I'm an external consultant who has been brought to develop a software suite to collect, analyze and reduce data for a project (with oral assurance that I would participate to any paper to come from this project).

Since then, the IT engineer assigned to the project has filed a complaint arguing that hiring me was a waste of lab resources (even if the suite was provided on time with no overcost) which resulted being in not being hired for the follow-up to this project.

Drama aside, I know that a publication resulting from the data processed through the suite I developed is underway. I tried to voice my right to examine, but was denied, again on the IT engineer's (who is participating to the paper) good word: he argues that I have no right to participate as developing software is neither original nor a research task.

From my point of view, this is simply not true: The software I've developed was tailor-made for this project and incorporate elements based on the state of the art in both data collection and analysis.

I know that what qualifies someone to be included in the authors of a paper varies widely among fields of work (my previous experience is a Ph.D. in solid-state physics, I'm talking about medical research here). Am I justified in wanting to be included in the paper?

I can see several reasons why it's important to me:

  • I want to validate the interpretation done.

  • Getting a paper for this project was for me a mean to prove my proficiency to further clients in this field of study.

  • Pride, also ? :)

  • One of the further questions is: had money change hands? Typically, if something is bought off you as a sub-contractor, you waive some rights. This should not be the sole factor, however. Did you try politely asking? Jun 26, 2018 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


Based on what you say, I believe ethically you would be listed as an author on the grounds that data analysis in an integral part of research. At least, this is what I would do. I would do this trying to keep things professional even if personally I came to dislike the software developer.

However, in practice, it may depend on the contract you signed. If there was nothing in the contract, things get trickier as the situations seems already deteriorated. Is there anyone in the research group, apart from the IT engineer, that can vouch for your work and argue for your inclusion?

If you did not sign off the copyright to the software, you may have legal grounds for not having the research group use it (again, depends on the contract), although this would be harsh. An alternative would be to publish your own paper on the software, just as a data analysis tool if it is general purpose enough to be of use to others. That would give you even larger credit. Note however that most likely the software would need to be available free of charge to other researchers.

(As a minor point, I do not understand your first bullet point. If you are not on the paper, why is it important to you that the others interpret the results correctly?)


Assuming, of course, that all the details are as you report, then yes, you have a valid claim to be included, though it may be difficult or impossible to realize. You are being abused. If you contribute materially to the paper then you should be included or, at a minimum, recognized in the paper. It may well be that there would be no paper without your contribution.

Remedies may be difficult to obtain, however. Was the assurance purely oral, or is there some record of it - email, for example? Can you get support from the person who gave you the assurance?

While you may not be successful here, you should, in future, make sure that you have a complete understanding, in writing, of how your work will be recognized or if you are just a hired-gun to do contract work. Live and learn, perhaps, but guard yourself as best you can against unforeseen circumstances and bad actors.

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