I am from a country controlled by a repressive regime. I was able to leave the country and continue my academic activity in a top US university. Most of my work is focused on equality, human rights and distribution of resources. Until now, I couldn't publish using my name. Always ends up collaborating on different projects but without being an author (this is my request and other co-authors are just respecting my wish).

Not all my works are in those themes but this is the field of research where I think I could contribute the most, and feel like I am achieving something.

I was arrested by my government (kidnapped and tortured for 5 months) before leaving the country. Arrested for humanitarian activities, ended up tried by court-martial and then terrorism court, while I am a civilian. This was the one reason for me to focus on those issues. I fear that if I go public this regime may arrest my family members and/or confiscate my properties.

Is there a way for academics to publish (in peer reviewed journals) and do research while earning credit for their work without using their real names? Or at least a way to prevent their identity from going public ?

I think that in academia there are so many ways depending on personal identity to thrive. I have this negative feeling that there is no way to advance professionally without using my personal identity. I do not know how to do it, but it is still early to make final judgments.

  • 2
    Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/8603/…
    – G_B
    Sep 3, 2018 at 6:14
  • What kind of "credit" do you want? If it's public acknowledgment of your work, then you cannot get that without running the risks you're trying to avoid. If it's job opportunities, it depends on your field and on your colleagues' standing (you will likely want them to vouch for your tacit coauthorship in reference letters for you; but this requires said colleagues to be honest and well-respected). Sep 4, 2018 at 22:36
  • @darijgrinberg, The simple credit of authorship.
    – N00
    Sep 4, 2018 at 22:44
  • @N00: Recognized by whom? Random people working in that field, or selected colleagues? Recognized when? Soon or eventually after the government in the pertinent country will have changed? Sep 4, 2018 at 22:49
  • by academic institutions. to be able to say you took part in writing that particular paper.
    – N00
    Sep 4, 2018 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


This is a highly speculative answer - just a thought experiment.

It may be that you will never be able to publish, safely, under your own name. The secret police in such regimes may have a long reach into other countrie,s as Russia seems to have in GB.

It might be possible, however, to create a second identity for yourself that is known to only the fewest possible, most trusted, allies. It may be too late for that if you already have worked with others on these issues and they can connect you. The difficulty, of course, with a second identity is that it is necessarily not connected to your history, including degrees, employers, etc.

But academic publishing is normally by individuals and their institutions and credentials are not as important as when seeking employment. But, then, your human rights work would be attributed to a fictitious person, which I'm pretty sure is legal as long as you aren't using such a pseudonym for fraud.

I wonder if you already have connections to reputable human rights organizations (Amnesty International, ...) that can help you with legal advice on this. Certainly a human rights lawyer familiar with the issues in your home country would be worth consulting. If you work with a reputable lawyer, that person can cache the relationship between your true-name and the pseudonym, so that if it ever becomes possible to reconnect them, you have the legal means to do so.

I don't know if the US government would be of assistance, but I don't have much faith in it at the current moment. Even our own spies identities have been "outed" here for political gain.

  • such organizations are happy to publish such work and making every necessary arrangement to hid the identity of high risk contributors. But would that be the same for academic publishers?
    – N00
    Sep 2, 2018 at 23:48
  • @N00, I think that is unlikely if they know your real identity. But you can publish your other work under your true name. Say in mathematics. The reason for a lawyer is to have someone "official" who can speak for you as needed without revealing the true identity.
    – Buffy
    Sep 2, 2018 at 23:52
  • that is the plan ! do you know any examples where a lawyer represented a researcher in academia? Thanks for taking the time to answer this question.
    – N00
    Sep 2, 2018 at 23:54
  • 1
    For some publishers it may be possible for a work to be submitted by a third party (a lawyer) who vouches for the author while revealing only the preferred naming convention for the work. I've never heard of that happening, but it might be worth the exploration.
    – Buffy
    Sep 2, 2018 at 23:55
  • 1
    I've never had a submission questioned, by a journal for the name I gave. I don't think that is done. I assume most just trust the names they are given. But if you build up a body of work under the name Marcus Aurelius, it will be self consistent, I don't know how reviewers would treat such submissions.
    – Buffy
    Sep 3, 2018 at 0:00

Yes, it can be done. Some historical examples:

J. H. Hetherington and F. D. C. Willard, Physical Review Letters, 35, 1442-1444 (1975) https://doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.35.1442

This paper has some amusing history which you can read about on F. D. C. Willard's Wikipedia page. The catch: F. D. C Willard is actually a cat.

Polymath, D. Mathematical Sciences (2014) 1: 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40687-014-0012-7

Again, Polymath isn't a person, but the name of a collaboration of mathematicians.

You'll note from the second example that one journal's editors objected to the use of the pseudonym, insisting that the authors use their real names, but another journal didn't mind. You can do the same. It's possible editors object to practical jokes like the FDC Willard case (if they're aware of it), but if you are protecting your name because you fear retaliation, editors are likely to be sympathetic.

  • 3
    Bourbaki is another example, of course, but none of those examples feared death and torture. The problem with being blasé about this is that if a lot of people know the truth it is more likely to be revealed. Editors may wish to go along, but they also keep records. A "sympathetic" editor isn't safe enough in the present case.
    – Buffy
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:14
  • 1
    @Buffy yes, the more people know a secret the more likely it is to be revealed. I don't think there's a way about this though. Publishing anonymously also means one cannot take credit for the paper. Perhaps outright taking on a new identity is the best option. I'm only answering what is asked in the question.
    – Allure
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:25
  • 1
    Usually having a lot of allies is a strength, but that assumes that your adversaries don't have the motive and means to kill you and torture your parents.
    – Buffy
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:25
  • 1
    According to Wikipedia, the cat only published two papers, and the second was not an academic article in a peer-reviewed journal. That's a bit different from having an entire career anonymously, which seems to be what the OP is interested in.
    – Arnaud D.
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:41

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