TLDR: I spent a long time helping with a paper from a group at another university. The first author, who was at the same institute as me, promised multiple times I would be one of the coauthors. But, the night before submission, he informed me that I won't be on the author list. There are about 20 coauthors in total.
Now the paper is on the second round of revisions (and on arXiv). I learned that I would not even be acknowledged in the "thanks" list. What is the best thing I can do here?
The field of this paper is between applied statistics and computer science. The authors are not listed alphabetically.
I am quite new to publication. A friend from another group come to ask for help. He is postdoc leading a project. I started helping by providing comments on writing the paper, polishing the paper, and providing a statistical model. He said with the model, I could be the second or third author.
Later he told me that I might not be the second author because they decided to not use my model, but I will still be on the author list. I understand this.
I trusted him so I don't have a signed document or any record to prove that he promised this. I was still providing comments. We discussed this specific project more than twice a week. Each chat lasted more than one hour. I asked him once to include my name, but he said the paper will not have any names on it until it is good enough for publication.
Right at the night before the submission, he called me saying that he cannot add my name because his supervisor doesn't want me on the list. I don't personally know his advisor, who has a dominant personality. He is the only first author.
His rationales of excluding my name were:
I did not write anything, and by the rules of the publication, I have to contribute in every major aspect of the paper.
He thinks: only first authorship will help my career. Even if he gives me the authorship, it won't benefit my career.
One of the supervisor's students who gave comments was also excluded by the supervisor.
He is new to that group, so he wants to build a better relation with his supervisor.
The supervisor said almost all authors must be in the group at the first place. (By group, I don't know if it is the research group or this project group. There is at least one author who is completely unaffiliated with the supervisor's group and never attends any group talks.)
To calm me down, he further promised me three things that night:
He can bring me into other projects he is leading in the future. This has never happened and now I don't think further collaboration with him will help me.
This current paper is unlikely to be published at a top journal but his next project is very likely to be published at a top journal.
He can later introduce me to his advisor for further clarification or collaboration, but this never happened.
Later, when I asked him for a written agreement regarding a future collaboration on another project, he hesitated, saying that he cannot be sure about the contribution and authorship until the work is finished. Since then, he's been occasionally ignoring my calls.
I disagree with rationale #1. He intentionally prevented me from writing down anything on the paper. He only took my feedback. Moreover, no one contributed on every aspect of the paper except the first author. The publication culture of this field is that everyone is highly specialized and only works in a narrowly defined area.
He also admits that I spent more time than the second author on this paper. To my knowledge, most of the coauthors did not write anything on the paper.
Well, I was convinced by him that night. His point 1 is probably generally ethical. What do you think?
However, I thought I could at least be acknowledged, but now it seems like my name will not appear anywhere in the paper. I would like to be at least thanked in the paper, without having everyone think that I am trying hard to free ride. What can I do?
(Using "he" is not intended to imply that the first author is a male. The story should be read as gender neutral.)
The night before submission, he sent me a screenshot of the text exchange with his supervisor. The conversation goes like this:
He: I think we should probably add HighGPA because she provided a lot of feedbacks and helped with the statistical methods.
Supervisor: My student Jane also provides feedbacks and comments, yet I don't put her in the list. All authors should be in the group and the weekly group talk from the beginning.
He: I respect you as the final decision maker. I actually promised HighGPA an author slot a few months ago, and since then, she've been providing helpful feedbacks and spending not less time than anyone else in the group. Can you do this as a one time courtesy and I promise that this will not happen in future?
Supervisor: Maybe next time. We already have 20 authors. Now add Joe Doe because he helped with initial data collection.
A timeline is added for better organization of the events.
Before Jan 2020: A posdoc shortly shared the same advisor with me before. I worked for one project he was leading. In that project he trusted me: he let me edit and rewrite the paper, add my own contents, and then he blindly approved them.
Jan 2020 He joined a new group.
Feb 2020: Posdoc presented the idea to his new group. At the same day, he invited me to help with the project by providing remarks and helps in applied statistics. I start to help with the project by providing him feedbacks every week. I did not put my advisor or my previous advisor in the loop because they are less relevant to his subfield; this is the first mistake I made.
March 2020: He invited me to his PI's group meeting, with the condition that I, just like other members, have to read and present a paper once a while. I find this requirement ridiculous as I have my own things to do so I did not go. (This could be the second mistake I made. Back to then I underestimated the value of networking and presenting. Now I won't forgo any chance to preach my paper and idea.)
April 2020: I was asked to prepared a statistical method. He promised that with the method I can be second or third author.
May 2020: My statistical method was rejected in a group meeting. I am not sure if he brought me up for the method. He said to me that I cannot be second author but there will be no problem for authorship. He first asked if I can improve and revise the paper just like what I did before for the last project. I agreed but later he hesitated to let me directly write or comment on the paper. I respected him.
Late June 2020: He finished an early draft and I asked him to include my name. He said "no worry, the names will be added before submission." I am still providing feedbacks twice a week.
Sep 2020: The paper is about to be finished and he contacts me less for feedbacks. He contacted me asking if I can revise the final version. I agreed but he found reasons to delay sending me the up-to-date version.
Oct 2020: Finally he send me a semi-final version for my final feedbacks. He politely and indirectly ask me to not to directly write on the paper or comment on the paper. I still trust him and respect his request. I provided oral feedbacks instead. Though I find it weird, as he wrote 95% of the paper and based on his previous style, he will be more than happy if I am willing to write on it.
Late Oct 2020: The night before submission, he told me that his supervisor refused to include me as an author. He send me the screenshot. Note that he handles the submission process of the paper and his advisor hardly ever writes down a sentence.
The first author explicitly complained to me that the second author contributed very little, yet the supervisor "forced" the posdoc to put the person up as the second author. He chose not to fight the supervisor because he is new to the group and he wants to build networks with team members.
Early 2021 The paper is on arxiv without my name being thanked.
I agree with all of you that acknowledgement carries no weight in academic career. However, I am human so to be thanked or not to be thanked makes a huge difference.