20

I've seen a recent journal paper that presents a solution to a problem, and it in the introduction it has a statement that the problem has not been solved yet. That wouldn’t be very strange if I didn’t publish a paper with a solution a few years ago, which is not cited.

I understand that no one can be aware of all papers published so there can be honest omissions, but these authors were aware of my paper because we talked about it at a conference held before the submission of their paper.

Another case which I have noticed is that some papers avoid mentioning other related papers which present similar methods but perform better than theirs.

Is this considered as misconduct, and is there something one can do about it?

  • 7
    I'm with you right up until the end as "misconduct" is a rocky road to go down. How could anyone prove that anyone else must have been aware of the existence of a related paper, and to what extent at any given time? That's a pretty high burden of proof! – Dave Kanter Sep 27 '16 at 19:39
  • 6
    Even if you talked to the authors about it, that doesn't mean they intentionally omitted it. Maybe they didn't understand, or disagree about, the relevance of the related paper. Maybe they didn't recall that conversation when they were writing their paper. Maybe they wrote that part of their own paper before that conversation (even though the submission was later) and didn't remember to update it following your conversation. There are many scenarios besides for intentional omission. – ff524 Sep 27 '16 at 19:59
  • 4
    When you have strong reasons to assume that it was omitted intentionally, you might consider misconduct, nevertheless you entering a slippery slope accusing anyone of doing that. But, importantly, there are many assumptions to make before assuming the worst. At the very least, Goldfinger's law applies: Once is happenstance, twice is bad luck, thrice is enemy action. – Captain Emacs Sep 27 '16 at 21:12
  • 2
    The odds for an intentional obmission depend on the specifics of the conversation. If the guys clearly understood that your work addresses/solves their problem, then they certainly didn't forget about it later, unless there is a medical condition involved. On the other hand, I have had conversations at conferences where the other person wanted to tell me something, but I had no clue what they were talking about. – lighthouse keeper Jan 5 '17 at 12:22
  • 1
    "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity" – Benjamin Horowitz Jan 5 '17 at 23:40
9

Yes. If they were indeed aware of the fact that a paper exists which proves that the problem was solved, then they clearly commited a scientific misconduct, though less so, I should think, by not citing your paper, and more so by claiming that a problem had no solution which they knew was solved already. Even if they considered your proof wrong, they should absolutely make it clear why they disagree with you.

However, as commenters have pointed out, there is always a good chance that people don't realise what a paper is about, don't remember that there is that paper, or they wanted to discuss your paper and just forgot about it, which of course doesn't speak for their academic diligence, but means that no misconduct was commited (unless your paper is so high-profile that by not including it, they are neglecting their duty to read the literature before writing a paper.)

Edit: Note that I have answered the general question in your title, not the more precise question in your text, which I don't know how to answer without additional evidence.

Another edit: The formal rules for scientific integrity of my own university, for example, do not explicitly mention omitting a citation, but do (obviously) contain "intentional or grossly negligent misrepresentations in an academically relevant context" (my translaton) as an act of misconduct. This is exactly my point: If they knew, or really should have known, it's academic misconduct. If they didn't know and your paper is so obscure that they didn't act grossly negligent in not finding it, it isn't.

3

I'd suggest contacting the editor of the journal that published their paper. I'd also suggest not insisting on scientific misconduct in the early stages of the communication.

If the authors solved a problem that has exactly one prior solution (yours) and failed to reference your paper, it is a very peculiar situation. Lets leave the authors aside for the moment. That kind of oversight should be caught at the review stage (it is after all a rather quick search and the reviewers are supposed to be experts on the field), so that leads me to question the reputability of the journal. On the other hand, it simultaneously leads me to question the reputability of the journal/conference where your work is published. Many authors don't read articles from predatory journals/conferences.

If the above is cleared in a satisfactory manner, i.e. none of the involved journals are predatory, we can get back to the authors again. Such an oversight is indeed probable cause for a poor literature review at the least. One possible caveat would be that the problem they solved isn't exactly the problem you solved, but some variety or special case. That may be hairsplitting of course, but proving misconduct is an extremely delicate matter.

I hope that it is now clear why you should raise the editor's attention but refrain from making strict accusations. If you are right, a reputable journal will (in the best case for you) retract their paper. Once this is accomplished, if you still feel insistent, you could further pursue the matter of scientific misconduct with the authors' institution(s).

