Q: Should I 'decline to revise' my paper if I find that a similar paper has just been published?

Detailed Question -

I submitted a manuscript based on an experiment. However, three weeks after the submission date (recorded in the article history), an international group published a paper that talks of having done the same experiment as I did in the main part [of the study]. The result is the same, and the title is similar. I had not come across this when I did the first revision. So, should I ‘decline to revise’ at the timing of the next revision?

1 Answer to this question

Firstly, it’s great that you are closely following the progress of not just your paper with this journal but that of other papers in the field. It’s also commendable that you wish to be absolutely ethical about your paper. In fact, you are being pre-emptive. And all of these are great qualities as a researcher. So, kudos for that!

Which is why it may be disappointing if the new paper is indeed similar to yours (that you may have been accidentally ‘scooped’) and you are therefore not able to publish it because now there will be no/low novelty. Additionally, all your effort so far would be ‘wasted.’

We feel for you, and we also hear what you are saying. So, here’s what we would suggest.

  • It seems your paper has gone through a major revision and you are next anticipating a minor round of revision. As you have just submitted your paper again, you should write to the editor updating them of the situation. The editor may have a look at the other paper, along with the reviewers, and they may make their own decision on your paper. The decision may well be to not proceed with the paper (but perhaps to turn it into a smaller article such as a letter to the editor). On the other hand, they may also decide to proceed with the paper but after making some changes to it so that it’s different from the other paper. You should definitely discuss this with the editor and figure out how to proceed.
  • As a variation of the above, they may ask you to submit this as a new submission later but from the perspective of reproducing the results of the other paper. Note that reproducibility papers have an important role to play. In case this journal does not offer this option, you may consider turning this into a reproducibility paper and submitting to another journal. In case you decide to submit to another journal, you can first make a presubmission inquiry in which you can inform them of the history of the paper. This is to save you from expending additional time and effort on the paper.
  • Consult with a senior/supervisor and find out what they have to say about the situation.
  • In case you decide (after consultation with the necessary people) that this paper can be modified and submitted as a new paper (in whichever form), you may wish to consider our Scientific Editing service. It differs from our other editing services in offering a scientific/technical review of the paper (apart from the language- and style-based review). It is done by an experienced peer reviewer, who may be able to show you how to make the paper different from the other paper.

Here’s hoping you are able to salvage the paper (to some or a larger extent) based on discussions with the relevant individuals. All the best for the way forward!