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I have been reading about several cases in which a co-author submitted a paper without the consent of another author (for example in What to do after I was named as co-author on a paper, without my consent?).

Consider a situation where one co-author goes on to publish without my consent when I am the first author.

I know the rule for most publishers would legally prevent a co-author from doing this as the submitting author requires consent from all authors. However, it seems that in practice many journals have no practical processes in place to prevent this. The co-author would likely submit to an Elsevier journal. It seems that the Elsevier submission system (EES) would allow them to submit and go through the whole process by themselves without informing me if they wanted to.

Moreover, it seems that for Elsevier journals, only the submitting author is informed of advancements through the process, so that the co-author could indeed go through the whole process without other authors knowing.

If I only find out when it is published, it also seems that I have nothing to do about it. It seems that a retraction would only do more damage to my career as the paper will just stay online with my name and also be tagged as retracted. There seems to be no way if disassociating yourself with a published paper.

I am a bit worried to see that in fact there seems to be no real barriers to a co-author doing something like that. Note again that I am referring to the Elsevier process, though there may be other publishers with a similar process (and potentially the process is not like this for all Elsevier journals).

To summarize, it seems that, at least for certain journals:

  • A co-author could submit a paper without the consent of other authors and the journal would not inform or ask explicitly for consent from other authors.
  • The co-author could go through the entire process, even up to publication, without any other author explicitly being asked for confirmation.
  • Other authors in such a case would not even be informed of the submission or status changes of the paper
  • If eventually the paper is published, the only option unaware authors have is retraction, which is likely to do even more damage to their career than the fact that the paper has been published prematurely.

Am I correct in my assessment? it seems like if this is true for even some journals, then the publishing process for such journals has been designed quite poorly.

I would like to know how, as an author, I could prevent such a thing from occurring to me. How can I prevent a co-author from publishing without my consent?

I am aware that the best means is having a good relationship and communication with the co-author in the first place and I will do the best I can in this regard. But I would like to know what other practical means I have of preventing this.

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Just to clarify, the situation is that you really are a co-author on this paper but you're worried that one of the other co-authors of the paper will submit it before you all think it's ready? And not that you're afraid that some random person will add you as a fake co-author without your consent? – David Richerby Mar 3 at 21:27
    
@DavidRicherby, Coauthorship is a grey area in academia. For example you write some code for a lab. After leaving that lab, someone else in that lab uses that code as a core part of thier paper. Somepeople would view that as coauthorship situation (others wouldn't because the paper that describes that code has already been published). It is completely concievable that the student using the code could add you as a coauthor without your permission, even if you don't think you should be a coauthor. This example fits neither of your 2 scenarios – WetLabStudent Mar 4 at 3:09
    
@WetLabStudent Sure, so add "Or something else entirely?" to my comment. – David Richerby Mar 4 at 3:11
    
@DavidRicherby I am mainly worrid about a scenario where one of the other co-authors will submit before I think it's ready. But I intentionally phrased it in a general way as I hoped to have a solution to the general problem for the future – proggie45 Mar 4 at 5:38
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@proggie45 That makes sense. But the different situations may have different answers. For example, the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988) explicitly gives the right not to be listed as an author of something you didn't, in fact, write. (This is the complement to the "moral right to be identified as the author of this work" that you sometimes see in books.) That deals with the case of somebody adding you as a fake author but not other cases. – David Richerby Mar 4 at 5:41

Write an email to the editor.

As you said, submission needs formal aproval of all coauthors so if you tell the editor or publisher that this is not the case, the paper will not be published.

Publishers usually assume academics are grown ups and the likelihood of person naming people as co-authors against their will is very low and thus the hassle of sending multiple emails or having everyone involved in the online submission is not worth the trouble. Keep in mind that some articles have up to 1000 authors.

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I do not understand this. For example, If I am one of the 1,000 authors on a paper of which you are lead author, do I have the right to prevent publication? If I am being unreasonable can you drop me from the authorship list? It seems if I made a contribution worthy of being on the authors list, then you can not drop me. But with 1,000+ authors, there is bound to be some unhappy person at any point in time. – emory Mar 3 at 18:23
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This sounds quite unreasonable. That is, the non-publishing part. If one person wants to publish something and the other person objects, he has the right to remove his/her name, and to suggest reasons to refuse publicaiton. IMHO anyway. – einpoklum Mar 3 at 22:54

I have recently received an e-mail from an Elsevier journal, which went like this:

Dear Dr. Roland [...],

You have been listed as a Co-Author of the following submission:

Journal: [...]

