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I worked briefly with Person A from a different university on a project in a competition. We were both PhD students. In this competition, our concept was based on combining mainly a system he developed before the competition and a device that I developed, also before the competition. Except for raising this combined concept, we didn’t do any actual testing or evaluation for this combined concept.

Since last year, I have also invited him to help analyze some data collected from a study of mine. I also invited two other researchers (Person B and Person C) from complementary backgrounds and who are more senior to help with the analysis. We have all agreed that all four of us will be co-authors for the final paper. We are coming to the final stage of our paper writing at this moment. Person A only knows Person B and Person C through my introduction in this case.

I have just received a notification email from a submission system that a paper was accepted to a conference. I entered the system to find the submitted version of the paper. It is a write-up of the concept of that competition. I would say 90% is based on Person A’s existing system. He has put me as a co-author. More strangely, he has also put Person B and Person C as co-authors. However, I doubt if Person B and Person C have ever heard of this project.

I found it very uncomfortable, as I am not comfortable to be associated with a concept and claim that haven’t been sufficiently evaluated. I know Person A cares greatly about the number of his publications. In fact, this is not the first time he did this. Last year, I came across a similar situation, and I successfully asked him to withdraw that paper (as that paper contains a large part of my work), which made him extremely upset. I hesitate this time, as the current paper of my study is very important for me and it has already been through several delays including serious illness of one co-author and COVID-19. I do not wish to upset him and negatively impact his work on the last stage of the current paper, which I have poured so much time and effort in. However, I felt it is unethical to include other people’s names without consent.

Note: This paper in question is mainly based on his system, which is a different discipline and it is beyond my capability to verify the system. However, where it combines the concept brought by my device, there is no evaluation at all, so it is an empty claim. On the other hand, it could be that he includes me as a co-author as a courtesy though I feel I have only contributed conceptually.

I literaly don't know what to do.

Edit: I also realise that, if I accept that my name remain co-author, then as co-author, should I be responsible to inform Person B and Person C, or require Person A to remove their names?

  • I imagine if you contact Person A, and Person A contacts the journal to explain the "miscommunication" the conference still has time to remove the additional authors? – Benjamin Horowitz Aug 27 at 23:27
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Person A is not acting ethically by submitting a paper with multiple names on it, but without asking those people to assess the paper and agree to publish it. In normal circumstances, you'd expect person A to discuss with persons B and C as well as you. I think that it is beyond doubt that this person is in the wrong.

However, it is unclear to me what is to be done about the situation as it is. Mainly, my question to you would be: do you support the claims made in the submitted paper? If so, it might be socially prudent to just accept that the paper was submitted as is. After all, science is a social construct, and we get nowhere without our network. However, if person A submits a paper where you don't support the main conclusions and puts your name on it, that would be a reason to vigorously oppose what is happening here.

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  • Thank you very much @wetenschaap, as the paper is based on his existing system which is from a different discipline, it is beyond my capacity to verify his part of the claim. However, the paper claim that the information collected from his system could be directed via my device to stimulate the user. Such claim remain a hypothesis and hasn't been tested at all. – eamory Aug 27 at 9:24
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Initially, I'd suggest going in gently, trying to persuade person A in a friendly fashion that this sort of behaviour is a bad idea. Person A is a PhD student, not highly experienced, so s/he may not yet have learned that being listed as a co-author of a published paper comes with risks as well as benefits, and may believe that s/he is just giving OP (and persons B and C) a nice free gift.

On the other hand, if things do escalate or become hostile, OP has options. Firstly, the licence-to-publish forms for journal and conference papers usually require the corresponding author to sign a declaration that s/he has the consent of his/her co-authors to go ahead with the publication: hence, person A will have to tell an outright lie on the form to proceed, and OP could notify the publisher of this lie and let the publisher get appropriately cross with person A. Secondly, in some jurisdictions, person A's actions are not just unethical, but unlawful (see for example, section 84 of the UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988), so one could arrange a letter from a (relatively) inexpensive local solicitor telling him/her to stop it.

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  • Since this is the second time OP has encountered this issue with the same person, it seems unlikely they are simply unaware – Bryan Krause Aug 27 at 18:38
  • Yes I agree. He is now a postdoc. – eamory Aug 28 at 7:24

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