This question is the result of a discussion in another question. If I publish an article, solving a problem, or finding relevant data, and subsequently another article gets published, explicitly stating that the problem is unsolved, or that there are no relevant data, what should I do?

Should I contact the editor of the journal where the second paper was published, to inform him that the paper is faulty? Would authors take exception to the fact that I didn't bring up the matter with them first? And would the right thing to do be to talk to the authors first, even if they can't find out who brought the matter to the editor's attention? Do I owe it to the editor, or to the academic community as a whole, to try to get the paper changed as quickly as I can by going directly to the editor? And does the answer depend on whether I believe that the authors acted in good faith or not?

Anything below this line is not part of my question and just justification for asking it.

Note that this question is about a specific bit of advice given in an answer in the other question, which I find questionable. As such, obviously this question has an answer in the other question. My question is whether that specific bit of advice is correct. Obviously the answer that prompted me to ask this question says so.

However, the point of the the other question is not to find out whether that specific advice is correct, and so there is no mechanism there for

a) showing agreement or disagreement for this bit of advice or any rival advice as to how to proceed (since the question is not about how to proceed in the first place.)

b) posting answers and/or thoughts about the correct way to proceed (since that question is not about how to proceed in the first place.)

So there is no way to extract any useful information from the fact that that answer has X votes: Was it given the votes because of or inspite of that bit of advice? Would people upvote the opposite course of action? Who knows. So I see some value in posting it as a separate question.

Feel free to remove this part once it has been decided whether this question is valid or already answered.

Another line: Why this is not a duplicate of Recently published paper does not cite my very relevant work: That question deals with the issue of plagiarism and asks for specific advice if you suspect this happening. The answers there advise to do nothing. My question is for the case that the authors explicitly and wrongly state that there is no research or data available, and I have (for good or for ill) chosen to take action to get this factually incorrect point to be corrected. My question is not "What should I do if people don't cite me?", my question is "If I already have decided to make it known that the paper is wrong in claiming that it offers the first, or only, solution to a problem, and am trying to get that changed, would the correct way of going about be alerting the authors that the claim they made is wrong, or should I write directly to the editor." I have edited the question a bit to make that clearer, but even with the old question I don't see how people can construe this as the same question (and could consider any answer in the other question to be a valid answer for this question.)

  • 4
    Your new question has already been answered on your old question: Can intentionally omitting related work (citations) be considered as misconduct?
    – 410 gone
    Jan 5, 2017 at 17:14
  • 6
    No. An answer to it has been included in an answer to the old question (which is not mine, by the way), and it has also been challenged (by me.) To see what others think, I made it an actual question. I thought that would be the prefererd way on this site to find out what answer people would give to that specific point. Note for example that the first answer given here, by famargar, directly contradicts the advice given in (an answer to) the other question.
    – sgf
    Jan 5, 2017 at 17:19

3 Answers 3


The right thing to do is always to assume the authors of that paper simply were not aware of your work, thus in good faith. Depending on how many (thousands?) paper get published each year in your field, that may be the most likely explanation. Then, contact the authors kindly pointing out your own paper and explaining shortly your conclusions. If they don't take your work/yourself seriously, then write the editor.

  • 7
    Some part of the response depends, of course, on the timing - if their paper comes out in, say, less than a year from yours, it is possible that they did not see yours before submitting (and perhaps even until after acceptance). If your paper is 20 years old, that might be so large a time difference that the field and/or terminology has moved on. If it is truly the same field, and your paper came out 2 years ago, a nice note to them is in order.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 5, 2017 at 19:27

As far as I'm concerned, this happens all the time and it's completely trivial. When it happens to me, I sigh and shrug. If I were an editor of a journal and someone was to write to complain that their article wasn't cited in an article in the journal, I might consider a "Correction", but I'd quite possibly also flag the writer in my mind as a self-important prig. (Based on other answers, I realize this is going to upset a lot of people, but I'm just giving an honest answer here. And of course, this is almost certainly different in other fields.)

