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2 years ago, as a PhD student in Department X at a European university, I designed and ran a study and then over the next year wrote it up for submission to decent but not top-level journals. I did 100% of the work, with no useful suggestions from anyne else, and in particular from my PhD advisor, who is also the department head. In fact, the work is quite far afield from his methods, knowledge, and expertise; however, it is understood in local academic culture that the department head goes on the paper, regardless of their contribution (which is typically zero). While preparing the manuscript, we solicited comments from my advisor's colleague, who is a respected researcher on this topic. The comments mostly related to structure, presentation, how to build the story better, etc., but nothing substantial in terms of subject matter. He also said it was a good paper and he wished he were on it. My advisor then "advised" me to put him on the paper. Being a young academic, I didn't know how to say "no", and also thought that maybe it would be strategic to have a more respected name among the co-authors.

Fast-forward to now. I have my PhD and am now an assistant professor in Department Y, no relation to X. The paper has had 1 review from a good journal and 3 desk rejects. To summarize the feedback, they generally say the paper is good and would probably be accepted, were it not for an issue which is considered a methodological flaw in one (but not the other) of the 2 fields which this paper straddles. I am convinced that I should re-run the study to fix this and, if the results stand up, submit it to the remaining relevant journals for which it would be appropriate. My co-authors, when they can even be bothered to respond to my requests for input/opinions on how to proceed, don't want to be bothered with rewriting, etc., and want to just keep trying to push it to the remaining journals.

I am very interested in the idea, I believe it is a good one, and I want to pursue this by rerunning the study without the flaw. Since these co-authors (my former PhD advisor/department head and his colleague) have not given any substantial input or help, it seems justified that they cease to be coauthors when the study is re-run -- it is virtually a new paper at this point. My questions are whether the community would generally agree that this would be wise -- especially since it hurts my job prospects to have papers with big-name researchers, since it's potentially unclear that I'm really the one doing the work. If advisable to eliminate them, I would appreciate any advice about how to navigate this.On the other hand, I do have fears about the potential fallout and am open to keeping them on the paper if necessary, but it's impossible to make progress when they don't respond to my emails about e.g. finalizing design, running/analyzing the experiment, preparing the manuscript, etc. Perhaps it is wiser to keep them, but then how can I make progress with my work without them holding me back?

  • "it hurts my job prospects to have papers with big-name researchers" That's a double-edged sword. Quite a few researchers in my area benefit from increased visibility of being associated with a big-name researcher. – lighthouse keeper Dec 19 '19 at 9:07
  • Also, it didn't get fully clear from your description if your paper after re-running the experiments would not still benefit from their input on the structure and story of the paper. In my area, such input would be considered as significant intellectual contribution and qualify for authorship. – lighthouse keeper Dec 19 '19 at 9:09
  • Regarding your second comment, @lighthousekeeper, it's conceivable that the "other guy" could offer substantial input, but certainly not my former advisor. – niemand Dec 19 '19 at 10:10
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Just ask them if they’d be okay with you reworking the paper and cutting them out of the author list, or they’d still like to contribute to it.

So your paper has a flaw that you need to rework to get published. Your coauthors aren’t interested in doing so, so why not just do the polite thing and ask them if they still want to be involved?

If they agree to be cut out of the revised paper, they wouldn’t have any reason to be upset with you for doing so. If they agree to take an active role in revising the paper, they don’t have any reason to be upset, either.

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  • Thanks for your answer. So, something like this? "I am interested in re-running this and redoing the paper based on the results. Based on our correspondence on this topic, it seems that you don't want to be involved in this whole process -- would you say this is true? If so, since this would essentially be a new paper, would you agree to relinquish your co-authorship on this reworked paper? On the other hand, if you would like to play a contributing role in the new paper, could you propose what role(s) you would imagine committing to moving forward? – niemand Dec 19 '19 at 9:13
  • My worries about this, based on how things have gone so far are: 1) they don't respond or respond vaguely, 2) they say they'll do things which they never actually do (in a timely fashion or at all), and 3) even if they say they'll do anything, there's actually nothing -- save reviewing/polishing the manuscript -- that I think they can even help with. The study is not really in their methodological area and the topic is only tangentially so. Any advice on how to deal with these? – niemand Dec 19 '19 at 9:16
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    I think your message is generally polite, although it leaves you hanging based on whether they respond. I'd make it a bit more definitive: you're starting over and unless they respond and make a specific commitment to a contribution, they're not going to be on the author list for the new article. But you say so in a friendly way and clearly leave the door open to a discussion about them getting on board. – ObscureOwl Dec 19 '19 at 11:28

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