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I'm posting this anonymously, for obvious reasons (if you guess who I am please keep it under your hat).

I recently finished my PhD and am about to publish the first paper from my thesis. No sooner than I start to make noises about it and publicizing the results than a senior person in my field starts ragging on the work, and claiming that it was all contained in work they did decades ago. Most of this work is in the form of seminar notes, and precious little is published. Promised books on the topic never appeared. When trying to discuss with the person in question where I think my work extends theirs, they come back and say 'I invented such and such to cope with that case' 30 years ago. On searching for the 'such and such', I find two old Comptes Rendus notes from the time which it turns out are not available from the BnF. Again they promise work that has since not appeared. Requests for relevant documents met with abrupt refusal.

I am not so much afraid for my career, such as it is, and I am keen to give due reference. Indeed, I don't care if all of my work was subsumed by this person's unpublished work - but it relies on more recent developments than the time periods generally referred to so I genuinely believe it is new work. The other person doesn't seem to agree.

How far should I bend in order to show I am not interested in 'covering up' or 'plagarizing' this person's work?

Also I would like to make this CW, but anonymously I don't have the power to do so.

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closed as off topic by Loop Space, Qiaochu Yuan, Mark Sapir, Bill Johnson, Johannes Ebert Feb 24 '11 at 11:02

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At the risk of sounding incredibly naive, maybe write up what you just posted here in a note somewhere in your paper? That is, "So-and-so says he proved this in [ref1], ..., [ref$n$], most of which are not available. I was not aware of his work when I proved these results, and we prove them here with methods not available at the time of So-and-so's work." This sounds like work for Feynman's words on honesty in science (tinyurl.com/ybgfa3p - search for "honesty"). –  Gunnar Magnusson Feb 24 '11 at 7:10
    
BNF = Bibliotèque Nationale? –  Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Feb 24 '11 at 7:17
    
@Mariano - it must be, as the CR are available from the Bibliotèque nationale de France. –  David Roberts Feb 24 '11 at 7:28
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This also raises the issue of research announcements in general (such as Comptes Rendus notes, etc): I'm sure this is not the only case of claims in a research announcement that were not followed by a detailed publication. Maybe you should search for papers containing the words "never appeared", and see how the other authors who did provide the missing details later have decided to present their situation. –  Thomas Sauvaget Feb 24 '11 at 7:54
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As you are a recent PhD graduate, the best person to ask about this is your advisor. After that, I suggest that you contact well-known (and well-disposed) people in your field with a considered, moderated, full account asking for their advice. MO is not a great place for getting advice on such matters and I think that these "I want some advice" questions are potentially more harmful than neutral as they may dissuade people from looking for proper solutions. So I've voted to close. –  Loop Space Feb 24 '11 at 8:32

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