That's not universally true. There are certainly citations that absolutely need to be included, and if they're not included it would be serious carelessness at best, potentially misconduct. I'm not sure how to simply define these critical references, but they do exist, so I'm not saying it's OK to blithely skip any reference you want. (Jon Custer's comment to another question suggests using timing as one factor -- more than 20 years, the field may have moved on; less than a year, no time to include it; a couple years separation, should be cited -- and I like that as one criterion, but it's not the only one.)

But at least in my fields (various branches of molecular biology), it's very common to pick and choose references, and to ignore some, especially the ones that are relatively peripheral to the main theme of the paper.

(It used to be common, and still occasionally happens, that journals have a hard limit on the number of references you can include. This is baffling, especially for on-line only journals, but it is a thing, and could also explain why some references are omitted.)

For example, my PhD work was published almost simultaneously with another group who found the same thing, then was followed up in multiple papers by several other groups as well as by myself, and the articles were then summarized in a series of reviews. Thus, someone publishing in the field might, reasonably enough, cite my work, our competition, a followup, a review, or any combination of them; and whatever they chose I wouldn't consider it a big deal, even though (of course) in my opinion my paper was the clearest and most important.

Another example: My group recently published a nice but not groundbreaking study in a moderate-impact open-access journal. I know several other people in the field were completely unaware of this paper, and they went ahead and published overlapping studies without citing us. I've mentioned it to a couple of them at conferences, and they were startled, embarrassed, and apologetic, but it never occurred to me that I should do any more than that. The only reason I mentioned it to them was to save them the time and trouble of repeating work that's already been done.

So my answer is that I try not to skip any relevant citations myself, but when it happens to me I don't write to the editor or authors, and I don't consider it more than a really minor concern.

  • 2
    Interesting. Would you also recommend doing nothing if the paper explicitly says that there are no findings or proofs yet? (Or, to put it into an experiment context: That there haven't been any experiments made on this issue at all?)
    – sgf
    Jan 5, 2017 at 20:47
  • 1
    I'd say that the paper explicitly says that there are no findings or proofs yet would fall into the "absolutely need to be included" category, and I'd consider writing to the editor for that.
    – iayork
    Jan 5, 2017 at 23:45
  • 1
    Judging from your last comment, I think you must have misread the question. The question isn't about "the paper skipped a relevant citation"; it's specifically about "the paper explicitly says that there are no findings or proofs yet".
    – ruakh
    Jan 6, 2017 at 7:26
  • Now that I read your answer again, is it possible you were meaning this to be the answer to this question?
    – sgf
    Jan 6, 2017 at 11:32
  • 1
    @iayork It was in the question text from the start, though not, admittedly, in the question name.
    – sgf
    Jan 6, 2017 at 13:25

My answer is in between the previous two. First, in the words of the good Lord: "let him who is without sin cast the first stone". If forgetting a reference has not happened to you yet it is probably because you are still young.

Oversights happen all the time and are mostly simple oversights. For most research professionals, there are few experiences as disquieting as discovering post-publication that the bibliography did not include proper citation to someone else who had worked on the same or a closely related question, and reached a different conclusion. After all, chances are you personally know or will get to know other people in the field, and purposely ignoring the work of others you know and will likely referee your papers, review your grants, etc... that can't be good in the long term.

If a paper has been in the works for a long while, the bibliography may be slightly outdated. Some papers are harder to find than others, especially if they are available behind a paywall. If the paper was written by a more junior member of a research team, it is conceivable that this junior member took his/her bibliographic cues from a more senior member, who may only be aware of the results of long-time competitors or of groups known to her/him.

Contacting an editor about not being cited without significant evidence that such "omissions" are deliberate is being overly sensitive.

The preferred course of action in most cases is to contact the authors who omitted to cite your work, including a copy of your own work, indicating your continued interest in this problem, and asking to be kept informed of future results by that group in this area.

This might result in an occasion to initiate a dialogue with the other research group; they may admit to an oversight, or may reply explaining why the chose not to cite your work, why they think you did not close the topic, etc, all outcomes that are much more constructive than "complaining" to an editor.

Of course it could be deliberate, but I would caution about rushing to this verdict.

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