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A grant-funded researcher wrote a manuscript that they were first author on. All co-authors were awarded time to make edits. Before getting departmental approval for submitting to publication, the grant-funded researcher started a new job. Considerable time passed before departmental approval was awarded.

The original first author has expressed concern that they will not have time to work on the old manuscript because they started a new job. However, the PI for the grant (and co-author on the paper) wishes to publish the manuscript. The PI has stated if minimal to no edits are required, the authorship order would remain the same. If the slightly outdated paper comes back from review with a decent amount of edits to be made, potentially new portions of analysis, while the first author states that they do not have time to work on the old manuscript, can one of the co-authors potentially take over as first author? Does the original first author have to give consent? Keep in mind that the manuscript is already written up.

In the field which the manuscript is written, it is generally accepted that authorship order is determined by amount of effort involved for each author.

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If the slightly outdated paper comes back from review with a decent amount of edits to be made, potentially new portions of analysis, while the first author states that they do not have time to work on the old manuscript, can one of the co-authors potentially take over as first author?

Potentially, yes. Far from a guarantee. Probably the old first author would become second or co-first, depending on norms in your field.

Does the original first author have to give consent?

Yes. In fact, everyone has to agree to the new order, even if their relative position is unchanged.

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    If doing revisions leads to a change of first author, something went very wrong with the first version. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 7 at 23:05
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    @AnonymousPhysicist "If the slightly outdated paper comes back from review with a decent amount of edits to be made, potentially new portions of analysis" It's quite possible to get back enough revisions that authorship should be tabled. I have seen it happen. – Azor Ahai -him- Jan 7 at 23:10
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I agree if the need for a change would be genuine. But it could be fine if the authors order is changed to the benefit of a young person who had substantially collaborated, for instance. – Alchimista Jan 8 at 9:45
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You need the permission of every author to publish something. If someone withdraws before publication and doesn't continue contributing, you still need their permission. The order of authors also needs to be agreed upon within the set of authors.

I suggest that you get preliminary permission to continue and to submit and then deal with issues as the arise when they arise, not assuming that there will be problems. The rest of you may need to leave the author order unchanged even though the "first" no longer participates.

In my opinion "effort" is a poor measure. Who contributes key ideas is much better and that may already be set. If someone works 12 hours a day and another works five, it is pretty hard to say that the one with more hours has contributed more to ideas. But your mileage may differ.

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  • If anything, err on the side of getting permission in the end rather then having them stop communicating in a huff... – Jon Custer Jan 7 at 20:01

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