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I work in a medical field and recently contributed statistical analysis for a paper and was not listed as a co-author despite being told I would be. I spent a few weeks fielding questions about this paper and feel as though my contribution was significant. There are many people listed who I am certain contributed nothing to this paper.

Should I say something to my PI or just let it go? I understand the authorship likely can't be added to at this point but I want to express that I am slightly hurt. However since I am not vying for academic jobs I don't want to come off as being needy or petty since it ultimately won't matter for my career.

Any advice would be appreciated.

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    Who told you that you'd be a coauthor, and who submitted the paper?
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 26, 2021 at 16:19
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    The PI told me I'd be a co-author
    – coco
    Apr 26, 2021 at 16:24
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    I was not aware, I found a pre-print online that was recently submitted where I wasn't listed. My boss and PI are the ones who submitted paper. I was told in a meeting with the two of them that I would be listed.
    – coco
    Apr 26, 2021 at 16:31
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    If there is only a preprint to date, you can still be added as co-author.
    – Mark
    Apr 26, 2021 at 17:21
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    Hopefully it is a honest mistake. Otherwise, it is awful. If I contribute an iota to a paper, I expect to be on it, no matter what. Otherwise, it is plagiarism of my iota.
    – zabop
    Apr 27, 2021 at 8:47

2 Answers 2

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Talk to the PI who said you would be an author, or your boss, whoever you are more comfortable talking to first. Best to assume it was an honest mistake (there's really no cost to adding another author in medical sciences). There's a bit of gray area on when statistical support is included/not included in authorship in medical science.

Let them know you expected to be an author (and remind them of your previous conversation), but that you found a preprint that didn't have you listed.

A preprint is just a preprint; hopefully you can still be included on a submission of the paper to an actual journal.

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    To be honest I'm not sure it is a gray area, if you're the person who performed the analysis then you should be on the paper since you're ultimately responsible for the results. If you've only provided advice, however, that's a different question, and perhaps an acknowledgement is more appropriate.
    – Tarquinnn
    Apr 27, 2021 at 11:16
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    @Tarquinnn Depends what you mean by gray area. As far as i'm concerned, there is absolutely no moral gray area. Statisticians should absolutely be authors. But in practice it is often regular practice in some fields, including medical sciences, to leave people off who are deemed to have "only provided a service". Apr 27, 2021 at 12:18
  • @Tarquinnn As Ian suggests, sometimes especially in medicine the statisticians used are employed by a hospital/university department and are treated as a service providing statistical support more like other support staff like technicians and vets who care for animals. I don't think that really makes sense but it does happen and it might lead someone publishing in that area to discount someone who more certainly deserves authorship. There's also the gray area you mention, between "advice" vs "doing".
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 27, 2021 at 15:15
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Authoring practices differ a lot across scientific fields. In medicine or biology, the list of authors may include people vaguely related to the paper, to say the least (see * footnote below). Therefore, some ranks in the author list can be considered as important: first, last, second, second-to-last, third. Those who fight for such a meaningful ranking (cough-cough) often accommodate well people in the middle who don't modify the ranking.

To complete that list, the end of the paper sometimes contains contributions: X wrote the paper, Y designed the experiment, Z did the stats...

It does not matter whether you want to pursue academic honors or not, now. And maybe later you may change your mind. This is a question of scientific integrity, and if you were said to be included, this is well-deserved. If you did not do enough work to be included afterward, you should be said so as well. No surprise should reside among authors and their order. Even if for some reason (you cannot endorse key aspects of the paper you would not be listed) your contribution should be acknowledged: in the acknowledgment section, or a footnote at least.

In case of a blatant mistake, changing the author list is doable. In my experience, we had to remove one.

Related answers:

(*) In bioinformatics work I had been involved with/informed of, it was requested (by contract, apparently) that the bio-sequencing would have x persons set as co-authors, some who (one sometimes suspects) would even not read the paper before submission. What a contrast with mathematics, where people are usually listed in alphabetical order, being expected they all had contributed equally to the paper and endorse it totally (yet, there could be mistakes still).

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    "In medicine or biology, the list may include people vaguely related to the paper, to say the least" - in particular, in medicine it has historically been common to include physicians who enroll patients as authors, even if they weren't particularly involved in the design or summary of the paper, though some journals explicitly forbid this now or gather those authors into a "group" that is credited as an author but without naming the individuals (except in a note/appendix). It's a bit of a touchy issue because it can be a lot of work to be involved even at that level.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 26, 2021 at 21:44
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    I did not mean any shaming. In bioinformatics work I had been involved with/informed of, it was requested (contract, apparently) that the bio-sequencing would have x persons set as co-authors, some who (one suspects) would even not read the paper before submission. What a contrast with maths, where people are usually listed in alphabetical order, being expected they all had contributed equally to the paper and endorse it totally (yet, there could be mistakes still) Apr 27, 2021 at 11:49

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