I’m Nick, a postdoc currently working on publication of my PhD work. There are several authors on the paper - two former graduate students as co-first authors (myself and Aubrey), followed by five undergraduates (all of who have graduated now) and another younger current graduate student as the last author (Pax, who overlapped with Aubrey and me during our PhD years) before the PI's name (i.e. PI is senior/corresponding author).
We are preparing a submission to a journal after three failed submissions. In this version, our advisor moved up the position of Pax to be second author, after myself and Aubrey. We only noticed from looking at the manuscript version she sent to us with comments. In other words, she didn't discuss the change with us.
After several days of contemplation and looking through the manuscript to see if Pax really added so much to the changes in the manuscript, both Aubrey and I decided that Pax didn’t deserve to be second author - and the answer is pretty obvious because all the remaining authors contributed intellectually and experimentally to the paper. Pax, on the other hand, has never added much to manuscript meetings and doesn’t know the data from the paper as well either. Despite that, my advisor decided to move up the position of Pax to be second author.
When we questioned my advisor on this, she said that Pax contributed intellectually to the current layout of the paper (which didn’t change significantly from the last version) and gave another unconvincing answer about how intellectual contribution is difficult to assess (which in this case, I feel the answer is pretty black and white).
Aubrey and I really think there is a hidden reason that my PI is unwilling to admit, but what bothers us is that our PI is being non-transparent. I figured this is academia and the PI gets the final say in what she does.
Neither my or Aubrey’s authorship position is affected. But I know that since I am the first author on this paper, I can fight for the authorship positions of undergraduate authors all of who have really contributed a significant amount of work to the paper. This way I can learn to fight for fairness within academia.
What shall I do? Pursue this issue further with my PI or resign myself to the situation?