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I am attending a course at a neighboring institute purely out of interest. Neither credits, nor grading of any kind are involved.

As part of the course, we are required to work in pairs (assigned, not chosen) and write an essay on a controversial/contentious topic. My partner and I find ourselves on opposite sides of the debate.

On account of the controversial nature of the topic, its connection with my academic work and my own contributions to the field, I am not comfortable diluting my stand. However, compromise is inevitable in pairs/groups, and I realise the point of this exercise might be to reinforce exactly that.

Nevertheless, I don't wish to sign off on something that I don't believe in 100%. I also don't wish to opt out of the assignment as my partner is being graded on it and it seems unethical to leave him hanging.

So I propose submitting the essay titled: (Title),(Partner name and affiliation), (Anonymous, independent).

Is there any precedent to do this, or is there a strong reason not to? Do I use a pseudonym instead?

Any advice on alternatives or other points of view would be appreciated.

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  • Is the question about writing and submitting the paper within the class, as an article for the "in-house publication," or both? That probably will affect the answers a bit. – aeismail Nov 30 '18 at 3:47
  • @DavidKetcheson - I see, would've been more clear if you'd referenced aeismail's comment earlier. I confess I don't see a major distinction between the two questions, but I'll take your advice and post a fresh question. Thanks! – AppliedAcademic Nov 30 '18 at 9:42
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    Adversarial collaborations seem to be a new thing -- I wouldn't expect that much precedent. However, one of the better known ones has one anonymous and one real-name author, so there seems nothing wrong about it. – darij grinberg Dec 1 '18 at 2:44
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I do not know what was in the minds of those who set the exercise that is now causing trouble for you, but I find it hard to imagine any future career for you that will not involve collaborating with other people with whom you do not entirely agree. It certainly makes sense for an educational institution to set exercises to give you experience of that.

I have experienced another version of such an exercise in which you and the other person are given, say, 5 minutes, to state your case. A bell is then rung, and you are both required to present, fairly, for a further 5 minutes what the other side had previously argued.

It is an important life skill to listen to the other person's point of view, to understand it so fully that you could explain it to somebody else, and then, if possible, and it usually is, agree a statement of what you both agree on with clear indication of where you differ.

If I had set the task I would regard separate submissions from you and your colleague as failure to engage properly with the task.

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  • Appreciate your answer, thanks! It is ironical perhaps, that the course in parts was about conflicts. – AppliedAcademic Dec 3 '18 at 11:58
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The point of an exercise in dissecting a contentious issue is not that you must agree 100% on the solutions to the issues by the end. The point is to find where you and the other members agree and where you and the others agree either that a) further research is needed or b) fundamentally different approaches are being proposed.

Your desire not to sign off unless you agree 100% with everything in the document essentially defeats the integrity of the exercise. You are allowing your (preconceived) stand to override the goal of finding common ground. Common ground is saying "We agree on these statements, we need more time on these statements, and we disagree on these statements."

So, first compile a document that presents the statements where you both agree, where you both agree that further research is required, and where you both agree that you both disagree.

Then, prepare an addendum. Present your views for the statements where you disagree. Invite your co-author to do the same.

Avoid using the addendum as a way to poke holes in the main document. The addendum should be of the tone "I FULLY agree with the presentations in the main document. I see issues however at the noted points of disagreement. My reasons are as follows: ..." Limit the addendum to a minimum (e.g. one page or even one paragraph).

Submit the document and the two addendum pages.

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  • Interesting answer! I agree with you about the purpose of the exercise. :) Decided to give it in anyway, without the addendum. Worked enough leeway into the contents itself. – AppliedAcademic Dec 3 '18 at 11:57
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This is an unusual situation, and I find it a little difficult to understand your reason #2. In any case, I would suggest e-mailing the professor (anonymously, if you like) and asking what they would prefer. If you don't get a response, I see no harm with the "Partner's Name and Anonymous" option for the homework piece.

The only downside I see is that doing this may decrease the chance for publication (the WSJ, for example, does not typically publish anonymous pieces as a matter of policy), which could adversely affect your partner. To get around this, I would recommend just adding a 2-sentence note at the end explaining why you are anonymous and giving permission for your partner to publish the work as single-author.

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  • Thanks! Yes, if it is considered for publication, I'd be happy for partner to publish it alone. I understand the peculiarity of the situation, so your confusion is justified. I work with an upcoming but relatively contentious technology, and am aware of it's shortcomings as well as it's tremendous potential. My partner (and indeed, the institute) work on policy and often take stridently anti-technology stances. I don't want my name to be used as an endorsement of their POV 'by a SME/industry person'. – AppliedAcademic Nov 30 '18 at 7:26
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    @user153812 so you want to publish anonymously a point of view that you don't want to support... perhaps you should not publish at all if these are not points you support... – Solar Mike Nov 30 '18 at 10:27
  • @SolarMike - In a nutshell, yes. It does seem easiest to simply opt out. Only, I wonder if I'm losing out on the opportunity to balance the discourse a bit. And of course, the bit about leaving partner in the lurch. – AppliedAcademic Nov 30 '18 at 10:33
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One more suggestion: Ask your professor/lecturer about handing in separate assignments. You're auditing the class, after all. Since you and your coauthor's positions differ substantially, it sounds like you would each be basically writing your own paper anyway even if you followed the first suggestion. Your professor may agree that each of you submit separately.

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