  • Wouldn't it be smarted to try to talk it over with the authors before trying to get the editor to retract their paper? Even if they acted in bad faith, they might feel compelled to change the relevant section in their paper if the OP makes them aware that he read their paper and thought something was missing. – sgf Jan 5 '17 at 13:19
  • The paper is already published, communicating directly with the authors will delay letting the editor know, while leaving the paper public. This is an issue for the editor. Also, I didn't recommend "getting the editor to retract their paper", I recommended contacting them without any accusations, but with just a statement of facts. The situation can further evolve in various ways, one of which is retraction. – user3209815 Jan 5 '17 at 14:10
  • 1
    It might be an issue for the editor, but you might say the editor brought it upon himself because he failed his editorial duties in accepting a paper containing a falsehood. To me, it seems a lot more polite to inform the people who originally messed up, so they can try to clean up their mess themselves. You coul argue, of course, that the academic community is worse off for delaying any change made; but whether the damage done by leaving the paper uncontested for a month is greater than what seems to me a rather antagonising move against the authors is a matter of judgment for the OP to make. – sgf Jan 5 '17 at 14:50
  • My point is that in any case the matter must come before the editor sooner or later. Contacting the authors first is no guarantee that they won't be antagonized. I'd assume that the editor wouldn't disclose where the call for attention came from. If I stumbled on a paper like the one in question while being aware of the other paper in question, I would contact the editor myself (as a third party). Of course, that would be a complete another matter if OP chose to pursue this with the authors' institution or other "public" move, but that, as you said, is a matter of judgment for the OP to make. – user3209815 Jan 5 '17 at 15:19
  • I've taken this question to a larger audience. – sgf Jan 5 '17 at 17:06
-5

Let's for a second assume that they knew and that it was intentionally There are two ways to look at it:

  • you are not supposed to cite everything which you heard about a topic, but everything which you actually based your paper upon in a way that a reader can follow your derivation. It is nice (but scientifically optional) to mention completed work of others in the introduction. A typical situation where not mentioning the other paper would absolutely be ok, if the paper was already in the making/writing process (yes, from first draft to published paper, it can take years) in the other group when they heard about.
  • I personally find it easier to read papers which clearly limit their citations in the main part to the ones they actually used.
  • OTOH I have seen whole string of publications but specific authors who obviously did not cite specific other authors (in that case most likely to hide the fact thay own paper was not state-of-the-art from referees).
  • Scientific misconduct would be only there if they actually used your paper and derived their work from it (theoretically it should be possible to establish a timeline in which the work happened in their lab).
  • Unless you find a subtle mistake or some other signature (like unusual variable names) in your derivation which made it to their work, that will be difficult to prove and get a starting point.

So unless you actually have a strong indication that they really behaved bad, it may be wise to swallow it and not waste energy following it up.

  • 4
    "you are not supposed to cite everything which you heard about a topic, but everything which you actually based your paper upon in a way that a reader can follow your derivation." - while it is true you are not supposed to (and cannot) cite everything, you are indeed supposed to accurately represent the state of the art to the best of your knowledge. That does very much include works that you did not base your paper upon, but that parallel or even partially supersede your work. Accordingly, I also disagree with "Scientific misconduct would be only there if they actually used your paper". – O. R. Mapper Jan 5 '17 at 10:22
  • 1
    I agree with O. R. Mapper: If, say, you write a paper and deliberately fail to cite another paper which proves that you're wrong, that's a pretty clear case of scientific misconduct. – sgf Jan 5 '17 at 11:23
  • @O.R .Mapper: I see your point but there is a difference between being a bad scientist or have a bad behavior against your community and scientific misconduct. Scientific misconduct does not just mean that they should retract or correct the original paper. There is a difference between copying an idea (and not citing) and not mentioning a very close paper in the introduction. The first is scientific misconduct, the second one is (usually) not, even if you knew about it. – Sascha Jan 5 '17 at 12:23
  • @Sascha: I see three general criteria for publishing a scientific finding, namely novelty, usefulness, and authorship. In my opinion, pretending any of them is given when you know that's not true is scientific misconduct. – O. R. Mapper Jan 5 '17 at 12:33
  • @O.R.Mapper: That depends very much on the nature of the paper - purely theoretical or empirical? I come from experimental physics. I always appreciated if there were publications which had shown that another group "did this, too" - and i did not care very much if they mentioned my/our experiments even if they knew about them, as long as i also knew that my/our experiments were not their motivation/starting point (we had a small community). To check for novelty is something which needs to come from (and in in the eye of) the referees/editors - regardless of the authors opinion. – Sascha Jan 5 '17 at 12:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.