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I work as a consultant in industry where I often get to publish scientific articles on "advanced" methods with pharma. Unfortunately, there is a often a fair amount of politics in the background that serves to (mostly) diminish the quality of the manuscript. For example, authors will simply change the wording or grammar for no apparent reason and move themselves up the author list, or insert/delete assertions without a sufficient understanding of the analysis or the results. There are also many more internal review cycles and numbers of reviewers before the draft is ever submitted to a journal, leading to a lot more frustration and indignation on my part going through the edits and comments and seeing how my precious manuscript has fallen, causing me a fair amount of anguish.

I just wanted to ask how to not feel offended or indignant as first author at comments that you have to incorporate (because they're from people above my pay grade) but would rather not.

  • This is unfortunate but not unheard of. Think of it as a "slow" pipeline for publications. In parallel, can you author "sole'ish" papers using self-generated data? or using published data (and citing where it comes from)? – The Guy Jul 17 at 16:10
  • There's a big difference between tweaking language and inserting incorrect assertions. – Azor Ahai -him- Jul 17 at 18:03
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    I might have some advice, but it would depend on the size of your author group. How big is it, more or less? – Buffy Jul 17 at 23:14
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I often get the same feeling as you when receiving comments from coauthors. I find the key to not letting it get to you is to view it as constructive criticism and discuss the matter with that individual. Even incorrect criticism is constructive, as it tells you if your work is inadvertently challenging a common misconception. In any case, the solution is to have a level-headed discussion about it.

I came to this way of thinking when I realised I was doing the same thing as your coauthors to my students. It caused them an understandable degree of frustration. But, I was making those changes to the manuscript because I believed they would make the manuscript better. Sometimes I was right, other times I was wrong - but by discussing the changes we ended with a paper that really was better.

My point is that your coauthors are probably trying to do what's best for the paper. Sometimes those efforts might be misguided, but the point is that the intentions are good. I would thank them for their interest and their time, and then ask them to justify their changes to you.

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It depends on co-authors and on how the collaboration is organised. It appears that your team is cutting time on discussions and using it for writing and editing. Understandably it leads to lack of communication and understanding between team members, as well as some frustration. It could be reduced by planning how to share the work so that each author is mainly focused on writing one section of the manuscript and not interfering so much with the writing of others. Final discussion and editing can be done together using video conferencing.

An opposite approach would be to encourage discussion within team as much as possible. For example, the lead author can organise meetings, where a section of the manuscript is discussed, the main ideas are spelled out, the team agrees on the section. Then the main author, or a designated team member writes down the result of the discussion. Repeat, iterate.

The main issue of course is that we now work in "publish or perish" academia, where the quantity of outputs is often more important than the quality. Hence, people don't have too much time for valuable deep discussions, and automate their writing as much as possible to increase the sheer amount of papers they can produce each year.

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