Clarification: The proposed duplicate is about a different situation from what I'm describing. In that situation, someone contributed by assisting tangibly with the write-up, after not having contributed to the research. In this case, someone is claiming co-authorship, carte blanche, even for papers where he has had no tangible contribution beyond simple proofreading that could be done by someone outside our field.

Unlike the other question, here, the person claiming co-authorship is not offering to work in exchange for getting credit as a co-author.

Originally, he stated he expected to be listed as a co-author regardless of whether he contributes in any way. Subsequently, he back-pedaled slightly, feeling that perhaps his demands had been too extreme, so he provided the rationalization that he would be proofreading the manuscript. These services are neither required nor desired by the younger authors. He has been installed as an intermediate, and is termed our "immediate superior." As such, he has the right to view the paper and, whether we want it or not, he can claim he proofread it and thus deserves authorship. He doesn't want to deny his boss of a co-authorship opportunity, and so he is actually demanding two tag-along co-authorships -- one for himself and one for his boss. So the question is: how many levels up the chain of command is one expected to offer free co-authorship out of professional courtesy? I am used to giving one, listed in last position, to the person who is recognized as having created the opportunity for the other author(s), and the opportunity creation is considered the contribution resulting in being included as a co-author.

My previous practice was that anyone farther removed from that should not be entitled to a co-authorship, which I saw as reserved for actual contributions.

This question is a reality check. I'm not asking what to do about the situation, I'm just asking whether the extension to an additional level of co-authorship as professional courtesy is standard, acceptable practice.

--------- Original question below ---------

We are a very small group that received a research grant approximately three years ago. For roughly the first year and a half no relevant paper was generated. I joined about a year ago and published the first paper aligned with our grant and I have a few more manuscripts in review so I've been somewhat productive. The other two postdocs (one hired a year before me and the other a couple of months after me) haven't published any relevant work and don't have anything relevant in the immediate timeline and so there is concern that our grant may be in danger of being terminated.

To address this concern, the group director hired someone from a lab who agreed to visit on a part-time basis to lead the research effort since we are actually part of a teaching institution with little mandate or infrastructure for research. Because I actually have a steady stream of submissions in the pipeline and am actually generating output -- and possibly because he is seeking to build his resume -- he wanted to be included in my submissions even if he didn't contribute in any way. His argument was that:

As a rule...you should add XXX (as the director of YYY) and myself (as Scientific Advisor and your supervisor) as co-authors on all your papers. The feedback and review on the paper (as proofreader or otherwise) and the comments provided constitute enough of a scientific contribution to warrant authorship, not to mention quality control, accurate acknowledgment of the work & grants, proper framing of the story, and relevant missing citations.

I tend to be fairly nice about including folks in my manuscripts: I've included folks either because (1) they've earned it (by making some substantive contribution) or (2) I felt generous and wanted to give them some exposure. What I feel a bit queasy about is when someone demands authorship for what amounts to non-scientific help, such as proofreading, quality control, etc. Sure, those things can be substantial but they can also be negligible. My experience has been that those sort of help would happen in an exchange sort of way ("I'll proof your paper if you'll proof mine."). I'm good with adding on the funding author as last author -- as is the convention in my discipline -- but, adding an author who doesn't contribute any substance yet feels entitled, is a bit difficult...not to mention possibly unethical.

Any thoughts on this?

  • It would be helpful if you edit this to provide a more specific question. Just asking whether proofreading is enough for authorship seems to be answered already. Perhaps you can ask a specific question about potential courses of action. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 1:09
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    I understand what's bothering you, what's making you feel uncomfortable, but I don't know what you're asking. Perhaps: "Is it okay to assert oneself and say no to co-authorship in the following situation" -- note, "any thoughts on this" isn't on topic here because it's so vague. But I think your question can be made to be on topic. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 1:22
  • Oops, I just read the question cactus_pardner cited. Great find. Postdoc, if that answers your question, I'd encourage you to delete this; if that doesn't answer your question, I hope you'll clarify how your question is different. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 1:25
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    Any “extending coauthorship as a professional courtesy” is unethical, at least according to the Vancouver Protocol.
    – JeffE
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 20:28
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    @JeffE - Thanks for bringing that up. Silly Postdoc, here's an answer that, if it were posted here, I would upvote: academia.stackexchange.com/a/29202/32436 Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


This seems like a clear cut transaction. They are offering their proofreading and editing services in exchange for co-authorship.

You are free to decline and you are free to accept. What you shouldn’t do is leave the person in an ambiguous state. If you wish to decline, then tell them explicitly no and don’t use their services.

If you aren’t able to make or convey this decision, then ask your supervisor to do so for you.

  • I might've explained poorly because it's actually anything but...I've added a comment at the top to explain. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 4:08
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    This might be field specific. In my field, journals often require explicitly that all listed authors made significant scientific contributions. So nobody has the right to simply offer co-authorship to others. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 6:20
  • @MichaelGreinecker But does anyone ever check that?
    – Dirk
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 10:22
  • @DirkLiebhold No, but there can be some reputational damage if this get's known. Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 10:30

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