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A lot of backstory but I will try to be brief. I am employee of USA university but work abroad at a research nonprofit serving industry. (industry meaning an industry in general; many companies) My assigned handlers at the research nonprofit have power to ban me from the research non-profit facility, which would lead to unemployment and loss of residency. Access to the research nonprofit facility is a type of funding because academics don't normally get to work on tools this expensive. The (non-scientist) handlers don't help train me on equipment, get access to the research nonprofit facility and its resources, don't plan experiments, don't collect or analyze data, etc. When I was starting out and asked the handlers for help they indicated I was external and any issues I had with access or training were my own problem, and that asking the handlers for help was inconveniencing the handlers from their own work activities.

Generally the handlers are mean to me and take away opportunities to present my data to the industry sponsors which are afforded to my peers at research nonprofit who are internal. The handlers invoke the contract which gives the handlers all discretion in this area. My USA bosses threaten me with the handlers banning me from the research nonprofit facility if I do not make slides about my data and let the handlers present it. When the handlers present my data in situations where they don't think I will be able to see, the handlers just put their own name next to it, not mine or any of the USA people/institutions. My friendly colleagues at research nonprofit who do see such presentations then show me what the handlers are doing. I kept my head down and worked independently of them for a year and a half to get data in this tough situation. Now that my contract is up and the handlers and USA bosses can't hold employment/residency as leverage anymore I would like to publish my data ethically and independent of the handlers that do not satisfy any criteria for authorship I am aware of.

Including the handlers as coauthors would also be against the Publication Policy for the research nonprofit and EU university that handles my Visa. However USA universities I am aware of do not have a written Publication Policy and research nonprofit would likely defer to the USA universities in a formal dispute. USA bosses say I need to put handlers as coauthors because not doing so would threaten the project. Since the handlers presented the slides I authored to industry USA bosses say that counts as coauthorship of any publication resulting from my time here. Also the handlers are managers of some of my peers who did contribute to my work. What I see as threats of being banned from the facility if I do not list them as coauthors USA bosses say is actually a type of direct support of me that I should be rewarding them with coauthorship.

Sorry, I feel that was already too long. Any advice on how to handle this? Just don't write the paper? Create a messy dispute? Acquiesce? I already have 30 or so papers, so while I would like to show productivity from this stint it won't make or break my next career move.

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    What, if anything, prevents you from publishing the paper in question after you quit this terrible place and any leverage they have over you evaporates? – Glen Pierce Dec 26 '17 at 17:22
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    I would say the USA professor could ask for it to be retracted after publication. There could be something in the contract between USA university and research nonprofit stating USA professor must be author. There could be something in my employment status that USA professor must be author. – DBB Dec 26 '17 at 19:16
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    Don't walk. Run. – JeffE Dec 26 '17 at 20:06
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    There "could" be something in your contract? Well is there? – Glen Pierce Dec 26 '17 at 22:30
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    I found details of the question a bit unclear since there is an industry, a university (two universities actually: EU and US) and a research institute involved. Also you use a lot of pronouns like "them", "they", or unfamiliar referents like "facility", that make it unclear to which organisation you refer, or how many organisations are involved. Could you perhaps use fake names or variables like "A", "B", "C", to better indicate when you refer to which organisation? Also, with so many parties involved, can you revise all them/they/here-style references to make it clear to what/whom you refer? – badroit Jan 10 '18 at 0:10
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Moo You need to get a new job, and you need to submit this work for publication the second that these people no longer have any power over you. It sounds like they have copies of all of your things, which unfortunately means that if you just leave and don’t do anything you could wind up with them publishing your paper(s).

If they don’t have the ability to publish your work, you have more flexibility. I have no idea what your professional situation is like or if your work is time-sensitive, but you do have the serious option of delaying publication until you’re further away from them. There are pros and cons to each option, it’s pretty context dependent, but if you can take the hit for not publishing, letting the paper languish they might drop it. On the other hand racing and publishing it without them might make them give up. It depends on the psychology of the handlers, but if you can guess the lengths they’re willing to go, you might able to get out of the situation without having an authorial dispute. Both choices could also lead to further conflict: either ten hounding you about it indefinitely when you don’t publish the paper or them contacting the journal and trying to formally dispute the paper.

Your main goal for an authorship dispute should be to get as many walls between you and the handlers as you can. Straight up don’t talk to them as much as you can. They’re already in violation of their own policies and of the EU University policies (it sounds like there’s a partnership between the non-profit and the EU University), which is a great start. Contact the ethics office at the EU University and explain the situation, including providing any documentation that you have of what work they did or did not do. From then on, you can forward any angry emails to the person in the ethics office working with you. If the non-profit has an ethics office, then you can use them for this purpose too. You should also talk to the ethics office at your university and feel out how receptive they would be to helping you out. This kind of filibustering is incredibly effective in all kinds of disputes.

However, the best wall you can put between you and these people is the journal itself. Submit your paper(s) to journals that have clearly defined authorship definitions, or even better require submissions to document authorial contributions. At the end of the day the journal is the final arbiter of who gets on the paper and who doesn’t.

Another option would be to fake conceding. Split the work up into multiple papers and divided it such that the stuff they’re claiming they touched is all in one paper and the core concepts are all in the other. It’s easy enough for the joint paper to languish in revisions while your other paper gets published. How effective this is can wildly change depending on the exact circumstances though.

  • Thank you for the suggestions. They will not have the ability to simply publish the data in presentations because they are not really capable of writing up papers. They could hire someone else to kind of take my champion conditions and flesh that out into a paper or something which doesn't bother me the way doing 100% of the work of authoring a paper and being forced to add non-authors does. – DBB Jan 11 '18 at 11:38
  • @DBB I added a new paragraph (the second paragraph of the answer) based on your comment. – Stella Biderman Jan 11 '18 at 14:10
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I'm surprised I'm going to say this, but acquiescence might be best. If you believe in the work, its not right to withhold publication solely on authorship grounds. While they may not warrant authorship per APA guidelines, it seems a small price to pay given their threats. Also, the APA guidelines (widely accepted) are somewhat vague when it comes to funding support:

"Authorship credit should reflect the individual's contribution to the study. An author is considered anyone involved with initial research design, data collection and analysis, manuscript drafting, and final approval. However, the following do not necessarily qualify for authorship: providing funding or resources, mentorship, or contributing research but not helping with the publication itself. The primary author assumes responsibility for the publication, making sure that the data are accurate, that all deserving authors have been credited, that all authors have given their approval to the final draft; and handles responses to inquiries after the manuscript is published."

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Just make sure your contract does not have any clause that indicates that they are the owner of data and the intellectual property associated with all the knowledge created.

It is one thing to talk about the ethics related to it, and it is a whole new thing if it gets to a lawsuit due to you publishing something that you would not be allowed. It could end up being an industry espionage/sabotage situation.

I know it sounds dramatic, I just wanted to add the advice to check your contract and maybe get help from a lawyer regarding that.

  • indeed to have access to the facility I signed an NDA saying that publications have to go through their internal review process. I filed an invention based on the work and I wouldn't get permission to publish until the patent is submitted. Therefore I can't "Just submit it" – DBB Jan 11 '18 at 10:34
  • @DBB this is usual in the industry, although I understand the frustration of not publishing something, you have to be careful with this. – prmottajr Jan 12 '18 at 17:39

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