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My colleague is an expert in biology. Using his data, I have developed a new algorithm that could change the way we explore data in general (not only in biology). I wrote a manuscript explaining the algorithm and submitted it to a highly ranked computer sciences-related journal.

Later, I got comments from peer-reviewers asking for a major revision. Basically, they ask to test my algorithm on benchmark data, other than those related to biology. This is apparently important to compare my results with those obtained from similar algorithms.

At this point, I think of changing the way the paper has been written so that it doesn't focus much (or not at all) on the biologic data since they were only used to test the algorithm. To this end, I also think of removing the name of my co-author (the biologist) - he essentially helped describing/interpreting a bit the results, nothing more. We discussed the eventuality that I remove his name already but he doesn't care too much if I do so as I am already involved in another project with him (biology-oriented).

Can I remove the name of someone when re-submitting a manuscript? I planned to contact the main editor directly about it prior to re-submitting.

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    In my opinion: "describing/interpreting a bit the results" is definitely enough contribution to be a coauthor (particularly if that was the choice upon the first submission). If somebody's contributions made a manuscript noticeably better than it would have otherwise been, it's a sign that they deserve authorship. Sep 13 at 1:53
  • You are not doing it behind his back and for a good reason, and it is not standing in the way of further collaborative work with him (and he may not be all that fussed about having a pub in that particular theory-oriented journal). Just explain it all to the editor the way you have here. Editors are almost always happy to go with whatever the author group decided between themselves, as long as you vouch for the definitive "author contributions" list.
    – Deipatrous
    Sep 14 at 9:59
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As @Buffy's answer says, it is probably acceptable, given that it seems you are intending to revise into a fundamentally different paper, where your colleague's contribution is no longer really present.

However: are you sure you are correctly interpreting the feedback given? We can't know the specifics here, but in general testing a novel algorithm against benchmark data as well as using it in a real-life application should both be interesting. So I would perhaps even test with the editor whether they do really seek a revision that replaces the biological data or would merely prefer adding the benchmark data. In the latter case, I assume your colleague would stay a co-author noncontroversially. Of course, perhaps the feedback is already clear on this point.

Finally, I've been lucky that I've worked in fields and with employers who haven't applied absurd algorithms to judge research productivity and given only "partial credit" for co-authors. So I've been free to be generous with co-authorships. In particular, in interdisciplinary work, I've routinely worked with people in other fields where we've co-authored (with permuted order, perhaps) multiple articles each adapted to the priorities and writing conventions of our respective disciplines. We've included each other as coauthors since we actively intellectually collaborated on doing the research as a whole, irrespective of precisely whose data or written words were front and centre in each article. So I would put the bar pretty high to remove a collaborator as coauthor -- basically, you have to feel you did the real work for the article without them, merely inspired by your previous collaboration.

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  • which sorts of fields are those? It sounds really great!
    – Hirek
    Sep 13 at 21:31
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    @Hirek: math, appied economics, business, and psychology (interdisciplinary). In top-tier North American educational institutions, industry, and independent institutes, who care more about evaluations of your work (and to be less rosy, who you know and what is the reputation of where you've published) than counting papers, authors, or citations.
    – Houska
    Sep 14 at 10:10
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Given what you say, it seems acceptable to remove them provided that you assure yourselves that the resulting paper has no fundamental intellectual contributions from the other person remaining. That might be easy or hard to do, but seems possible here.

A supporting point is that they are both comfortable with it and also willing to continue collaboration with you on future projects. The paper sounds sufficiently different that their contribution may not rise to the level of authorship.

I do, strongly, suggest that you write a nice acknowledgement section, thanking them for help on earlier versions of the paper.

You will probably (both) need to assure the editor that this is the appropriate path. If they strongly object, then re-think it.

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A couple of considerations in addition to what has been posted so far:

  • Many journals do not allow for changes in the author list during the revision process, with or without the co-author's approval. It is prudent to have a conversation with the Editor-in-Chief about your plan first.
  • It is possible that the Editor-in-Chief sees the changes you plan to make as so significant that the paper should be withdrawn and re-submitted as a new manuscript. If you don't want this to happen you are kind of walking a fine line - you want to convince the EiC that your changes are sufficient to make the biology co-author unnecessary, but not so significant that the earlier reviews you have already received are invalidated (one of the assumptions of peer review is that revisions are indeed revisions of the same idea / paper, not a completely different paper with different framing and different goals - and your description sounds dangerously close to the latter).

Personally, I would be a bit concerned about this discussion backfiring on you in unexpected ways. It's not unusual for peer review to inspire you with new and better ways to do the same kind of work, or give you ideas how to achieve your original goals in a much better way. However, what one typically does then is to finish the current iteration of the work, and then start working on the improvement afterwards and submit it as a new paper (e.g., as a generalisation that builds on your earlier biology case, in your example). This is particularly true since the editor asked for a revision (rather than a rejection), which indicates that they do see value in the current iteration of the work.

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  • This is my experience as well. If the changes are so significant they require a change in authorship, likely the process will be restarted. Sep 14 at 20:13
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I wouldn't do that. That coauthorship doesn't look granted for free, considering the history of the manuscript. Unless the paper was rejected, but it does not seem to be the case. And personally, even resubmitting what would look a different paper I would likely maintain that person in the coauthor list.

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