I have recently finished a paper and send it to my supervisor for review. He corrected it and before submission, he added some authors (some labmates, collaborators) who have no idea about my project. Also, he did not even ask me before adding though I worked so hard for that project. How ethical it is? Because he is my supervisor, I could not raise my voice. But I think this is not right. Is it so common phenomenon in academia?


2 Answers 2


No, it is not ethical. Yes, it is common.

Particularly for countries that have requirements on absolute number of papers to be published by grad students prior to graduation, this is a relatively common practice. Many journals now ask for the authors to explicitly list what was each author's contribution to the article, but of course this is also quite easily padded.

A question to consider, however, is whether or not these other authors had any contribution to your project you're not aware of. For example, if you are doing experimental work, perhaps they built the system you use to acquire your data - even if they have no idea about your data or experiments. In these cases some argument could be made for their inclusion. Whether that's true or not in your case is up to you.

As to what to do about it, if you have a good relationship with your advisor, ask him why they are being added using the most neutral language you can find. They may have some very good reason for adding them. If you don't agree, you can voice your disagreement and go from there. If you have a poor relationship with your advisor, you probably will just have to accept it and move on. I don't recommend secretly or "accidentally" going against your advisor's wishes since this will likely backfire, and they will in any case simply correct it at the proof stage.

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    I agree with almost everything in your answer but authors being added at the proof stage should raise some serious red flags at the journal. I don't expect a good journal to simply accept that. It certainly would require explanation.
    – user9482
    Jul 17, 2020 at 9:03
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    +1 for the option that those people did have a contribution. On the other hand, as a supervisor one should clearly communicate why one adds authors to a paper.
    – user151413
    Jul 17, 2020 at 15:30

This is known as padding and is not ethical.

Will you take a stand?

Well, will that affect your supervisor / student relationship? Your degree completion?

That is probably why this practice happens and will continue to happen. You have to decide if you will talk to your supervisor, if that fails then the department head, then the head of research or even contact the editor.

The consequences could be huge for you...

If it has not been submitted yet and you do the submission, then you could make a "mistake" and remove those names... "Sorry I sent the wrong version"...

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    It feels good to imagine, but practically speaking the last sentence seems like bad advice. Jul 17, 2020 at 11:12
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    I don't have a suggestion really. I guess you could raise a private dispute with the journal editor and say that certain "authors" listed do not even know about the project. If the journal is not a scam, that could raise enough of a red flag for them to investigate. But it could also damage your personal career, so I don't fault OP if they do nothing. However, secretly removing the author names seems just likely to fail on all accounts. You get no one on your side, and instead make enemies of anyone who notices (the editor or your supervisor). Jul 17, 2020 at 11:17
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    Indeed, and that is not the part I object to :) Jul 17, 2020 at 11:19
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    Let me try again. Great answer overall, I agree with everything except for the last sentence. Can you clarify how this is intended to play out? Is the hope just that the supervisor never notices the change? Or is the hope that they will notice, but it will be too late to make another correction? Jul 17, 2020 at 11:21
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    Indeed, the last sentence is a horrible advice. Either the supervisor will assume it was a trick to get those people off the paper (then talking about it openly would have made more sense), or they will assume that you are unable to handle a submission correctly (and we are not talking about a minor mistake one would not spot when checking the uploaded version!). Either way, a very bad idea.
    – user151413
    Jul 17, 2020 at 15:28

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