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I published a conference abstract with a undergraduate student of mine as a co-author. The work was presented as a poster and the conference doesn't publish proceedings/papers. I am now planning on publishing an extended version and want to drop her as a co-author. Can I do this?

Prior to the student starting the project we discussed authorship and agreed that it was unlikely that she would contribute enough to warrant authorship on anything that came out of the study since the experiment was conceived and implemented by me and I designed the statistical analysis. At the time of the conference, the student had collected approximately 1/4 of the data on the poster and did a fair amount of the statistical analysis, but her contribution was essentially just turning the crank. Given the effort she put in, I did not think it was out of place to have her as a co-author on the poster, but nor did I think it was required. I wrote the abstract and poster and asked her if she wanted to be an author and if so for any input on the abstract and poster.

Since then, I have collected a second independent data set and come up with a completely new analysis. I now feel her contribution (1/8 of the total data set and helping with a partial preliminary analysis) does not warrant authorship and I think it would be better to acknowledge her work in the acknowledgements then to add her as an author. I would discuss this with her, but she is out of the field and I cannot contact her easily. Can I drop her for the list of authors?

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    It's best to ask her first, but I think you are justified in dropping her name from the future paper. If you do, you might want to include her name in the acknowledgments or cite the poster with her as co-author. – Joel Reyes Noche Oct 1 '13 at 12:43
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    I think acknowledgements is a minimum requirement, at least. – Per Alexandersson Oct 1 '13 at 12:57
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    What do you gain by dropping her as an author? In this case it seems like it is indeed a gray area whether or not to -add- her as an author, but given that you already made the decision to do so, my inclination would be to err on the side of generosity. – Aaron Oct 1 '13 at 13:10
  • This might be useful: How to handle authorship disputes: a guide for new researchers. (I don't mean to imply that you are a "new" researcher. :) – Joel Reyes Noche Oct 1 '13 at 23:38
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Most authorship questions are a gray area: she did contribute to the paper, but was it a significant intellectual contribution (which is one usual criterion), with emphasis of both significant and intellectual (or scientific)? That's for you and her to decide, taking into account the customs of your field.

From her point of view, I can see two reasons why she might be consider a rightful co-author of the paper:

  • If the data collection was itself part of the scientific research, i.e. if it could not have been done by an unskilled worker following instructions. If so, then her data collection was significant (and it doesn't really ).
  • If the conclusions drawn from the preliminary analysis were useful in tuning your final analysis, i.e. if her work helped design a better analysis method.

Though by your description it seems like she may not pass the threshold, it is true that having her as a co-author on an earlier publication (conference abstract) gives her a stronger case than otherwise. If her contribution was deemed important enough for authorship at first, and you now publish work that includes this contribution, why shouldn't she be an author? I don't think that authorship “dilutes” because other larger contributions were added…


In conclusion: you maybe have good reasons not to make her a co-author, but if she feels like fighting it, she does have valid enough arguments that it could get messy. I'd advise discussing it openly with her, but being ready to have her as co-author if she feels strongly about it.

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    One problem with discussing this is that there's a power dynamic here: the undergraduate versus the (relatively) senior researcher. With colleagues, such discussion would make sense, but with someone in such a position I don't think they'd feel comfortable enough to have an open discussion. – Suresh Oct 2 '13 at 2:33
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The Hardy-Littlewood rules of collaboration, while formulated for a mathematical collaboration between peers, are a useful guide to a harmonious collaboration here. Specifically, the fourth axiom:

...it was quite indifferent if one of them had not contributed the least bit to the contents of a paper under their common name . . .

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    Gift authorship (putting down names of people who took little or no part in the research) is considered unethical by many committees on publication ethics. (See the link in my comment above for an example.) – Joel Reyes Noche Oct 2 '13 at 4:26
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    I agree with Joel: Hardy-Littlewood rules made sense in a specific context, but applied today in other fields those rules would likely violate authorship standards as set forth by journal policies… (we already discussed it here) – F'x Oct 2 '13 at 6:12
  • If the OP had a particular journal in mind with specific policies, then I suspect this issue would be moot. I took the view that the question was being asked more generally. – Suresh Oct 2 '13 at 7:56
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    @Suresh an overwhelming majority of journals nowadays follow COPE policies, even if they don't have specific journal policies... Which is why, generally, this would be considered gift authorship by today's standards – F'x Oct 2 '13 at 18:20
  • How is extending a conference paper to a journal paper and including the authors of the earlier paper in any way a gift? Occasionally as a reviewer I have seen a name drop from a paper that is presented as an earlier version and it's actually a red flag to me. I personally would err on the side of generosity, assuming I could still reach the person involved. – Fred Douglis Mar 10 '17 at 18:47
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I generally agree with the answer by F'x, but there is an additional point: You wrote in your question that

she is out of the field and I cannot contact her easily

I think that you shouldn't put her on the list of authors without her approval, for which you obviously need to contact her. Many journals that I know have the explicit policy that all authors need to approve the final manuscript.

If you don't have any affordable means to reach her, one way out could be to cite the conference abstract / poster where she is a coauthor, even if it is not a formal research publication. Thus, you make clear that her contribution was only to the results presented earlier. In addition, you could explain the particular contribution in the acknowledgments.

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The rule-to-go is the question "has she contributed to the new paper?" Next issue is to ask the actual contributee, if she wants to be on the authors' list – this was all mentioned in the answers above.

Bu-uuuut. I see a bad flag raised here. It is a follow-up work on something you worked together with her. How much of that work transitioned into the current one? Has she contributed to those parts?

I would say, if you answer the above questions positively, she should be mentioned in the authors' list. But, please, do as the first paragraph states.

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