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In a certain field of science, it has been known that X leads to Y and assumed that if Y is observed it is caused by X. Using a relatively simple (mathematical) experiment, I have shown that also A, B, C, ... (class of certain objects), lead to Y, which means that observing Y does not guarantee X.

In my opinion, this is something that should have been checked years ago. In fact, this finding can be used to refute or at least considerably weaken the work done in a certain sub-field over more than 10 years. (though there's some prior critical work on this but the people do not seem to have cared)

Is it usually possible to publish such findings in leading journals?

Another problem that I have is that the work challenges a major part of my supervisor's work, which rests on the mentioned assumption. She seems quite upset, and tries to see the work just as some technical quirk, which it is not. I joined the lab quite recently, so I have no idea what to do. Anyway, I am very serios about this: I'll resign if it necessary to get thing published as soon as possible. It could even end my career altogether but if science is not about truth I don't see why I would like to stay in it.

I am very early in my career and the most technical (mathematical) person in the lab. What I have shown is kind of similar as finding a counter-example in math.

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    If you can convince people of your findings (which sometimes can be hard), you can get these types of papers published. But the standard of proof is much higher in cases like this; you really need an iron-cast argument for why the conventional wisdom is wrong. A "mathematical experiment" might not cut it, especially if it doesn't show that this has implications in the real world. – Peter Shor Sep 17 '16 at 18:12
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    So the math suggests that A, B, and C can lead to Y. That may be interesting, but until you observe A, B, or C leading to Y in an experiment, you're unlikely to convince people that 10 years of research is invalid. – user37208 Sep 17 '16 at 18:21
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    If your supervisor's work is challenged by you and she does not accept reasonable criticism, switch labs, fast! Of course, it may be that you do not understand what she's done and that she's actually right, so reflect whether this may be a possibility. But if it's the first, go elsewhere. There is no point staying in a lab that is not interested in as close understanding of truth as possible. This not a response whether you should publish, thus not an answer. – Captain Emacs Sep 17 '16 at 18:55
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    Have you also shown that A, B, C, etc. do not lead to X? If they did lead to X then, as far as your results are concerned, observing Y might still guarantee X. – Andreas Blass Sep 18 '16 at 5:43
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The answer is yes.

But you paper will have to meet the standards of the journals you're aiming at (that might include experimental data) and show a good understanding of the existing body of work. Especially if as you state your work contradicts a lot of the existing literature, the level of scrutiny will be high.

Now since you say you are quite early in your career it's possible that you are missing some aspects and that your work is not that controversial or that it is indeed just a technical quirk. In that case insisting in publishing it while ignoring your advisor's criticism will of course deteriorate your relationship and will probably mean you'all have to fined someone else to supervise you. But having it rejected will not affect your career negatively. Everyone gets paper rejected. Just make sure you don't make a habit of submitting work that claims to revolutionize the field but turn out to be wrong.

I am [...] the most technical (mathematical) person in the lab

That might be true but it's very unlikely that everyone else in the field lacks the necessary mathematical skills to understand the issue.

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  • Thanks for the answer. I have already discussed my work with one of the leading figures in the field (the author who published the other critical paper earlier) and she was supportive. She is the editor-in-chief of one (not the best) journal in the field and welcomed a submission. However, I think my supervisor can keep my work hostage if she likes, since I used their money and so on, she would need to be a co-author per some lab policy, and keep revising my work ad infinitum. – job Sep 17 '16 at 19:18
  • @job then continue to talk to that other person. She seem to be exactly the one to talk to and will be much more helpful than the answers you might get here. – Cape Code Sep 18 '16 at 4:58
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While it's entirely possible that you've discovered some piece of groundbreaking work and your adviser is stonewalling you because this work makes hers look worse, it's more likely that you're over reacting. Sometimes people early in their careers make these discoveries, but it's also possible that you are misunderstanding your results or the other work in your field. The last thing you should do is quit your lab and give up your career without verification.

I would recommend you find some other professor and explain your work to them. Ideally this would be someone that you trust and understands the literature. If it turns out that your work is correct and important, you probably don't want to continue to work for your advisor and should consider switching groups. My guess is that what you've found is technically correct, but known and probably not that big of a deal.

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  • I have discussed the finding with people from other universties (whom I trust) as well as a leading figure in the field (she is an editor and invited a submission but the journal is not very good). So, I don't think the case is that I am over-reacting. – job Sep 17 '16 at 21:12

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