This question is triggered by the (somewhat off topic there) comment thread about an employer who does not want to appear as affiliation for a paper, and the subsequent thoughts of whether an employer can deny an employee the right to give them (employer) as affiliation for a publication.

My question is whether affiliation means

  • the author publishes on behalf of the affiliated institution, i.e. while the author takes personal responsibility with the content of the publication, the affiliated institution also approves the work (typcially to the extent that their facilities were used and possibly they did pay the author wages for performing the work).
    The relationship between institution and work may be somewhat more loose if there's a disclaimer that the publication expresses the author's personal opinions and not necessarily the insititution's.
  • the author is merely employed at (or associated as student with) the affiliated institution, without any implication of whether the institution approves of the work or not, did pay the employee vs. the author did it in their free time, etc.

Or, in other words, how much of a connection to the publication does an affiliation imply?

This is similar to the questions posed in this answer.

Edit: of course, affiliation is part of the address. But assume here that "how to contact the author" is taken care of in the correspondence (email) address.

2 Answers 2


Affiliation could mean anything, or nothing at all. In most cases it doesn't mean that the organization approves or even knows of the publication beforehand. In some companies you sign a contract that lets the organization vet your public work, but not in others and not in most universities. In those companies it usually only means that they approve of the fact that you are publishing, but not necessarily of the content. There can be exceptions, however, as when you are working with sensitive information, such as trade secrets.

When I published, I listed my employer (a university) as my affiliation, but that was for identification purposes only. I probably still would, though I'm retired. I might, instead list none or independent researcher or my DBA (Doing Business As) persona.

I think that publishers want it almost entirely for identification purposes, nothing more. However, for some affiliations, you have a sort of implied aura that gives the editor a warm and fuzzy feeling.

  • Aha. Seems I've found some more cultural differences - see my comment to CapeCode's answer: German institutions may be more interested in creating that warm and fuzzy aura... :-> Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 12:53
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    "publishers want it almost entirely for identification purposes," which isn't particularly efficient and is perhaps becoming obsolete in light of identifiers such as ORCID
    – user2768
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 14:45

Generally listing affiliation serves two purposes:

  1. For readers it helps with locating authors to contact them (for questions on their work, collaboration, reprints, etc.)

  2. The institution, be it a university, a graduate school, a hospital, etc. can list the published research wherever they need to show research activity record. This is often critical for funds and resources allocation.

Usually, the principle of academic freedom (which notably isn't about a right to skip classes as many students seem to believe) should imply that the views are of the author alone. In reality I think you can't prevent readers, especially in the general public, from inferring some sort of endorsement by the institution. Thus papers published by prestigious universities' affiliates might be seen as more "valid". Within a research field I have not seen significant evidence of this though.

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    Over here in Germany, full acadmic freedom is reserved to professors. And my experience both at university and non-university basic research institutes is the head of department/institute director either very much reserving their right to decide whether a paper can be submitted (regardless of being coauthor), saying they excercise their right as employer to decide "what leaves the institute" or "I trust your professional judgment that the paper is ready for submission". In any case, something I'd call an endorsement. Good to know that there are cultural differences. Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 12:50
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    @cbeleites, to be clear, the definition of "Professor" is somewhat different in the US and in Germany. In the US everyone (above post-docs) is a "professor" of some sort, even new hires - Assistant Professor. In Germany, I believe it means Department Head and there is only one per department. Did I get it right? In the US, I don't have to get permission from my Department Chair to publish anything. We are considered equals for all but administrative purposes.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 14:11
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    I think I would applaud a department that has some form of quality control over what it lets its members publish — I wouldn't! (What's the exact opposite of applaud?)
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 17:51
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    @JeffE: Condemn, bemoan, criticize, boo, jeer, heckle, stare coldly at, give side-eye to . . .
    – ruakh
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 23:46
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    @CapeCode Academic freedom. If you don’t like the quality of research that the people in your department try to publish, hire/admit better people.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 26, 2018 at 3:15

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