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I was involved with a research project with a group of people. Eventually, a paper was written and was accepted by a journal. I did not agree with the content of the paper and I didn't want to be listed as a co-author, but I did not want to create bad feelings between myself and the rest of the group.

The journal has a policy where every co-author has to turn in a signed agreement that they substantially contributed to the work. I refused to sign that document I thought that by refusing to sign that document, I would be left off the co-authors list.

However, the journal went ahead and included me without me signing the form. It is not going to ruin my reputation to have my name on this paper, but I didn't want my name on the paper and I am just wondering what I should have done differently to resolve this problem.

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    Too late. Most journals have a policy where you cannot change the list of authors during the submission/review/acceptance process. During submission, journals usually ask the submitting author to confirm that all authors have met significant contributions. – Prof. Santa Claus Jan 13 at 2:09
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    @Prof.SantaClaus I am not so sure it is too late. To me it looks like a mistake on the side of the journal (because OP did not sign the form). They may correct it as it goes against their own policies. – Louic Jan 13 at 8:07
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    @CaptainCodeman There are lots of good reasons to oppose a paper that is published. For example, if you have qualms about how data were obtained or analyzed, if you think the conclusions overstep what they should be, if you think important caveats are covered up or left out, or even just if you weren't close enough to the bulk of the work done to trust it all enough to have your name permanently adhered to it in a form that implies your personal endorsement. – Bryan Krause Jan 13 at 15:35
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    Endorsing a paper as an author is a much higher bar than accepting one as a peer reviewer. – Bryan Krause Jan 13 at 15:36
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    In the future you should be open about your reservations. Few colleagues will think that your passive aggressive non-action here is 'tactful'. – Jon Custer Jan 14 at 15:10
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Well, there were a lot of mistaken decisions here, including by the journal to list your name.

To answer your title question, you should have, before the paper was submitted, told the group you didn't want to be involved, whether you said something like "I disagree with the conclusions of this paper, and don't want to be an author," or a white lie like "I don't feel I contributed enough to be an author."

You can also offer to be happy to be acknowledged; I find this is an option for authors who do not wish to hide an unwilling collaborator's contribution without making them co-responsible for the publication. This can soften the blow of disagreement without requiring to lie. - Captain Emacs

Upon getting the form, you shouldn't have silently declined, you should have talked with the other authors and informed the journal you were included accidentally. With everyone's consent, they would have taken you off.

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    Better to give no reason than to lie. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 13 at 1:54
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Perhaps. Depends on the personalities involved. – Azor Ahai -him- Jan 13 at 1:55
  • @AnonymousPhysicist I agree if the "white lie" is literally a misstatement of fact, i.e. OP is confident they contributed enough to be a coauthor. But in truth, this is so much a matter of opinion that it's hard to lie about. If OP contributed to everything except the conclusions, but disagrees vehemently with the conclusions, it's completely reasonable to espouse a belief that a co-author should contribute to the conclusions. The OP would simply be witholding detail. Regardless, OP - let your conscience be your guide. – Philip Jan 14 at 16:40
  • If the co-authors find out later that you disagree with the conclusions of the paper, I suspect they won't take it as a complement that you were afraid to say so at the time (I'd agree it is doing the co-authors a disservice - nobody should be happy publishing work that is potentially wrong) – Dikran Marsupial Jan 15 at 13:32
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    @jpaugh Well, yes, that white lie would only work if the contribution was plausibly low enough to get away with it. I can't endorse saying "don't list me" without going giving a reason. – Azor Ahai -him- Jan 15 at 16:30
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You should have asked the co-authors not to be included up front. Leaving it until the journal asks to confirm your authorship is a lot more rude to your co-authors than just communicating with them. It makes them look dishonest or disorganized to the journal if you later ask to not be included.

However, if you got to the point you did, you should have explicitly asked to be removed from the list rather than hoping your non-response would give you the same result.

