In my previous postdoc, I had completed work with my supervisor. The idea was provided to me and I did all the mathematical derivation and generating all the results. We published two conference papers, one with me as the first author, and the second one in which he was the first author. We also submitted the work to a journal but it was rejected. Then, I moved out and took another academic job. I did not have time to work on the rejected journal paper and incorporate all his suggestions. Therefore, we stopped discussing it. Very recently I found that this paper is accepted in a journal paper, and he is the sole author of this paper.

The published paper is 80-90% the same as the rejected paper that was submitted to the journal, and 60% the same to the conference paper that he is the first author (in IEEE they allow the same work to be published in conference and journal). This is completely unethical, to remove my name from the article. In this case, can I complain against him to the editor of the journal, and IEEE? What action can they take, retraction?

4 Answers 4


It could be that your co-author attempted to reach out to you in order to get your permission to use your name but never got a response, i.e. old email/ not known address, ran out of time and had to publish without your name.

I would advise getting in touch with your colleague first in order to establish what happened before using the nuclear option. It may be your colleague will assist in amending the published article.

  • 21
    While I agree with the second part of the answer (contact the colleague to ask for explanations before burning bridges), I disagree with the first part which seems to suggest the described behavior would be ethical. In fact if that is what the OP's collegue did, it would be most unethical and justify going straight over their head about this.
    – user115868
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 11:59
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    In this case, if you truly cannot get hold of someone, their contribution should be very clearly indicated in the acknowledgements. - Not ideal, but better than nothing. (And may be potentially justified by the inability to reach a former collaborator and potential university ownership of the work carried out.)
    – DetlevCM
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 16:23
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    I also like to give the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes people are just mistaken and do the wrong thing for what they perceive to be the right reason. However, in this case, it is difficult to credit the supervisor with an unintentional faux-pas. To be kind you could contact the person with a mild and veiled threat, e.g. "I've noticed that you forgot to mention me in ... Would you care to contact the XXX journal to correct this, or would you prefer me to?" This may give them a sufficient jolt to get them to mend their ways without causing complete disgrace. It depends how charitable you are. Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 17:12
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    @SeanJ In this case you want to hear explicitly from the author that he/she wants to be removed. However if they have made a major contribution (and is happy for you to publish it) you may nevertheless want to include them in the acknowledgements as otherwise you (as a single or group of authors) would otherwise be passing off the work of others as your own. - Still, it requires the explicit request to be removed. When in doubt, assume all contributors want to be named.
    – DetlevCM
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 20:54
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    A major advantage of assuming good faith (by e.g. “I assume you forgot my name…” or “I presume you were unable to contact me to confirm I was happy to be listed on the revised version…”) is that it gives the advisor a clear way to accept your side without losing face by admitting that they behaved unethically. This, hopefully, will make them more likely to accept your requested change, and less likely to get defensive and fight back.
    – PLL
    Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 15:45

You're putting the cart before the horse here. Step 0 is to contact your previous supervisor and ask for clarifications. You may or may not get an answer, and if you get one it may very well disappoint you, but I'm willing to bet no journal editor or university administrator will want to proceed unless you first tried to resolve the issue with your old supervisor.

If the situation is as you describe, then indeed there is a case for a correction to the paper (or at least some editorial action). Although you have left your previous institution, they would not be enchanted to hear that one of their employee is accused of this form of plagiarism, so if you have a case they are stakeholders in this story.

You might want to be quite careful when giving percentages as you did in your OP. The published paper might differ only in some small but crucial aspect from the rejected one even if the texts show significant overlap, and one can easily imagine that this is what your old supervisor will use in defending his position. Also from a strictly semantic perspective, your supervisor did not "remove your name from a published article": he did not properly include your name as co-author when he resubmitted a rejected manuscript to a new journal. That's not quite the same, although of course the outcome is the same: you're not a co-author.

This is why contacting your former supervisor to clearly understand the rationale behind his actions is essential. The last thing you want is for you to loose this case as it could impact your reputation at your new institution and with journal editors.

