I am currently writing my thesis and am quite far already. However, I have discovered a paper now which troubles me quite a bit, as it pretty much destroys everything I am arguing for (and very convincingly so!). I know that this would not be so bad, had the paper been published only recently. But it came out about 10 years ago - I should probably have found & read that much earlier! What am I to do now? I am worried to tell my supervisor!

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    You know what you should do. Sorry. A similar thing happened to me many years ago, not with a thesis, but some years' work. It could have been worse: not discovering the situation until later, and publicly looking dumb... And I discover that my "discoveries" are re-discoveries very often, as do most of us. Aug 10 '16 at 22:01
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    You also posted a question that was master's degree specific, and indicated no need for originality. There may be several directions you can take - talk to your supervisor ASAP. Aug 10 '16 at 23:01
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    If you have any evidence backing up your thesis then it might still be interesting, even if it does conflict with this paper. Aug 10 '16 at 23:48
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    What makes you think you should have found this paper earlier? How does one guarantee that a literature search will capture every pertinent thing? Aug 11 '16 at 1:46
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    Take a deep breath. Every time this has happened to me, most of my work turned out to be salvageable, and the research actually turned out better after I incorporated the late-discovered paper. Often, things look so much like our worst nightmare, that we take it to be the worst nightmare, instead of seeing it for what it is. Get yourself past the panic, and take some time to calmly study the situation.
    – Peter
    Aug 11 '16 at 13:40

It's just one paper. Papers in academia conflict quite often, sometimes with reasonable explanation.

What you should do depends a lot on the nature of the conflict. At a minimum, you should address the paper's arguments in your literature review and why you think your dissertation will find different results, or why the paper doesn't apply, or why you think parts of the paper are relevant but other parts are not, or what have you.

If the paper reveals a much more substantial error in your argument, you may have to rework sections of your argument or tweak your approach.

But the discovery of one paper is very unlikely to torpedo an entire dissertation project.


It had happened to me while I was working on my masters thesis. However, it was not completely the same which I had formulated. But, still people/reviewers might reject all your hard works with the reference (existing old work). However, I didn't stop like that. Because, in this world many things are already done and the existing ones are improved based on some new directions.

So, it is not so late that you have to pack off everything. You could argue or propose in a different way than the existing paper has already. However, please not that you might need to cite the paper which has already been published.

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