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    "It makes them look dishonest to the journal " - Is inferring deception really warranted? Miscommunications happen all the time, and there are plausible reasons besides deception that the author list might be in error. If anything I'd infer the team might be a bit disorganized or uncommunicative, which is obviously another kind of impression you don't want to leave, but that's a cursory guess that I'd keep to myself as an editor. – Philip Jan 14 at 16:45
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    @Philip Yes you are correct; edited. – Bryan Krause Jan 14 at 16:50
  • @Philip I don't see any plausible reason why an author list should be wrong. Either someone didn't say they wanted to be a coauthor, or the others ignored them. – user151413 Jan 14 at 19:53
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    @user151413 Have you ever tried working with multiple teams spread across multiple sites? I've had to track down ~15 authors on four campuses -- including MDs who are terrible to collaborate with -- sometimes asking whoever I got in touch with who at their campus should be on the paper. I think it's plausible something gets lost in one of those big games of email telephone. – Azor Ahai -him- Jan 15 at 15:12
  • @Azor I was under the impression it was a smaller team of authors, but indeed, there is no mention on that in the question. I guess you would agree if you have a paper with 4 authors and later one of them informs the editor that they do not want to be an author, this reflects badly on the 3 others, the fourth, or all of them? – user151413 Jan 15 at 18:34
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A colleague and I once had to deal with a very similar situation: after telling our then-boss that we disagreed with his interpretations, he went ahead and presented them at a conference, listing us as co-authors.

In that case, there was no paperwork to confirm co-authorship permission. We ended up sending a letter along the following lines:

We note that we have been listed as co-authors for presentation X and poster Y. We feel that our involvement in this work does not meet the requirements for listing as co-authors, and therefore we request that the proceedings be amended not to list us.

In your case, you should also note that you didn't submit the paperwork to be listed as a co-author.

If you want to soothe your colleagues' feelings, you might also suggest that a "with thanks to..." would be appropriate in place of a co-author credit. This allows them to acknowledge your contribution to the work, without implying that you endorse the paper.

Lesson for next time: people don't always check the paperwork closely, so if you don't want to be listed as a co-author, it's best to say so explicitly.

If they had checked the paperwork, the most likely outcome here is not that they'd have gone ahead and published without your name included. Rather, they'd have told you and your colleagues that they couldn't publish until you'd submitted the form, so this wouldn't have escaped the need to have that uncomfortable conversation with them.

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The "Golden Rule" is a good start for most academic ethics questions. Treat other people the way you would want to be treated. I would hope that if your co-authors disagreed with the paper that you were working on that you would want them to tell you and that you would not want them to want to avoid disagreeing with you on research matters (which wouldn't reflect well on you). None of us really wants to publish work that isn't solid - it isn't in our long term interests, and we should have our collaborators best interests in mind as well as our own.

At this stage it is a bit late, but if you want your name taken off the paper, then I would suggest being open and straightforward about the reasons.

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How core were your skills or contribution to the research work in question ? If you just contributed something secondary, e.g. statistical analysis for a small-scale social research project, then you could have plausibly asked to be left off the authors' roll. Maybe insist on it since you have reservations on the conclusions published - which should have been run by you even if drafted by others. But if you did say 25% of the core work but still had reservations on the conclusions drawn by others, I think you should have done more than meekly try to shy away from it all. I appreciate the fact that many faculty are kind of dragooned into joint research projects and it's hard to say no if you are a young academic. But the university's reputation ultimately stands on its rigorous application of high standards. Though this is often unpopular among a group happy to proceed with an "it'll do" approach, it is vital for your own esteem that you vocally disagree when you really think so.

Looking longer down the road, I suppose prevention is superior to cure. And avoiding - or at least not fully committing - to group dynamics showing a casual approach to research is the best way out of this situation.

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Send a request for retraction to the journal.

You're listed as a coauthor on the paper. This was against your consent, but you are still listed as a coauthor, and that gives you the right to write to the journal to request retraction. If you strongly disagree with the results of the paper, and you did not consent for it to be published with your name on it, I would suggest that you might wish to write to the journal to explain the situation and ask that the paper be retracted.

This will likely hurt your relationship with the group who wrote it, but they shouldn't have published something with your name on it without your permission. That's a big breach of academic ethics.

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    Step one: Tell your coauthors that you made a huge mistake? Note that from the question and comments, it is not clear that the group did not have permission: Sending a paper around and everyone saying "Yes, this looks fine" is clearly permission. – user151413 Jan 15 at 22:05

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