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    Crystal-clear line of reasoning. Appreciation for the attention to the strictly semantic perspective Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 18:54
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    The editor of a journal should not care what a university or anybody else thinks. They are technically only beholden to the integrity of their journal. Imagine a university that decided it did not care about plagiarism - should editors then ignore it too for example? Editors and universities may also come to different conclusions depending on the exact circumstances and how rigorous the expected standards of academic conduct are applied. - Having said that, it will always help to be able to provide justified evidence in such cases.
    – DetlevCM
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 20:58
  • @DetlevCM yes the editor will have different concerns as the University; the concerns might meet or run parallel. Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 21:07
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    I fully agree with this answer. You should first contact your supervisor and seek reasons for his actions. Failing which you have every right to take this up with the university and the journal. You could use plagiarism softwares to show the similarity between the papers.
    – kosmos
    Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 19:21

Yes, you can complain to the editor. If you complain to IEEE, the publisher, they will probably refer you to the editor.

You can request retraction or request a correction adding your name as an author. A correction would require the agreement of all authors.

You can also complain to the university, but the university can only punish the supervisor. They cannot cause the journal to do anything.

These are options. They are not necessarily useful options.

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    You can both file a complaint of academic misconduct with the former university, and notify the current university's office of research ethics. If you want to engage in brinkspersonship you can contact the professor and encourage them to contact the journal to make the correction, or else you will resort to the complaint of academic misconduct.
    – Alexis
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 17:12
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    why can you not approach the university, even if you have moved on? Do you not think they have a stake in the outcome, especially if it eventually involves a retraction? Granted, the odds are slim they will do much, but you should at least consider this option. Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 17:54
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    Wouldn't publishing this also be a copyright violation and you could use DMCA?
    – Mavrik
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 19:44
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    @stackoverblown Why is "not useful" a useful statement? I agree with the actions suggested here, but it can save somebody else who remains at academia the heartbreak to work with such an dodgy person. Very useful, and comparatively little cost, unless OP still depends on their previous postdoc supervisor. Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 22:00
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    @JorgeLeitao We don't know the asker's goals. Contacting the colleague is off-topic for this question. If the goal is to punish misconduct, these might be useful options. If the goal is to advance your own career, these options might not help. I don't think there's enough information in the question to make the changes you suggest. Commented Jul 20, 2020 at 6:10

Wow, yes that is completely unethical. I recently stopped working at an academic institution, but I still collaborate with my former colleagues and we continue to publish old projects that I was involved in, with me being an author still.

I think you have two options:

  1. Contacting the university you did you postdoc at. Email the head of faculty, or if necessary higher up, and explain what this person has done. It may prompt them to retract the paper and take disciplinary measures against him, which would hopefully stop him repeat offending.
  2. Contact the journal, as you suggested. When someone publishes a article, they usually have to agree to an authorship contribution statement. If he has claimed 100% authorship, this is a pretty serious offence, and any journal worth their salt would take an accusation of false misrepresentation seriously. The hard part for you might be proving your contribution. Do you still have the copy that was rejected from the previous attempt to publish, and the rejection email? This would be valuable evidence.

Good luck with you endeavour.

  • The level of unethicality could actually depend on the details of the communication summarised by: "I did not have time to work on the rejected journal paper and incorporate all his suggestions. Therefore, we stopped discussing it.". Depending on what was said it could have been honestly misconstrued as dropping authorship altogether.
    – user115868
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 11:27
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    @eru-cs I don't see how such an assumption on his part could be honest. He should at the very least have asked that question directly: "Do you want to still be an author on this? Or are you happy if I take all the credit and publish it without you?" The fact he didn't (as far as we know) reeks of dishonesty. I've had projects which I stopped working on for > 16 months, left the university, ceased communication for months, and my co-authors still contacted me regarding old work.
    – Earlien
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 11:33
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    I agree this does smell very fishy, but there is a chance it was a mistake rather than malicious behaviour. Not because of the time elapsed and lack of communication (as you pointed out that's not a reason to strike someone's authorship, and many projects are put on hold then resumed many months or years later), but depending on the wording the OP saying they didn't have time to work on the project could have been misunderstood as them not wishing to be associated with it anymore (perhaps there was no room for doubt, but my point is we don't in fact have enough information to judge).
    – user115868
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 11:47
  • I can not contact the University because he also moved out of the university and joined a new university. Yes, I have the rejection email.
    – user126509
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 14:49
  • There would also always be the option of acknowledgements if you had no way of contacting a past collaborator, though people with significant contributions belong into the authors list.
    – DetlevCM
    Commented Jul 19, 2020 at 16:21

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