11

I am co-authoring a physics manuscript with some students and colleagues. The results in this has been obtained by means of a grant to which multiple people have participated.Because the main research project reported in the grant proved to be too hard, we switched to a backup project, which is the subject of the paper.

One of the authors just asked me to include as an author one of the persons who contributed to the grant writing, even though this person made no scientific contribution to the paper, because of the subject switch above.

Is it fair and honest to include this person?

I am asking because if I feel like this is not fair, but if I refuse, this would put me in a difficult situation with the colleague who asked, potentially ruining our future collaborations with him. What should I do?

5
  • 3
    What is the reason for including a grant writer as an author of the paper? Did the grant writer contribute to the new subject of the paper? Meaning did the grant writer, through the process of writing the grant, help clarify in any way the advantage of the new topic, or help focus on a specific aspect of the topic, etc.? If there is absolutely no impact on the authorship, what's the reason to include them as an author? The one who finances the work isn't called an author; why should the one who obtained the grant be any better?
    – Binyomin
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 10:49
  • The paper isn't done, right? This person reasonably has an understanding of the topic, considering they wrote a grant that funded it. There is still time for them to make a meaningful contribution to the paper. Is this not being proposed? (Note I'm not in physics) Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 17:21
  • @AzorAhai that is a great idea, and it has not been proposed. I doubt that the person in question would accept to contribute. He would rather call himself off the paper (which may actually be a good strategy to solve the ethical problem!).
    – Pascal
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 19:07
  • @Pascal In the most generous interpretation, I would assume the request was something like "X contributed to the grant, and therefore enabled and is interested in the outcome of your project. Please involve her in writing the paper." not "slap her name on it," but i didn't see the message your received Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 19:20
  • This is why I prefer writing papers by myself as it's clear that I did absolutely everything in that paper, whereas sometimes when there are 6 or more authors it's not clear who actually made a significant contribution and who made the tea.
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 21:57

3 Answers 3

27

I think (hope) that most people in academia would consider it improper to include, as an "author", anyone who didn't contribute to the content of the paper. There are some exceptional cases that are questionable, but this one seems pretty clear.

But the paper might properly include an acknowledgement section naming the person and thanking them for their help in obtaining funding for the project.

But I recommend not degrading the meaning of authorship by naming others.


Note that some of the exceptions, such as including a PI as an author, are justified, at least in part, because the PI, in addition to funding and running a lab/project also contributes general guidance and conceptual background to the work that goes on there. They have a continuous presence that impacts all the work in the lab. And some consider this to be improper, also. But it is highly variable by field.

4
  • 1
    Thank you for your reply. I agree with you, but I asked because if I refuse this would put me in a difficult situation, see the edit to my question. Any advice on what to do?
    – Pascal
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 11:59
  • Sadly, what you should do and what you can do may not be well aligned here. If the other person has authority over you it is usually best (not ethically) to submit. But you could look at the responses to similar questions on this site to get a sense of what arguments you might make to try to convince them. But don't sabotage your own career for a single issue on a single paper.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 12:19
  • 2
    Regarding advice on "this would put me in a difficult situation with the colleague who asked". If someone is asking you to do something unethical, are you sure you want to work with them? There is also a political/diplomatic solution here, and you might get outside help on communicating that if that's not your skillset. For example, if there are school, journal or general guidelines you could reference or an authority you could get an opinion from, point to those instead. That makes your refusal more impersonal and gently reminds them they're doing something wrong without closing the door. Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 19:06
  • @ChipMcCormick obviously, I did not know no what kind of person this was when it started to work with him... as for the second part of your post I have been thinking indeed about copying and pasting the the authorship form of the last paper that I published, where it is clearly demanded that all authors need to make a significant contribution to the work.
    – Pascal
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 17:27
10

Some journals and scholary societies have formally established criteria of what "authorship" is supposed to mean. For instance, in computer science, IEEE has such criteria here, and they say pretty clearly that you need more than just having contributed to securing the funding, and that adding an author that does not match the criteria is "a breach of publishing ethics".

So if want to bring up the topic, a stronger and somewhat less confrontational way to fight back is to find the authorship definition given by the venue where you are submitting the paper, the scholarly society or publisher to which it is attached, or some prominent scholarly society of your field. Just look at the criteria and see whether that additional person matches them or not. If not, you can say that you are worried about not respecting these ethical guidelines.

1

It's kind of tough to call, but anytime you reject this kind of "demand" there might be social and political friction and the risk of gathering enmity or passing as arrogant. The fact you have extra people on the paper who only slightly contributed to the ideas is not uncommon expecially as a junior author/researcher.

But then, what does having an extra author on your paper really cost you ?

I think you have to balance the two issues, and ponder who is asking you to add that author, if it's your direct supervisor, it might be easier to go along with it, maybe make the point that the next paper you will be more clear ahead of redaction of who is going to be authoring the paper; and that if that particular co-author is not helpful, he will not be part of it.

People in academia stay around a long time (so gathering enmity is bad), and writing grant responses is a lot of work that involves identifying a relevant subject and saying you will go for it, so it is helpful research-wise, and if your grant stems from that initial proposal, you do have a moral debt in a sense with regards to that guy's contribution.

So maybe talk it out with your advisor, tell him/her you don't feel it's fair, but if they kind of insist, don't be too hard on it, extra authors are not truly detracting from you imo. And solve/prepare the issue beforehand for the next paper.

2
  • This sort of thing reaches its apotheosis in particle physics where there are upwards of 5000 co-authors on a paper.
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 21:58
  • Thank you for the nice reply, it is well very well written. Fortunately I am an independent researcher, and have no supervisor...
    – Pascal
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 17:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .