Briefly, I was a PhD student in a lab in a developing country. I had two PIs one was my mentor and the second one was the Head of the Department, who was just added for administrative purposes (retired now and replaced by his wife). There wasn’t any funding for the entirety of my PhD in addition to not having the appropriate equipment to do my project. I managed to get scholarships and go abroad to get data and finish the degree. Most of the work was done abroad with the help of the PI there. Now, my previous PI wants to publish every single experiment done while I was a PhD student. This is all fine, however, they have added authors that have not contributed in any shape of form to the papers (the head of the Department who is retired and his wife btw they are added to every single paper coming out of the Department). To add, they are refusing to do any additional work to make those papers better, with the excuse that they don’t have money or time. At the time I was a PhD student that was true, but now couple of years later they have a big grant and still don’t want to make progress on the work. For one, the papers are not of the best of scientific quality and they don’t have a problem adding the new funding that wasn’t originally used to produce the results. I suspect that they are pushing to publish to justify the money they got from the project and their salaries, which is why now they are trying to publish old results and not spend any more time on experiments. There is no office at the University that deals with conflicts like this and that is how they manage to get away with it.

Here are my questions: What can I do as an author to prevent gift authorship? Can I prevent it beforehand if I don’t agree with the manuscript before the submission or do I have to go with the journal in which the manuscript will be submitted? Also, do I have an obligation to inform the other authors in the paper of this misconduct before the submission since we have public obligation for what we are publishing? And what if the other authors don’t want to bother to that extend? Lastly, I am wondering if there is a potential conflict of interest or misattribution of funds if you put funding that hasn’t been used for the experiments in the paper, but solely because of financial gain to keep their big salaries.

EDIT: Thank you for your responses. Just to clarify few things that I omitted the first time, since I am trying not to give too many details. I do not depend on them now and it is not like they are famous lab or highly regarded in the scientific world. They made my life difficult during the PhD, but that motivated me to find a better lab where I do not have any issues. Since my career won't be affected at all regardless of what I do now, I am trying to understand if as an author have the right in a sense to ask for improvement of the results, get rid of authors that haven't contributed or otherwise say I don't agree with publishing the paper and if this is enough to stop the paper from being published until my requirements are met. Also, I am not sure if I should inform the other authors of the situation since gifting authorship is highly unethical behavior.

  • I think you may add what career you can foreseen and especially where. It might really help who tries to answer.
    – Alchimista
    Oct 28, 2020 at 17:41
  • Sorry to hear of your situation. I don't think there is much you can do, apart from leaving, given that you report directly to the head of department. He/she can make life very difficult for you; e.g., denying your tenure, funding, etc. This situation is not unique to you. I know most researchers in a certain country include their boss or colleagues on papers to foster good relationship. Oct 28, 2020 at 20:21
  • 4
    Does this answer your question? How can I oppose my advisor granting gift authorship to a collaborator?
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 28, 2020 at 22:07
  • 1
    @BryanKrause That question is post-submission. This question is pre-submission. Therefore the answers are different. Oct 28, 2020 at 23:25

1 Answer 1

  • You should not agree to submission of a manuscript that includes an inaccurate author list.
  • Your coauthors should not submit a manuscript without your permission.
  • If they do that knowingly, you should tell the editor the manuscript was submitted without your permission. This will lead to rejection or retraction of the manuscript.
  • You should be transparent with everyone involved about the author list. People who might think they should be gift authors should not be surprised when the paper is published without their name.

In your case, it sounds like your colleagues cannot retaliate against you for doing the right thing. Usually gift authorship occurs in a situation where retaliation is a possibility.

  • @ anonymous Physicist. Thank you! Your answer is logical and how it should be. I just didn't know that one author can actually prevent them from publishing. I am not trying deliberately to stop them, but make them understand that what they do is ethically wrong.
    – Alexa
    Oct 29, 2020 at 9:29

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