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I am a junior member on a research project. We have written a paper. I feel the work is not ready for publication and have issues. We have discussed the issues, and other members of the group including the lead author agree with me that there are issues. But the lead author who is more senior is too eager to get the results published to the extent that he is ready to mislead the reviewers/readers by exaggerating and misrepresenting the partial inconclusive results to get the paper accepted. I don't think I can convince him to allow more time for the project to reach a more satisfactory stage before publication. I am rather junior and have limited say on the project. I am new to the field of the project, and the senior author is established in the field and publishes several papers in top venues each year. Other members of the project are his students.

We don't have conclusive evidence for one of the central claims in the paper. It might turn out to be false under more experiments. The lead author, however, believes it is correct even though he agrees the evidence we have is not sufficient. He wants to publish the results and the idea as soon as possible, but accurately stating what we have and what we don't have will make the acceptance unlikely at this point. He is fine with getting the flawed results published and then continuing to work to fix the issues for the later publications. I am not comfortable with my name appearing on the paper.

One option is to ask for the removal of my name as an author and to be mentioned in the acknowledgments. However, I have worked on the project for a considerable time and would like to get credit for my contributions, and I don't feel just being mentioned in the acknowledgments is good enough.

What would you do if you were in this situation?
How do you deal with major disagreements in writing a joint paper?
Would it be helpful if I post a different edited draft copy of the paper online where the claims are more accurate in my view?

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"Issues" and "flawed" are not really synonyms. If there are issues matters can be published as long as the issues are discussed. Flawed is very serious so which is it? –  Peter Jansson May 14 at 14:51
    
Is there a deadline to meet? –  aeismail May 14 at 15:17
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The project will continue even after the publication of the paper. There is a deadline for submission but if we miss it or the paper gets rejected we can submit the paper to the next one. –  user15272 May 14 at 16:08
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As the lead author is eager to submit. It seems this year he has little to publish which justifies going with this partial solution. Specially if he is targeting a top venue (some people wants to be there every year regardless of their submission quality) –  seteropere May 14 at 16:41
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How do you deal with major disagreements in writing a joint paper?Work them out like adults. The paper cannot be submitted without the agreement of all coauthors. –  JeffE May 14 at 22:19
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3 Answers 3

I wanted to add a fourth possibility to @artalexan's nice answer that might be more diplomatic:

  • Make the paper technically correct with the results you have (even if preliminary) and submit to the current venue.

The major problem with submitting the paper is that it is dishonest, not that it is preliminary.

If the paper can be made technically correct and honest -- even if the results are preliminary -- it would be fine to at least submit it and let the reviewers judge if it is mature enough.

If you are a co-author, you should have the power to edit the misleading text. If the main author is stopping your efforts to do that, then ask to be removed from the paper.

Of course if the results themselves are incorrect (rather than preliminary) there may be no saving the paper.


On a side note, the attitude of the senior researcher in question towards publishing may be productive in the short term (getting some initial papers published quickly by misleading reviewers), but it is utterly counter-productive in the long run. Having a reputation for sloppy results/writing will seriously harm the trust that reviews/readers have in your paper ... and reputation is so important in research! I don't know your situation, but if the researcher shows no inclination to change their attitude, try to put distance between yourself and them.

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Honest preliminary results (if exciting enough - if not, noone wants to publish an immature paper anyways) can often be published as short commuication. There, the preliminary nature of the results does not do any harm. –  cbeleites May 14 at 16:00
    
+1 for utterly counter-productive –  JeffE May 14 at 22:15
    
+1 for honesty, but is being removed from the paper enough if honesty is lacking? I'd rather refuse to remove myself and obstruct the publication until it's rectified than permit more dishonesty, especially from my colleagues. Their reputation can affect mine too, after all. –  Nick Stauner May 15 at 0:00
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@NickStauner, I agree and I think the answer depends on the situation: I think there are gradations of dishonesty, from being slightly over-enthusiastic about results (i.e., overselling) to selective presentation of correct results to deliberate outright fabrication. If there has been deliberate fabrication, there's certainly a strong case to be made for escalating the matter ... but how best to do that also depends on the situation. –  badroit May 15 at 0:06
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I see a few possible options for this.

  1. You are talking with other co-authors of the paper then you all together talk to this lead author that what he does is going to affect not only his, but also your future in a very bad way.
  2. You are making a rough estimation how quick you (and other authors) can fill all those gaps in this project. If it is let's say 15 days, you meet and make your exact suggestion. This concreteness will make the main author think twice.
  3. Although you have done a lot of research, you should remove your name from this suspicious study (if you strongly believe that this study has serious drawbacks), because sooner or later it will become worthless.
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I've seen some misleading papers written by popular names during my MSc studies. Yet, their popularity did not vanish in an observable amount of time. In research, we have many issues like this; and I believe it is not necessarily a bad thing. Sound articles would be cited by many, and they would definitely be helpful for new researchers and young students alike.

However, I have the following questions for you. Please consider them objectively.

  1. Did you witness cherry-picking? Or any alteration/manipulation to the research results?
  2. How inconclusive do you find the results? Please forget about the lead author, and give a number from 1 to 10 on your best knowledge.
  3. Can you convince the lead to add a future studies section or a paragraph/sentence to your paper, to mention the issues you come up with about the experiment?
  4. Can't you ask the leads approval to do more experiment? So that you will have a fighting chance to make things right. If you are proven right, you may give the accurate results in the earliest revision.
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