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Doing research already done?

The New York Times has a nice article about how research is often rediscovered. The lead begins about operations research:

In 1996, Rakesh Vohra, a professor at Northwestern University, and his colleague Dean Foster published “A Randomized Rule for Selecting Forecasts,” a paper in the journal Operations Research. It illustrated how a random investor could outperform a group of professional stock pickers simply by following a “buy and hold” investment strategy.
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Alain Pilon

It was important research, the authors believed, until they learned that the same discovery had been made at least 16 times since the 1950’s. And no one, Dr. Vohra said, ever realized they were not doing original work.

As a referee, there are certain things in sports scheduling that I get quite often (generally some variation of de Werra’s work on minimum break scheduling) and I recently went a long way on a paper before de Werra pointed out to me that the results were included in a somewhat more obscure publication of his. I wonder if online search will make it easier to find these duplicate results before it makes the literature?

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Ying | March 18, 2006 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    It was said that Kuhn Tucker found Karush did same thing 50 years ago in his master thesis. That’s why they put Karush in front of Kuhn Tucker. So today we call KKT instead of KT condition

  2. Paul Rubin | May 15, 2006 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Search will help, but it won’t cure the problem. Once upon a time, I struggled to prove a result (including an online search for references) before finally constructing a counterexample. Excited, I submitted it as a short note, only to be told by a referee that this had been known for a decade or so. I would have found it had I searched under the right term, but it was a term I’d never seen before.

    Online forums and newsgroups help, if people in the know will take the time to answer questions. One can ask for help classifying a problem, or ask if anyone knows of related work.