I am a researcher in Mathematics and I have recently found that it has been published a paper X whose main result is a (very) special case of a result of mine, which has been published more than an year ago. From the journal log, I can also see that paper X has been submitted after my paper has been published.

However, the author of the paper X was not aware of my previous result, indeed she did not cite my paper.

I am wondering if it would be possible to make the journal of paper X acknowledging my priority on the result, and in such a case how to do so.

I have often seen journals publishing short notes with the title "Acknowledgement of priority", in which it is explained that a published result was already proved by someone else, but I have no idea of how it works.

Thanks for help.

UPDATE: I wrote to the author of the paper and I have got no response.

5 Answers 5


I agree with @Dan Romik's answer. I also want to say that in this set of circumstances, it does not really seem necessary to take any heroic actions in order to acknowledge priority: since the OP's paper was published more than a year earlier: okay, as the record lies, the OP has priority.

I agree that the OP should make sure that the community knows that s/he had the stronger result first, and that contacting the authors of the later paper is a good idea. But I think the OP should do this with a winner's grace: this is going to be much more awkward and painful for the authors of the later paper.

I also want to mention that this kind of thing happens in mathematics all the time. For instance, a few days ago I found out that the main result in a paper I published a few years ago appears, in much stronger form, in some "Lecture Notes" from 1974 (that were apparently never formally published: they are not listed on MathSciNet). Well, gosh. I haven't decided exactly what to do about this, but please be assured that I am not rubbing my hands greedily at the thought that my too-complicated-partial result has "priority" in some formal sense.

Added: Concerning the author's

I have often seen journals publishing short notes with the title "Acknowledgement of priority", in which it is explained that a published result was already proved by someone else, but I have no idea of how it works.

I did MathSciNet searches for "acknowledgement of priority" and "acknowledgment of priority" and got 62+25 hits. When you remove double counting, false positives and papers analyzing priority disputes from long ago (e.g. Euler versus d'Alembert), you get about 70 genuine instances of the sort the OP describes. Restricting to theoretical mathematics over the last 30 years, I found 9 genuine acknowledgments of priority. Moreover, among the entire group of 70, only a few are written by someone other than the author of the original paper.

From this, I would suggest that "the way it works" is that the author herself must be moved to make an acknowledgment of priority, but that this is done only in a small minority of cases. As I said, above, I am myself considering writing an acknowledgment of priority. If I do so, then in view of the above numbers I will be a world expert on the subject, and I will add more details to this answer.

  • I downvoted your answer because in my opinion it does not say anything more than Dan Romik's answer.
    – Margaaa
    Feb 20, 2017 at 9:49
  • 17
    @Margaaa: In fact you do not have sufficient reputation to downvote answers on this site. But perhaps it's the thought that counts? FYI, I did about 20 minutes of research on your question. Feb 20, 2017 at 14:59

Sorry to disappoint, but since paper X has already been published, and assuming your result is not some earth-shattering discovery like, say, a proof of Goldbach's conjecture, where there is an obviously compelling public interest in having an accurate historical record, there is no way for you to make the journal take any action to acknowledge your priority. Your best hope is to email the authors of paper X, point out your earlier result, and hope that they will be motivated by professional integrity to acknowledge your priority whenever they give talks about their results, and possibly on their web pages. My experience suggests that this yields mixed results, but I have been on both sides of such communications, and on a few occasions when I've published results that turned out to have been published earlier by others, I've certainly acknowledged it in informal settings such as talks, and if I learned about it early enough when my paper was still a preprint, I would update it to add an acknowledgement.

As for updating an already published paper, that's something I haven't felt necessary to do (and I wouldn't expect most other authors to feel compelled to do either normally), both because there is no obvious mechanism for doing that, and since in the cases I'm referring to the results were not very important and/or the amount of overlap between my results and those that preceded them was not great. If there were ever a case like this involving a really important result, I would most assuredly go out of my way to make the historical record as clear as possible, since doing otherwise is ethically untenable.

Edit: as you pointed out in the OP and comments and other answers elaborated on, it seems to be possible to submit to journals a short note with a title along the lines of "Acknowledgement of priority concerning the paper `[...]'" in which an author can formally acknowledge that their already published result has been preceded by a result published earlier by someone else. This seems to be quite an uncommon thing to do, but can apparently be done. My advice is not to take the view that the author of paper X is required to publish such an acknowledgement (since doing this is clearly not a norm, otherwise I would have known about it and probably followed it myself on one or two occasions), but something they can voluntarily do if they choose to. You may want to consider asking them to publish an acknowledgement of priority when you email them, but I would only do this if the result was sufficiently important to be worth the trouble, otherwise you run the risk that the request will come across as petty and mildly offensive. Anyway, good luck!

  • I will e-mail the author of paper X as you have suggested. However, I am not going to accept you answer because you gave me no information about the "Acknowledgements of priority". My result is surely not "earth-shattering" but I see that many journals publish short notes of "Acknowledgements of priority" about average articles, so I do not think that it is a thing only for really important results.
    – Margaaa
    Feb 20, 2017 at 9:56
  • 4
    @Margaaa I've never seen the sort of "acknowledgement of priority" that you are referring to so I can't comment about that idea with any authority, sorry.
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 20, 2017 at 10:20
  • just google: <"acknowledgement of priority" springer>, for example.
    – Margaaa
    Feb 20, 2017 at 11:18
  • 5
    @Margaaa I too had never seen such before. Judging from the search results, these are a lot more common in probability theory and related areas than elsewhere, which may account for many mathematicians being unfamiliar with the concept. Feb 20, 2017 at 15:14

It has happened to me twice that I published a result and then learned that someone else had published it earlier. In both cases, I published an acknowledgment of priority in the same journal that had published my paper. From the other answers, I infer that I wasn't really obligated to do this, but I thought and I still think that it's the right thing to do. At the very least, it helps maintain friendly relations in the community.


Does the journal where paper X is published accept letters / short notes? If so, you could write a note showing how Proposition T in paper X is a special case of Theorem Y in your paper (assuming it's not completely trivial) and maybe a generalization. Keep it professional though -- it should be a service to the reader providing new insight over the theorems, not a dispute over "scientific priority" which readers may find petty. These things happen all the time in research, there's no need to make a big scene.

  • I checked and it does not publish short notes
    – Margaaa
    Mar 1, 2017 at 15:05

Both of you made independent discoveries. Yours turns out to be more general. There is not much to this issue, since the timing of the publications does not really matter, given that they were independently done. There is not much to worry. Ideally, people will cite both results when needed. You only need to make sure to advertise your result on conferences and forthcoming publications.

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