2

Summary: A co-author on a manuscript under review hasn't really done anything. Should I remove their name (with or without notice), keep their name and tell them it's unfair, or do nothing.

Some time ago I met someone at a conference who works on similar topics. We had a nice conversation. Months later, this person contacted me about something I had worked on -- they had a few positive comments and some questions about methods. I appreciated the positive comments and answered the questions about methods.

Because I don't have a lot of collaborative papers, and I wanted to have more, I asked this person if they would be interested in collaborating on a paper to submit to a conference I had been planning to submit to anyway. They said yes.

In the following months we exchanged many emails, which were all positive in tone, discussing ideas and approaches. I began to notice that my collaborator would typically respond to my ideas, rather than propose something themselves. I asked my collaborator to send me some data they had, which they did. Eventually the submission deadline was approaching, so I wrote that I would work on a draft, then we could see about combining whatever they had prepared.

A few weeks later, I sent them my draft. They made a few editing suggestions, added a sentence or two, and added two additional references, one of which was to one of their own papers. They were not bad sentences or references, so I sent it off to the conference. The paper was accepted. My co-author said they wouldn't have time to attend to the conference. I wrote that was fine, they could send me some slide contents, if they wanted, and I would show them at the conference. I ended up presenting my own slides at the conference, because my co-author didn't send me anything. I wasn't really bothered by any of this, because I would have done more or less the same thing if I had submitted a single-authored paper to this conference.

After the conference, an organizer announced they were soliciting contributions of extended versions of conference papers for an edited volume with a well-reputed publisher, with a submission deadline six months hence. I forwarded the email to my co-author, with a note that I would not immediately commence work on the extended paper because I was simply too busy with other things. They were pleased at the prospect of submitting to the edited volume and wrote that we should work on it.

About a month after that, my co-author wrote that they had been approached by someone wanting contributions for an edited collection, in a different language, about a topic somewhat related to the one we had been working on. I responded that it sounded fantastic, and if they would write up a plan or a draft, I would try to work on it, but that although I knew that language, I didn't do a lot of academic writing in it. My co-author wrote that it was no problem, we could worry about that later.

So everything seemed to be progressing smoothly. My thinking was that as I had done almost everything for the conference paper, my co-author would take the lead with this manuscript, as a tit-for-tat, and also because they are in mainly writing in that language. So I imagined things to often work in collaborations.

Anyway, a few months later, my co-author wrote me that they had prepared a first draft for the other-language submission. The attached file was simply a translation of the introduction and methods section of our previous conference paper into the other language. I wrote back that I found it unsuitable, because the contribution should be about a different topic. In addition, the text appeared to have been machine-translated using copy-paste to a website.

As a response my co-author wrote that they actually didn't have very much time, so I could take the lead with the manuscript, as first author, and write up a draft. I wrote back that I did not have enough time to do that, nor sufficient expertise writing in their language. They responded that they would forego this submission.

I was disappointed, but didn't think about it too much. A few months later I finally got around to writing up the extended version of the conference paper. My co-author, although they knew of the deadlines, did not contact me about it, and made no contribution. I sent them the submission draft about a week before the deadline, but received no response. I submitted the manuscript with their and my names on it.

A few months later: My co-author wrote to me that the deadline for submission to the other-language edited volume had been extended, and they would have enough time to write something now, if I was still interested, and also, what was the status of the extended paper?. I wrote back very briefly as I had months earlier, that I was interested, and they should write up a draft, and that the extended paper was with the reviewers.

Cue to now: My co-author wrote again, stating once again that they didn't have enough time to work on the other-language contribution, and would signal to the editors that no contribution would be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the reviews for the extended paper came back to me, and are positive. The changes requested by the reviewers will not require a great deal of time.

So my question is now: Should I

1) Remove my co-author's name on the submitted extended paper, with the justification to the editors (and the co-author) that they contributed nothing, and inform my "co-author"?

2) Remove my co-author's name on the submitted extended paper, with the justification to the editors (and the co-author) that they contributed nothing, and not inform my "co-author"?

3) Keep my co-author's name on the extended paper, but write them explicitly that I find it unfair that I have done everything and they are apparently not willing to reciprocate on other projects?

4) Keep my co-author's name and do nothing?

My feeling is that my "co-author" was hoping that I would write papers and add their name. I am also bothered by the rather ridiculous "draft" that they sent to me which was simply a translation of my own text.

