I have been collaborating with an individual on a scientific paper. I have documents showing that this individual has shared the paper content with other people. Also, the individual has added co-author to the paper without my consent. I have the following questions:

Question 1) Is there any ethical, policy or law that is violated by this individual?

Question 2) Where should I report the actions of this individual?

  • 2
    Who is the "senior" or "corresponding" author and what is your role in the paper? If you are only helping and not leading, your have 3 options: (1) work with the corresponding author to resolve this issue (2) ask to be removed as a co-author or (3) live with it. Mar 5 at 14:40
  • 2
    Also, your question 1 ) is there any ethical, policy or law that is violated by this individual? is off topic because this is specific to your situation. Your question 2 Where should I report the actions of this individual? is also off topic because it is specific to your situation as well. Mar 5 at 14:41
  • I am the corresponding author.
    – Admia
    Mar 5 at 15:27
  • 1
    There are no laws about such things in any place I've ever heard of. But "gift" authorship, while it is practiced in some fields, does have ethical implications. Authors are those who contribute "materially" to the ideas of a paper.
    – Buffy
    Mar 5 at 15:54
  • 5
    @Admia if you are the corresponding author, then you can ignore the co-author's request to add another author. However, this seems like there is more to the problem than meets the eye and there is some level of interpersonal communication breakdown. You need to talk with the co-authors and ask them about why they think the other person should be added AND about sharing the manuscript without 1st talking with you. It could be an honest mistake of not realizing they should have talked to you or something malicious. But, without talking to them, you will not know. Mar 5 at 15:59

I have documents showing that this individual has shared the paper content with other people

Nothing necessarily wrong with this. It's polite to get permission from co-authors especially before sharing broadly outside your group, and can be rude not to, but it's normal for academics to talk about what they are working on with other academics close to them.

Also, the individual has added co-author to the paper without my consent

If this third person has done work on the paper amounting to authorship, then they must be an author. If not, then they must not. You and your co-author(s) and potential co-authors should come to some agreement on who meets this qualification, but I don't think it's really time to call out an ethical breach or "report" to someone, it's just time for you to have a conversation about authorship with your co-author.

Lastly, think about what you're trying to achieve here. Starting some sort of ethics proceedings against someone you work with is an absolute last resort action. It's unlikely your relationship will escape this action without irreparable damage.

  • I broadly agree, but I do know some people who feel much more strongly that you should not share WIP without permission from coauthors. Mar 5 at 17:54
  • 1
    @AzorAhai-him- Sure, and in some cases there may even be discussion about keeping especially certain sensitive things under wraps, and sharing with a close friend and collaborator is different than going to a rival publishing in the same area, etc. But still, your recourse is basically...not to work with that person in the future.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 5 at 18:23
  • 3
    I guess I mean more for future readers, just letting them know that some people see sharing broadly w/o permission to be ruder than "can be polite." Mar 5 at 18:55

Each academic field likely differs in the norms regarding co-authorship. You've brought up two different points:

  1. Your co-author has shared the content of your manuscript without first consulting you. This is not necessarily an ethical issue, but it does highlight the importance of codifying specific behaviors before you begin working on a co-authored project. Whether this is an ethical breach depends on many things. What type of data are you using and who collected them? Had you discussed whether the disclosure of the project was okay at any time earlier? It certainly sounds like you need to have a direct conversation about the norms on the project, particularly given that you are the corresponding author.
  2. Your co-author has decided to invite another person to the project without first consulting you. This is a much clearer issue. Put simply - yes, this is an ethical violation and you should be clear and firm in informing your co-author that this is unacceptable and cannot happen without agreement from all current authors. If your co-author already had the other individual put work into the manuscript, then you need to convene a group meeting to discuss this together.

As for whether you can report your co-author, I'm unsure. I suppose that depends in part on your university. Who owns the data that you collected?

Regardless, it's clear that you shouldn't work with this individual again.


Talk to your IRB.

Before you conduct any research involving human data (including things like surveys), you need to get approval from your university's Institutional Review Board, and that approval might come with restrictions on how you are allowed to handle or store the human data you've collected.

If your colleague has violated these restrictions, then you should report them to the IRB so that a proper investigation into the incident can take place, and the disciplinary process can be started by the IRB if they deem it necessary.

If your research doesn't involve human data, you might not be required to get IRB approval, but it might be worth your time speaking to them regardless if you haven't done so already, to make sure that your research is being conducted ethically.

  • I'd appreciate if the people downvoting explained why. I could potentially improve my answer!
    – nick012000
    Mar 8 at 13:40
  • (1) There's no evidence this work falls under the scope of an IRB (2) There's no evidence it's taking place in a country which has IRBs (3) The IRB is an administrative panel with a specific role to verify that work is carried out in accordance with federal law to protect research subjects, and is not a general bioethics police force (4) There is zero role for the IRB in an authorship dispute and if there's been a policy violation it falls on the researcher who was responsible for the study, which in this case appears to be the OP. Pick a reason.
    – user133933
    Mar 8 at 16:02
  • @Libor The OP mentioned that his co-author shared data without his consent; depending on the restrictions on that data, there might have been a breach of the IRB's guidelines.
    – nick012000
    Mar 9 at 2:08

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