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I'm a co-author on a paper that was published in a Nature family journal some months ago because of my scientific contribution to the work presented there. I've discovered that the first author of this paper (let's call them Pat) has, in several instances, over several years, committed scientific fraud by manipulating raw data in other publications. I have no direct evidence that Pat has done anything wrong in the paper I'm on, but I assume they probably have, given their past conduct. I don't want my name to be associated with their name.

If I ask the journal to remove my name from the author list, will they simply do it?

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If I ask the journal to remove my name from the author list, will they simply do it?

No one can say other than the journal, but personally I find your wish unreasonable. The fact that you are a coauthor of the paper is now a historical fact and as such not subject to change in my opinion. Keep in mind that even when a journal retracts a paper, they don’t pretend they never published it, but rather issue a statement saying they no longer endorse the validity of the paper. This preserves a record of the historical events that occurred and maintains a sense of continuity of the picture of reality the journal presents to its readers and to the world.

Similarly, if one of a paper’s coauthors no longer stands behind the validity of the paper, I would expect the journal would at most append to the article a statement saying that you no longer wish to be considered a coauthor of the paper. But it would be dishonest of the journal, and would be doing a disservice to its readers and to historical accuracy, to pretend you were never a coauthor by simply airbrushing your name off the author list.

So, my feeling is that you are free at any time to disavow your implicit endorsement of the paper that comes with being a coauthor. You may not even need the journal’s help to do that - for example, you can post a statement that you no longer endorse the validity of the paper on your personal web page. And you can also ask the journal to post the same notice online next to the published paper - hopefully they will find that a reasonable request, and perhaps it could motivate them to investigate whether the paper contains fraudulent data. But I think it’s dishonest to pretend you were never a coauthor of the paper, and unreasonable to ask the journal to carry on such a pretense.

Finally, keep in mind that “Pat”’s dishonesty is her own. If you unwittingly coauthored a paper in which she committed fraud, that would make you a victim, not a perpetrator, of misconduct. I don’t think it reflects poorly on you that you fell victim to such fraud (if indeed that is what happened), as long as your own work on the paper was done in good faith, and you had no knowledge of any fraud or other unethical behavior on the part of the other authors.

Edit to address the comments about the last part of my answer: I understand some people feel OP is partially responsible for the contents of the paper as a whole including the contributions of their coauthors. That’s true up to the point where OP read the paper, spent a reasonable amount of time informing themselves about what the other coauthors did and how they did it, and were not aware of any suspicious signs that anyone was doing anything improper. That’s basically a very low bar of responsibility to clear in my opinion, and certainly far from what is actually needed to prevent all occurrences of fraud in a paper you are coauthoring. Beyond that, if it turns out that there was misconduct, of course it’s embarrassing to OP and they are right to be concerned and to think about how to protect their reputation, but I don’t think any reasonable person is likely to hold what happened against them, so I don’t think they need to be very concerned.

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    And, in any case, after a bit of time, your name is preserved in any citations of the paper in other work. You can't change the past. – Buffy Mar 3 at 14:45
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    I'm not sure about the last paragraph of this answer. I think that having your name on a paper makes you somewhat responsible for its contents -- for the parts you didn't do, you have at least checked that it seemed accurate, know how the data was produced, etc. So if there's misconduct, especially if it happens repeatedly and you were e.g. supervising the fraudster, it can look bad. I'm saying this because it often happens that the big names on a fishy paper will just blame misconduct on the student, in which case I wouldn't say that they should be completely free of blame. – a3nm Mar 4 at 11:26
  • @a3nm well, yes, in the case of a supervisor and a student and repeated fraud over multiple coauthored works, what you said makes more sense, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Also, note the caveat in the last sentence of my answer (“as long as ...”), which is consistent with what you wrote. The bottom line is, OP is responsible for their own actions and for things that happened over which they had (or could reasonably have been expected to have) some degree of knowledge and control, and not responsible for other things. – Dan Romik Mar 4 at 11:36
  • @DanRomik: I think I mostly agree with you on this. The problem that I see is that the sharing of responsibility among co-authors (who did which part of the paper, who checked what) is generally not visible from the outside. So if the paper is found to be fraudulent and is retracted, there's a risk that casual observers will put all authors in the same bag and that it will reflect badly on OP even if they did nothing wrong. So basically my point is that it's reasonable for OP to worry about having their name on the paper, even if they did nothing wrong themselves. – a3nm Mar 4 at 11:41
  • @a3nm sure, I don’t disagree. – Dan Romik Mar 4 at 13:08
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You have to contact the editor, no other answer. Only they will tell you if it is possible for their publication.

You may find this helpful : How to withdraw ones name from an already published paper

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    I would not contact the editor without discussing this issue before among the authors, contacting the editor is probably the very last option he should choose...imho – user48953094 Mar 3 at 11:33
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I wouldn't take any action unless you actually find a fraud.

The situation would be more disappointing if you were coauthor of a long series of papers. For a single occurrence, and in case of fraud, your reputation won't be affected. It would be clear that you were "a victim" of Pat.

A Nobel prize worthy paper could complicate the scenario, as for special claims need extra care. But normally we are not supposed to check the honesty of coworkers nor referees are supposed to dig for frauds. At least if everything is soundly and nothing unusual points to suspect.

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