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I'm refereeing a paper for a math journal at the moment. As happens fairly often, some other folks came up with basically the same result independently at the same time, I think the manuscripts showed up on Arxiv a few days apart.

The authors acknowledge this (and of course this is perfectly normal and won't affect my recommendation on whether or not to accept the paper), but they do it at the very end of a long-ish paper as part of the acknowledgements. This is not unusual but it strikes me as ungracious and an unnecessary hangover from the pre-digital-publishing era when these coincidences were usually addressed by notes added in proof. Should I ask them to move it up to, say, the end of the introduction, where it is more likely that readers who might be interested in the other paper will actually see it?

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    My primary concern with the placement in the acknowledgments is that that section is typically used to acknowledge other parties or works that had a positive influence on the work at hand. If the other paper was simultaneously developed without the knowledge of the authors of the paper at hand, obviously there cannot be any such influence. By mentioning the other paper in the Acknowledgments section, the authors confuse the distinction between what was simply there and what was actually used in their work. – O. R. Mapper Apr 18 '17 at 10:21
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    @O.R.Mapper Please don't post answers as comments. Your comment is a good answer and should be posted as one. – David Richerby Apr 19 '17 at 8:38
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Τhe sections of Introduction and Related Work of a paper serve the purpose to inform the reader exactly about related results/attempts/techniques etc in order to put their result in the correct perspective. As such, the "other" result should be mentioned and cited there, preferably with a direct comparison of the possibly different techniques involved. Anything else, could be potentially misleading and/or suspicious and should be avoided.

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    Mathematics papers typically don't have an explicit "related work" section. However, I absolutely agree that this needs to be placed in the introduction and possibly in its own section of the introduction, which could suitably be titled "related work". – David Richerby Apr 19 '17 at 8:36
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    @DavidRicherby I agree that they do not necessarily have "Related Work" section. But, even if not, in this situation they should have a clearly marked paragraph of something like that to clearly indicate and compare the existing related work (and not just acknowledge it) – PsySp Apr 19 '17 at 9:19
  • Why not in the Discussion section? – abukaj Apr 19 '17 at 16:59
  • @abukaj Because Discussion section is most often (in fact always) put at the end of the document. Usually these results are discussed in the related work section. If such doesn't exists, there should be a clearly marked paragraph mentioning the related result. – PsySp Apr 19 '17 at 17:14
  • @abukaj also because math papers have a discussions section even less often than they have a related work section. – Sasho Nikolov Apr 19 '17 at 17:25
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I have been in this situation as an co-author. Before the acknowledgements, at the very end of the conclusions we wrote:

Note added.—Recently, we have become aware of Ref. 22, where a similar approach to ... has been undertaken for ... —and analogous conclusions have been reached regarding ...

They also wrote something similar at the end of their paper. The story was that we submitted to the arxiv within the same week. The papers were almost identical (I think they redid the calculations with our parameters to check if they get the same). In the end, their paper got accepted quite quickly, while in our case, the editor dragged us for one year and half.

  • This has been the convention that I have seen, and I think it is accepted as normal in math and physics. I agree with OP, though, that it isn't very prominent! – AJK Apr 19 '17 at 19:34
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I have seen papers that were in a slightly different situation than yours: on the cusp of going to print when a similar paper made its first appearance (on arXiv or in a journal if it didn't get put on arXiv first). These papers often include a small paragraph at the end of the paper, immediately before the acknowledgments section, citing the paper, summarizing the results, and include a statement such as "this paper was published as we were going to print".

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    Agreed but this isn't the situation here so I don't see how you're answering the question. – David Richerby Apr 19 '17 at 8:36

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