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When is a publication (paper or book) considered to be a recent publication? Does it still make sense to reply to publications, even if they are not so recent, or will it look silly to respond to something someone else has written 40 years ago, (assuming the debate surrounding this topic is not considered to be of prime importance anymore)

I am not talking about referencing that work, but directly responding to it, published in the same journal, entitled (for example): A response to X...

My field is Political Science / Political Theory.

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    Can you clarify what you mean by "respond"? Do you mean a response that is published in the same journal (usually with a title/subtitle of "A reply to...")? – user2390246 May 31 '17 at 13:44
  • Yes, sorry. Something along these lines. – George Welder May 31 '17 at 13:52
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    Some journals have cutoffs (e.g., New England Journal of Medicine is 3 weeks). What is your specific field? This also depends upon your target journal. – Richard Erickson May 31 '17 at 14:31
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    It does happen in mathematics. "A new proof of ..." or even "A counterexample to ..." In that case, the longer ago, the better. – GEdgar May 31 '17 at 14:59
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    Perhaps it would be a good idea to specify your field. – Mad Jack May 31 '17 at 16:03
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I was sent a reply article like this to referee recently, and I hope my experiences will provide from guidance. The original paper was in theoretical physics and was published in the early 1980s. The journal editor who contacted me informed me that, as a matter of procedure, they would normally send the submitted reply to the author(s) of the original paper as well as one or more additional referees. However, the journal had actually been unable to locate the original author, because so much time had passed.

One of the key questions the editor wanted me to address was whether it was worth publishing this reply article now, more than three decades after the first publication. I read the short reply and determined that its criticism of the original article was technically correct. The paper had misstated the precision of an inferred constraint by about a factor of two. However, I still advised the editor that the reply was not important enough to publish.

The reasons for this were several, and if you are interested in writing a reply to an older paper, I would suggest you think carefully about whether analogous arguments could be made against the publication of your own work. The first reason was that the error was relatively minor. Yes, it was a genuine error; but no, the major results of the first paper were not materially affected. The second reason was that the original paper had not had a significant impact on the field; it has less than five citations, and none of the papers citing it made use of the erroneous result. The third reason was that, because of more recent work, the old results had been superseded anyway.

If you want to reply to an influential work, which you felt has made some kind of logical or methodological errors, there may be valid reasons to publish your reply, even if decades have passed. However, if the errors are minor or the original work's influence on the current state of the field is small, I would not suggest that this would be a good use of your time.

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    Just one point to add: If you found a major error in an influential work that got published decades ago, then you should ask yourself "Why has no one else found it yet?" It might be that you are really the first to see it, but if it is old, had a lot of influence and it is a big error, chances for this are rather slim. So if you feel that you are in this case, double- and triple-check all your arguments. – Dirk Jun 1 '17 at 10:03

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