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Some time ago, I wrote a paper with a coathor, who is the head of the lab I am currently working at and, essentially, my boss. We sent the paper to one of the best journals in our field, got overall positive reviews, revised the paper, and recently the paper was accepted for publication.

My lab got a substantial funding this year and my coauthor wants to include the funding information into our paper. However, there is a complication. The acceptance date of the paper is earlier than the date when we recieved the funding. As a result, the paper will not be accepted by the funder (we asked the funder about that). My coauthor decided that we should do something to change the acceptance date. We asked the journal about it, and the journal replied that the acceptance date, basically, cannot be altered. The only way to alter the acceptance date is to withdraw the paper on the basis that we have found some crucial mistake in our findings, then resubmit a revised version of the paper and undergo a new round of peer-review, which, I am afraid, might take a long time (it usually takes at least a year for this journal to make a decision). My coauthor insists that we should try to do that and he even asked me to try to find some flaws in our paper or something that can be improved in such a way that the need for improvement can be justified.

Frankly, I feel dishonest, weird and even somewhat dirty for being involved in this situation. I want to publish the paper as it is, without including the new funding information and altering the acceptance date. Moreover, I find the whole matter somewhat unethical.

I told my coauthor about my concerns and my opinion that it is reasonable to not include the new funding source. But he wouldn't listen. What's worse, is that I am the corresponding author and I have to negotiate all the matters with the journal.

I'm not really asking for advice. I just want to know your opinion about the situation.

Edit: I would like to thank everybody for the comments. Your feedback was very helpful to me. I managed to persuade my coauthor to change his mind and do the right thing.

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  • 12
    I think most people would agree that you are right: it would be a lie (and unethical) to pretend that the research described in the paper was done using the funding. If you are the corresponding author, what is it that prevents you from using a "VETO" to not include the funding information?
    – Louic
    Jan 27 at 19:12
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    It's really dumb to pull an accepted paper from a good journal because you want to try to attach it to a different funding source. Bad stuff could happen to it. Its unethical to be that dumb IMO.
    – user133933
    Jan 27 at 19:49
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    By posting this question in your own name you are creating a possibility for people to find the identity of your unethical coauthor. I’m not saying that’s necessarily either good or bad, but definitely something you should think about. You may want to change to an anonymous user handle to avoid such awkwardness (and potential accusations of slander and legal risk).
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 27 at 21:05
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    Not only does this sound unethical, it sounds like it could easily fit the legal definition of fraud, depending on the exact circumstances and exactly what you and your coauthor do or say. Stick to just being honest. Don't try to change the past.
    – Makyen
    Jan 28 at 6:12
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    I'm confused. Why does your co-author want to do this? It can't be to include this paper in a report to the funder as part of what was done with the funds, because the funder already knows about this and won't accept the paper. So what does your co-author hope to get out of this? Jan 28 at 14:47
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In case the ethics argument fails, here is another argument against pulling the paper. If you withdraw the paper for any reason, you run the risk that the resubmitted paper will be rejected. The refereeing process is partly a random process.

The worst case is it takes a year for the journal to decide to reject your paper, and science moves on and your paper is now out-of-date and will not be publishable anywhere reputable.

In addition, the editor and others involved will now associate you all with making errors. A good reputation is worth a lot in academia.

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    I agree, in one way or this other this is likely going to spoil your reputation with the editor.
    – user151413
    Jan 27 at 20:28
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    Given how ridiculously hard it is to get good reviewers, as everybody is overworked and paper production keeps increasing, the editor dealing with your paper will truly detest you; you retract and resubmit without any good reason?? Actually you've already communicated your fraudulent reason to them... Bottom-drawer time. Expect to be scooped if possible, so it becomes unpublishable. This will absolutely reflect bad on you, and the same reviewers review for other journals, and they know each otehr professionally and personally. Jan 28 at 12:35
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    And not only that. If I would be the editor I would probably reject the second submission at desk, at least unless the paper meantime became a very different one. While the strategy of the boss would be understandable without date issue, it is really awkward given the circumstances.
    – Alchimista
    Jan 28 at 13:18
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    One of the few cases where the ethical right thing is also advantageous. Jan 28 at 20:14
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I agree with you that this is unethical. There may be some gray area around assigning paper credit to certain funding sources, but it pretty clearly exceeds that gray area to tweak an acceptance date without an independently valid reason merely to attach it to newer funding.

It seems especially foolish to do this when both the funder and journal are aware you'd like to do this and when you've been informed it's not allowed.

It would be like trying to cash a check addressed to you and another person, being rejected by the bank, then trying to white out their name and walk back into the bank with it. The first ask is clearly a potential honest mistake - you didn't know you can't do that. When you come back with a workaround, it's clear you're cheating the system (and in the scenario I describe you've made pretty good evidence for intentional fraud).

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    Thank you for the reply! I should probably clarify that my coauthor did not ask the funder a direct question about the paper and he wrote a rather clevel e-mail to the journal (which I sent under his supervision) asking whether it is possible to make some changes in the paper and whether it will affect the acceptance date. So, I am not entirely sure that both the funder and the journal are aware of what he wants to do. I am not trying to justify his actions. I find them unethical and dishonest. I just wanted to point out that the situation is a little less clear-cut than it might seem. Jan 27 at 19:48
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    @LeonShutikoff I do think that makes it less likely that one would be "caught", but doesn't really change the ethics of the situation. I was hoping maybe the threat of the ruse being identified would help you in your argument, but alas, you may be stuck with mere integrity. As Libor implies in a comment on your post, you have a thing of value to you right now in an accepted paper in a good journal; it seems silly to me to put it in jeopardy for this reason. It's not like this attribution will guarantee future funding or cost it.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 27 at 19:50
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Your coauthor is asking you to commit academic misconduct bordering on fraud. It’s unethical and pathetic, would mislead the scientific community and funding agency, and would waste the journal’s resources without any justification. And now that you’ve posted the question apparently using your own name, your coauthor’s intentions are publicly stated, which makes the behavior very risky to both your reputations if carried out.

The only way to achieve what your coauthor is trying to do in an ethical way is if your coauthor gets approval from the funding agency to acknowledge it as a funding source despite the acceptance date being earlier than the date of the grant. This actually seems to me like a reasonable thing to ask for, considering the fact that articles typically still undergo minor revisions after being accepted, and that working on such revisions requires time and effort. So my suggestion is to make such a request — it may not work, but seems worth trying.

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  • Funding can be offered after the fact, but such funding is typically framed as a either a grant for future work (moot since OP was already given funding) or an award for past work. OP has already indicated that funder will not accept OP's paper if the submission date predates the funding date. I can't say I blame the funder; being identified as a funder of research that took place without using your funds may open up the funder to fraud (i.e., because the funder is indirectly lying to their donors by dishonestly claiming that their money is what allowed the paper to exist).
    – Brian
    Jan 28 at 19:09
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In computer science, very few people dares to retract and resubmit a paper.

The risk is so high. When your paper is accepted, it is because your method is faster, more precise, etc than state-of-the-art approaches. But after one year, things may change rapidly, your awesome experiments can become inadequate. You risk never publishing that paper again.

Of course, this is unethical, but people do it all the time, I'm afraid.

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My ethics says I would have to take my name off the paper.

You might also run the risk of retaliation by your boss and getting fired.

Could you change the wording to say you were promised consideration by group x and hope to be getting funding?

You could tell the editor your dilemma and ask him to remove the funding sentence when published.

Sorry but sometimes in life doing what is right will cost you.

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