. Most of the fixup would occur after one or the other published articles appear.

Giving everyone in this particular situation the benefit of doubt; a solid assumption is that each group expects the other to submit any solid results for publication. (and that both would prefer the published articles to be citation-of-record).

It might be nice to cite a preprint in this case as a placeholder. But, the real issue occurs when the first paper gets 'in print' and the still-waiting group can compare submission dates. Will group A or group B do their duty? (As it turns out from additional comments in the OP's post, group B submitted their work before the OP's preprint appeared.. The OP should add a citation to group B in his in-review paper.).

To expect the preprint to be treated as the priority game changer between the two groups in this very artificial situation is not fair. It was posted as a game-piece in the race to establish priority between neck-and-neck groups doing the same experiment. Either group here could have abused a preprint posting (e.g., putting something out that is not 'ready' or full of minor or major errors to establish claims like a patent troll) and then fixing it up in a later version.

If we are using traditions still mostly in play, when it is a 'race' for priority, what will count to the community in establishing priority is when was the paper submitted to the journal. (If someone tries to publish to early, and their work is not ready, there is chance it will get rejected, giving some checks and balances)

Finally -Journals will care about the submission date, not a preprint posting date. OP's paper is still in review, with group B's paper appearing first. It is usually is not a reason to reject group A's paper. Group B's paper had not appeared when the referees started reviewing. Traditionally, what would happen when the dust settles is that group A and/or group B's paper would add citation or corrigendum.

Pretty much for everyone else, if two papers with similar important results appear about the same time, they both will be cited more or less equally and/or together.

The moral being, (in this case) that if one is worried about establishing priority in a race and trying all possible gambits, the (ready to publish) paper should be submitted for publication immediately after being posted on preprint server. Then it has what protections are currently possible under traditional model and any newly evolving models.

*I likely will get negative comments saying that I imply to 'ignore at will citing or acknowledging unpublished (but reliable) preprints'. (No, I am not). But this case seems to be about independent, simultaneous competition where the preprint was used by group A to either 1) pretend they had already had version ready to be submitted for publication to psych out competitors from submitting their own, or 2) indicate to community that version was just submitted for publication and anyone who thereafter submitted would not have the priority when the dust settled.*

In clarification - in later comments to the original posted questions, here is timeline deduced after my original answer was created.

  1. Group A (the OP) and group B at conference in their subfield.
  2. OP or member of group A shows their results in their presentation. From OP's comments, it is pretty clear that any 'published' conference abstracts available before or after conference do not present any details of results (which usually means that presentations standard may be work-in-progress - no one in audience is going to complain or ask for a 'talk' retraction later if results or understanding evolves between talk and a final publication.
  3. Group B submitted their work for publication without sending a preprint to the OP (or posting a preprint on public server).
  4. OP submits a preprint a few weeks or month later. They make Group B aware of the preprint.
  5. OP submits preprint for publication (time delay between preprint and submission unknown)
  6. Group B's previously submitted paper appears in print.
  7. OP becomes aware of Group B's paper .
  8. OP asks question to stack exchange (because no matter what, it is a very disappointing to feel as if you were scooped)
    1. On bright side, We have important results corroborated within a short time from two independent groups. Others in the field will cite both with with confidence.

EDITS 1 1) Numerous edits/rearrangements to articulate reasoning related to original posting which is neglectful of the preprint rights in this particular case focusing on group B actions. (I'd appreciate hints on how to clarify, as the negative comments are focused on preprints being neglected as a general class of published goodness )

2) Added the timeline from OPs additional comments. Basically group B never saw preprint before submitting their own paper because it did not exist then.

