Today I just received the decision of my paper from a journal. The paper was submitted last December and my paper is kind of long (about 40 pages), so I think it's reasonable to take such a long time to receive the decision. Unfortunately, the paper was rejected. And I only received a very short report from a single referee (normally this journal requires two referees) saying that the same result of Prof. B using almost exactly same technique was proved in another paper which was published in another journal, journal A. Therefore the referee decided to reject my paper. So I try to look at this paper from journal A. What was surprising to me is that I have submitted my paper to journal A before I submitted my paper to the present journal and was rejected by journal A. Journal A thinks that the result of Prof. B is good which deserved publication in the journal. However, my paper was rejected. When I look at the submission date of the paper of Prof. B to journal A, I find that I submitted my paper to journal A before Prof. B submitted his paper. What is more surprising to me is that I check the decision letter of my paper from journal A, it seems to me that they even didn't send my paper to the referee to read it, and the paper was rejected within 3 weeks.

Now it seems to me that it's very difficult to get my paper published. So here are questions: Have you ever experienced this? If yes, what did you do to get your paper published? Or did you just give up? Actually I just got my PhD few years ago, and I think maybe that's one of the reason my paper haven't been treated seriously when I submitted to journal A. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!


closed as not constructive by user9072, José Figueroa-O'Farrill, Tom Leinster, Felipe Voloch, Will Jagy Nov 17 '11 at 22:17

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    $\begingroup$ Suggestion: 1) Make this "community Wiki" and 2) Write a better paper. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sapir Nov 17 '11 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ 3) Post under a more informative title. $\endgroup$ – Marcin Kotowski Nov 17 '11 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ I understand that you cannot communicate on MO exactly the facts of this case. I suggest that you go to a senior mathematician you know well (perhaps your PhD advisor) and show him or her all the correspondence with editors and the two papers. That person should be able to give you good advice on how to proceed. Having said that, I think that this is not a question appropriate for MO, so I vote to close. $\endgroup$ – Bill Johnson Nov 17 '11 at 3:51
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    $\begingroup$ Meta discussion: tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/1210/… $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Nov 17 '11 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ Did you post your paper to the arXiv? $\endgroup$ – Tyler Lawson Nov 17 '11 at 17:58

Paul, One thing you may try to do is to send a letter to the editor of Journal B appealing the decision. From your description it appears that you submitted the paper to Journal B at about the same time as the other person submitted his paper to journal A so you can mention this fact and ask that your paper will be refereed on its own merits and not be rejected just based on the appearance of the other paper.

Of course, in order to be accepted your paper should be found to be correct and it is also possible that there are other distinctions between the two papers that contributed to the outcome.

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    $\begingroup$ That depends on what the editors of B think their mission is. If they think it is to give a reward to everyone who deserves it, then what Gil proposes makes sense. Alas, I think it is not the case and, most likely, the editors will prefer publishing some other (perhaps, even lower quality) work to duplicating a paper published elsewhere just to make the journal more interesting to its readers. $\endgroup$ – fedja Nov 17 '11 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ A perhaps very risky idea: but why not ask the editors of A (not B)to reconsider their decision to reject the paper, since ex post it seems it was a misdecision (if everything is as OP describes)? $\endgroup$ – user9072 Nov 17 '11 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Gil Kalai: Thank you for your suggestion. In the report, the referee said that, "The result and its proof are correct." So I think I will follow your suggestion. $\endgroup$ – Paul Nov 19 '11 at 6:46

The closest situation I saw was when a graduate student $X$ of a colleague $Y$ of mine started to work on some problem, solved it, but was very slow with writing the solution down. During that long and painstaking process, professor $Z$ sent to $Y$ his preprint with essentially the same result and proof. The situation was somewhat awkward but they finally agreed on $X$ and $Z$ publishing a joint paper.

That all could actually be sort of anticipated because both works were just applications of the methods from a paper that appeared shortly before this story to a slightly different problem.


1) I do not think that this situation (when several people jump on the same recent idea and try to squeeze more from it at the same time) is unusual and it may be one of the main reasons why independent but nearly identical works are produced almost simultaneously. So, if your situation is like that, then it is ordinary rather than exceptional.

2) The submission dates do not really tell who was there first in any reliable way.

3) It never hurts to negotiate a bit with "the other guy" directly and see if the infamous "priority problem" can be solved peacefully to everyone's satisfaction.

4) If you really want to make a priority claim, it is a good idea to write a decent draft and put it in the public domain quickly (arXiv is the most obvious choice though you may also want to send it to a few experts who might be interested in your result in your opinion).

5) There is no point in having 2 nearly identical publications in (almost) the same journal or anywhere.

At last, I have to say that if you are any good, one unpublished paper won't kill you and if you aren't, one published paper will not save you, so whatever happens with this paper, take it easy and don't start a fight or, worse, a crusade. I doubt you'll be able to publish it anywhere once an almost identical work has appeared in print. The upside of it is that you now know someone else (B) who is interested in the things you are interested in. Try to make the best of it.

As to the open-close tag-of-war over this question, I agree that there is no mathematical content in it but, since it directly relates to the "social side" of our craft and is non-trivial, I'd let it stay.

  • $\begingroup$ The other paper already appeared. The situation is not close at all. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Nov 17 '11 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, back during the cold war it wasn't uncommon to have nearly identical papers appearing in both a western journal and a Russian journal. In all seriousness, a beginning grad student needs publications to get jobs and while 1 paper means nothing to an experienced researcher, it could be a significant percentage of a grad students output. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Steinberg Nov 17 '11 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Sure. But the semi-positive outcome in your situations seems to be a nonoption. And, what do you want to negutiate if the other paper is already printed? (your point 3). So in my opinion the situations are not comparable. Like if somebody asks about what to do after a car accidents and somebody tells a story how they were able to break in time. ('If I had hit the break 2 seconds later it would have been the same...') $\endgroup$ – user9072 Nov 17 '11 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ I think your point 5 is completely wrong-headed. At this point publications aren't there to communicate mathematics. They are for the purpose of impressing deans. The dean won't know that the work is duplicated elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – Ben Webster Nov 17 '11 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Ben Oh, well, I guess I should stop publishing then: my list is long enough, and I don't care about impressing deans anymore. It'll be great to stop wasting my time on writing and proofreading papers and do something that is more fun. It'll free space in journals for those who still need to impress deans too :). @quid "Moral of the story" is not the same as "advice for the moment". Using your car crash analogy, it makes sense to tell that the accident of this type is not uncommon and show a few braking techniques to use in the future. This car is gone. The point is not to crash another one. $\endgroup$ – fedja Nov 18 '11 at 2:34

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