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I've found a model which explains my results excellently. However, the actual equation and parameters of the model have been interpreted and treated differently by different authors, sometimes leading to vague and/or inconsistent interpretations and parameters resulting from a fit of the model to the data.

Additionally, the original article which derived the equation did not capture a scaling with the equation that was obviously there experimentally. This scaling is very important for the interpretation of my results.

Unfortunately, these inconsistencies haven't been pointed out by any authors, and I am probably the only person who has studied this model well enough to have realized them.

My thesis and a journal article I am preparing hinge on correcting these inconsistencies, but doing so may create some controversy with the reviewers of the article and will definitely take up a good 20 pages of my thesis and maybe more in the SI of the article.

Any advice for how to deal with this in a thesis and article-efficient way would be highly appreciated.

  • Here is a good example of a paper correcting major misinterpretations in an existing field: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0019103514005971 Basically the literature did not agree (and did not know it was not agreeing) about which pole of Pluto was the north pole - nor on whether longitudes should be measured clockwise and anticlockwise from that pole. The paper deals with the problem with the sort of tact and rigour that you probably need. – Martin Kochanski Jul 20 '16 at 6:46
  • Thanks @Martin Kochanski! This is indeed an example worth following. – ZacHammer Jul 20 '16 at 21:12
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With regard to your thesis, you should be as explicit and verbose as possible. It's your thesis, and you will likely never have another chance to explain this issue as clearly as you will now. Avoid being accusatory, but show all the various interpretations of the model in the literature that are relevant and explain your insights thoroughly. Use as many pages as you need, it's not like they charge by the page :)

For the journal article, I would describe as clearly as possible your interpretation of the model and the application to your data, beginning with the best reference available, and adding or clarifying only what is necessary for the results you are describing in the article. There is no need to explore all of the other interpretations. If a reviewer raises concerns, deal with it through the editorial reply process. You could send a concerned reviewer a draft of that section of your thesis, if necessary.

FWIW, I was in a similar position and followed this plan, and I did not get pushback from journal reviewers on this point.

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