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Case 61. Discovery of Error in One's Own Work


Professor Mary O'Meara is a sociologist interested in classical social theory and its history. She discovered an unknown and unpublished manuscript written by Georg Simmel in French which she translated and for which she wrote a foreword. She had found evidence suggesting that this piece was presented during one of the scholarly sessions that were part of the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. Because it was written in French rather than German, she assumed that Simmel had traveled to the World's Fair to present the paper in the presence of other social theorists who she knew had been in attendance (Spenser, Tarde, Tonnies, Wundt, etc.). The possible significance of her discovery, she thought, was that it might suggest Simmelian influence on other major social theorists that contemporary theorists had not investigated. For example, she was hoping to build on this discovery in a second paper in which she argued that Simmel's work had, in fact, been a major source of ideas for Durkheim's The Elementary Form of the Religious Life. She submitted the translation and her foreword for publication in an edited collection. It was accepted for publication. Shortly after her work appeared in print, another historian of social theory provided Professor O'Meara with evidence that Simmel may not have presented the paper himself at all and, in fact, may not have gone to Paris for the World's Fair. Professor O'Meara now feels that she should have been more tentative about Simmel's attendance at the World's Fair, but still feels that Simmel may have been there and that if his paper was read, that her argument about influence still stands.


  1. What, if anything should Professor O'Meara do?

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