Corresponding Author: [submitting author]

Co-Authors: [all co-authors]

Title: [the title of our manuscript]

If you did not co-author this submission, please contact the Corresponding Author of this submission at [e-mail address of the submitting author]; do not follow the link below. ...

There is a number of journals which send out similar e-mails (although Elesevier does this to advertise ORCID and not to ensure that all co-authors are aware of the process). I agree that the editorial systems of all journals should send out automated messages to all co-authors (and demand a confirmation), but unfortunately that's not the case.

If I didn't agree with this submission, I would of course confront the submitting author as advised, but I would also inform the editor-in-chief ASAP.

There is no way to protect yourself against other people attaching your name to a manuscript without your knowledge. However, something like that is actually quite rare.

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Of course, presumably you only got this e-mail because the submission included your correct e-mail address. If the submitter had faked your e-mail address (or maybe just "accidentally mistyped" it), you'd presumably have received no notice, and your silence would have been taken by the journal as approval. So it's still far from a cheat-proof (or even foolproof) system. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 3 at 17:45
    
Correct. However, I don't know what their system does if an e-mail bounces back. One would hope they'd investigate that, but I doubt it. – Roland Mar 3 at 17:48
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@Roland I suspect it happens more than you think. Lower tier academics publish in vanity presses because of "publish or perish". They get more cred if they attach the names of known higher tier academics. The higher tier academics won't know about it b/c they don't read the vanity press. The lower tier's tenure committee will pretend not to know b/c that is what they did. – emory Mar 3 at 18:19
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@Roland if we are talking about a malicious actor, they can give a functional email address that does not bounce back and is in fact controlled by them. – emory Mar 3 at 18:27
    
In fact I'm pretty sure I remember reading about exactly such behavior (probably from a link from this very SE) very recently. Sadly I do not remember enough details to identify the exact source. But the point of the article was to underscore the inadequacy of how even (especially?) high level journals verify and confirm information on a paper. Editors should at least do a cursory check that the e-mails provided agree with ones they can find for the author's through institution websites (assuming they have any in the first place). – zibadawa timmy Mar 3 at 23:29

I haven't had any bad co-author experiences like this (thankfully), but have friends who had, and have had some "less than optimal" experiences of a similar nature.

The best single piece of advice I've come up with (for myself) is to address co-authorship expectations early and often. If there are plans to turn an analysis into a paper, talk about who will be on it, the order, the expected roles, etc. the first or second time you meet about it. That gets expectations out in the open. If it's a multi-person project with several papers, talk about that (who will use which variables, co-author which papers, etc.).

Then, stay connected with the group (particularly if you're junior). Check-in with the leads often, do whatever work you can with/for them, etc. So they know you're still interested, active, and available. Sometimes, people fall off papers because they just lose contact with their team. Other times it's for poor performance. So don't hesitate to ask your seniors and peers what else you can do to help (and if what you did was helpful). For example, you might feel like you're being helpful by giving a lot of comments on a draft, but if none of them are useful, and all you do is comment (not edit), you might start to be seen as the person who just drags out the writing process without adding much to it. If you're senior or the money-getter, you can do that and stay on the paper. Not so much if junior or in the middle.

Another thought is to make yourself indispensible. Learn one part of the data, one technique for analysis, one lit area better than everyone on your team. That will make you the go-to person for that element for all papers to come.

I hope this is answering your question. I've been assuming that your co-authors are all working in good faith. That is, that if you get dropped it's because they accidentally dropped you or you really weren't doing your job well. There are malicious people out there, too though. Short of literally holding their hand, there's not much you can do if they wan't to publish without you. If that happens, take it up with the journal immediately. If you're at the same institution, take it up with your department head or other ombudsperson. If you have a close friend on the paper, ask them what happened. You may find out it's an oversite, and they add you to the paper. But it's better not to let these things fester.

Good luck!

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