Let's say someone has an idea related to statistics, or for that matter another field, in which that person is not an expert. The idea works better than competing approaches found in literature, but perhaps is not expressed using the right key words or terminology. Another problem is that it is quite easy to program a moderately complicated algorithm which might be very difficult to express in "math" notation (at least for the author of the algorithm).

What would you recommend such a person to do?

What do you think about putting such an idea up the website here for some kind of pre-review?

My motivation for this question is that in such a case I gave a presentation at a conference, but didn't get so much feedback on it. And I don't know if people were just too polite to show that the idea was silly or already existent, or if the idea was fine and I should do more with it. At forums people are more open and direct, but then there might also the risk that somebody would take the idea, cast it in better shape (which is OK) but would also take the credit for the original idea (which I think is not OK).

Perhaps the question is a bit naive, but it may also be relevant for some other people.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I don't think this is something CV is a good place for at all. You could ask specific people here with expertise in the relevant area (via chat, or by direct contact if they've offered a means to do so) whether they'd be willing to take a look at it for you. You'll probably get polite "no"s (it's generally a lot of time and effort to invest without even the small gain of earning the thanks of an editor who might be getting a paper from you in a few months), but it can't hurt to ask. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 1:08

2 Answers 2


I think you already have flagged some of the difficulties with the idea you are discussing.

  • If you publish what may be original material on the internet, there is always a risk that someone will take it and publish it elsewhere without giving proper or indeed any credit.


  • If people comment on such material, there is always a risk that their comments (including improvements and even critical comments) will be published without their receiving proper or indeed any credit.

Note that the criminals could well be third parties, and not even registered, let alone active, members of this or any other forum. The risk is compounded by the common use of anonymous or cryptic identifiers in many forums.

So, there are no guarantees. If you wish to safeguard your work, there is nothing better than keeping it private if not secret before publication.

That said, I don't think either point is really a major difficulty. Despite all too many cases of marginal or even total plagiarism, it can be quite hard to get good ideas published. It is fairly obvious but I think important that

  • Pre-publication reviews can't really simulate the specific experience of review by a particular journal.

  • You would be expecting CV or any equivalent forum to fulfil an extra purpose for which it is not intended.

Yet I think there is a positive side to this too.

  • Nothing stops you posing a question, answering that question with a suggested method, and thereby inviting comments and other answers in the usual way. Otherwise put, existing practices allow you to try to provoke the discussion that you want.

There is an extra warning, however. Elsewhere I am a journal editor, and like every other editor I want to be clear that we are being offered original material. If you first make public your idea, then do so in a way that allows you to claim and date whatever originality it has. In your case, there is a prior conference publication that you could cite, but let's make the point crystal clear. Suppose a new idea is posted by user987654321, and then offered for publication to a journal by Phineas Fogg. Fogg may be challenged on whether he stole the idea from 987 and be obliged to prove that he is one and the same. That could be embarrassing at best.

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    $\begingroup$ Nick knows this, but I'll make it explicit: of course Fogg may not be user987... but nevertheless be entirely innocent, which can compound the embarrassment. More than once I've seen topics I've done some substantial work on, at least the stage of showing to people for comment, then left aside for a while for one reason or another -- appear in journals almost exactly as I've been doing it, without any hint of anything untoward going on. It's only to be expected. (A far worse feeling to me is when you see an idea you've had just done badly.) $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ That can happen, but I am not clear on how it bears on the present question. There is a possibility that someone had the same idea earlier under any way of making ideas public: rows over priority and plagiarism preceded the introductions of journals in the 17th century. Perhaps the moral is, as before, that publishing anonymously makes nothing easier for anyone, even innocent parties. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ Well, it's not a big point, but the issue I was getting at is simply that public exposure of ideas can not only lead to plagiarism, but also to the appearance of plagiarism where there isn't any. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ "lead to" is perhaps not the best choice of words. If I publish something that others plagiarise, the plagiarism could not exist without my prior work, but I don't intend to cause or even encourage the plagiarism. But you know that. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick Cox, Thanks for your response, and the edits in the original question. So i guess you are right, the only way to saveguard the credit for the initial idea, and for the contributing commend seems by doing all the communications in a more formal way. Which is a bit of a pitty, because it there is a considerable increase in treshold for a non-specialist, between having and "testing" an idea, and preparing a manuscript for a publication, and a reasonable amount of discussion, say the equivalent of time you spend to answere here, could be of great help. But i understand the difficulties. $\endgroup$
    – Sarmes
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b I like your suggestion, of maybe contacting persons on CV who could possibly help. And i guess offering them a co-authorship, or personal acknowledgements, if there is a point in the initial idea the fairest way of deviding any credits. $\endgroup$
    – Sarmes
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 15:29

If your ultimate goal is to publish this idea and as you indicated in your post that a) it is a good idea and b) you are not an expert in the field.

In my personal opinion the simplest course of action is to engage someone who is an expert in the field (or at least published) and bounce the idea around with them.

At that point, you'll know how good the idea is - then if you choose, publish the paper with them. It will likely make your paper stronger and increase the likelihood it will be accepted by a top-flight journal.


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