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    While it may be standard practice, I strongly disagree with the claim that it is ethical to ignore preprints because they are preprints. If someone has reported research in any form, whether a preprint, a PhD thesis, or even a blog post, then that research has been reported and (if relevant) must be cited as prior work. It's fine to cite it as preliminary work ("Affar et al describe a similar methodology in their ongoing research.") it's fine to ignore it if the content is insufficiently convincing. But ignoring known prior work because it is not formally published is dishonest.
    – JeffE
    Jul 21, 2016 at 18:24
  • -1 You are contradicting yourself by "Then it is protected under both the traditional model and any newly evolving model of establishing priority.". What if the paper gets rejected? Then according your words, the preprint does not matter and therefore it does not establish priority.
    – Alexandros
    Jul 21, 2016 at 19:14
  • @JeffE, I agree in general, but also am trying to articulate otherwise because my impression from OP is two groups who likely know that they are competing to get priority for a result before the other- within a matter of weeks or a month - the potential unsympathetic interpretation is one group putting up a preprint to 'block' another group publishing, why would they think it blocks groupB from publishing? Is it because the hope was that the preprint pretends a priority that isn't there? (if it wasn't submitted pretty immediately, then what does that say about the work as put in the preprint.
    – Carol
    Jul 22, 2016 at 17:45
  • #JeffE I will try to think of alternate wording, as I agree that using words that it is 'ethical to ignore a preprint' sound like fighting word that have the negative comments focusing on that rather than what else is written.
    – Carol
    Jul 22, 2016 at 17:47
  • @Alexandros, Yes, in the old days, if paper A is rejected, then A loses priority to the B if B published. The assumption being that there are probably good reasons for rejection and that group A rushing when they were not ready. For the majority of cases,( in my field) its usually between groups in friendly competition or not, and outside of really 'hot' topic, no one cares much about A and B. For the big things, it usually seems eventually retrospective/review papers or newspaper background papers/books or such will run through other bits (He said at seminar, sent preprint to XXX, ...)
    – Carol
    Jul 22, 2016 at 18:01

Do you know that they were aware of the preprint? Scoops are bound to be common if many groups are working on the same problem or starting to flesh out a new area with lots of low-hanging fruit. If they were aware of your preprint, and you can prove it, they should have cited your preprint at the very least, and you might get them to publish an errata with the citation. But, if they didn't know about it, they got there first, and you'll just have to accept that.

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    Yes, they knew about the preprint. I have emails confirming that. They did not cite the preprint though.
    – Afaar
    Jul 20, 2016 at 14:17
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    You might ask them to make a correction citing the pre-print now.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 20, 2016 at 23:12
  • The OP said above that the other group submitted their paper a week after some conference, while the OP's preprint and paper were submitted 3 weeks after that. I don't believe they are obliged to cite your preprint. When the submitted the paper, there was no preprint.
    – electrique
    Jul 23, 2016 at 21:35

This might depend on field, but it is not uncommon for two papers to appear on the same thing at pretty much the same time, and both might reasonably be published. In my experience, if a preprint appears on something someone else is writing, they will post theirs as soon as possible, to make it (reasonably) clear that their work is independent (preprints are standard in my field, although some papers are published without preprints being available).

If the paper appeared while yours was under review, and no preprint was available before (showing, for example, that they actually got the result two years before you), it is clear to the journal you submitted to that your work is independent. My expectation would be for yours to be treated as it would have been, but then but if accepted you would include a sentence pointing out that the other work was independent (and published while yours was under review, maybe).

If your paper is rejected by the journal you submitted to, you may find it hard to get it published elsewhere, if the time-lag between the two papers becomes too large.


I would say, let the review of your paper go forward. If it is rejected because of the other paper, well that's what happens sometimes. But maybe it will be accepted anyway. The decision is up to the journal editor. I don't know what this paper is about, but in some fields, replication of results is sometimes useful.

If your paper is published, maybe you can add a note to it about the other paper, and saying they were independent. Maybe even casually mention the date your preprint was on-line.

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    If the preprint was publicly available before, there should be no reason to reject it solely "because of the other paper". If, as OP said in the comments, the two teams got the results independently, then both papers are valid and relevant. Jul 20, 2016 at 15:55
  • @what_academia in my field preprints do not could as prior publication, but a prior publication, either by you or someone else, is grounds for rejection.
    – StrongBad
    Jul 20, 2016 at 15:59
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    @StrongBad That sounds more like sports with formal rules than academic research. Not counting a prior publication as a prior publication because it appeared in a wrong venue is just silly. Jul 20, 2016 at 16:34

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