I don't have a lot of experience with collaborations, so any advice is appreciated.

  • Very long, bt I would go for 3. You don't want to make such a conflict with yr colleagues. I am nt talking about what is fair and what is not because if see them from this perspective, so many things in Academia are not fair. I wrote papers and put my professor name and he did not even know what it is about. As a postdoc, I find it normal that he does not check after me but unfair because he didn't write a word. The problem is even worst with project proposals because he is the only acknowledged person. This is how it works and a paper will not make your co-author get promoted at your expense. – Younes Mar 3 at 10:50
  • I tried to improve the summary so others won't have to read in full. @Zwentibold please do revert or edit further, if you want – user2768 Mar 3 at 13:28
4

In most fields, there would be a great deal of difference between the bar for authorship and the bar for true equal contribution. In this situation, from your description, it seems that your co-author probably meets the bar for authorship, but of course not equal contribution. Below are some of your statements that were evidence for this, at least in my interpretation:

In the following months we exchanged many emails, which were all positive in tone, discussing ideas and approaches.

...

I began to notice that my collaborator would typically respond to my ideas....I asked my collaborator to send me some data they had, which they did.

...

A few weeks later, I sent them my draft. They made a few editing suggestions, added a sentence or two, and added two additional references, one of which was to one of their own papers. They were not bad sentences or references, so I sent it off to the conference.

I understand that you are frustrated that they have not contributed equally, but in general they have responded to your emails, made an effort to see where this work can be submitted, and been (partially) involved in the original work, although they have been very busy. It might be dishonest to exclude them now at the last minute. Additionally, it might be too late -- you can exclude them from the next follow-up thing you work on, but this was a thread of research that you began together, even if you did not finish it together.

In some cases, I would say that 5% actual contribution can be sufficient for authorship (though this depends on the field and the total number of co-authors). I have even seen at least one academic who lists on their CV their percent of contribution on various papers, and some are listed at 5 or 10 percent.

So my question to you is: does your co-author meet, say, a 10% bar for contribution, keeping in mind the intellectual ideas, not just the writing and editing work?

How you proceed will depend on the answer to this question. Let's consider the options you provided:

1) Remove my co-author's name on the submitted extended paper, with the justification to the editors (and the co-author) that they contributed nothing, and inform my "co-author"?

2) Remove my co-author's name on the submitted extended paper, with the justification to the editors (and the co-author) that they contributed nothing, and not inform my "co-author"?

These two options are terrible, because they treat this decision as yours to make, not in consultation with the co-author. Even if they did not do most of the work, they were a part of the project, and they should be able to have a say in whether they think they contributed enough to merit authorship.

Both options would likely cause a falling out with the co-author, and possibly some kind of minor scandal where (even if you are in the right), some people might believe you unfairly excluded them from co-authorship.

3) Keep my co-author's name on the extended paper, but write them explicitly that I find it unfair that I have done everything and they are apparently not willing to reciprocate on other projects?

This option is fair. But tread very carefully. Treat it as a question, not a request. Email your co-author and explain your concerns. Ask them if given the concerns, they feel they should still be on the paper. Be very clear that if they feel they did contribute enough to merit authorship, that you will include them. And follow through: actually include them if they feel they should be included.

You are already the first author, so it will be clear you have contributed more. But another way to phrase this request would be to ask if you should list "primary contribution" and "secondary contribution" as footnotes to your names (if this is appropriate in your field). In any case, even with this smaller request, be very careful and diplomatic.

4) Keep my co-author's name and do nothing?

If the answer to the question about whether the co-author contributed 10% or more is yes, then this would be my preferred option.

| improve this answer | |
3

You absolutely cannot remove your coauthors name as they obviously (by your description) meet criteria for authorship. Also you must give your coauthor the opportunity to review the final version of the manuscript in good time before you submit it. A week is not normally enough time for this, unless the coauthor has agreed beforehand. I would give at least two weeks.

There's no point being confrontational or burning bridges. You can choose whether or not to work with somebody again. And now somebody owes you a favour. So option 4 for me.

If you want further advice you should consult the documents produced by the Committee for Publication Ethics (COPE) https://publicationethics.org/authorship. Criteria for authorship vary across fields and disciplines (and sometimes with different journals and institutions), and are always open to interpretation.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.