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Google Scholar notified me this morning that I had a new paper in my profile, which I was not expecting. The work in question was published by a collection of former colleagues and regards work done a few years ago. I participated in the early stages of the work, but I have no recollection of having seen the manuscript before it was submitted or at any time during the revision process.

Additional relevant facts:

  • The journal shows the paper as having been submitted over two years ago, when I was still working for the research group the authors belong to. Two years is a long time, and I no longer have access to my email from that institution. So, if I pursue the matter the first step is obviously to ask the corresponding author if they have any record of my having approved the manuscript before submission. Note, however, that the paper has a contributor roles taxonomy (CRediT) statement, and I am not listed as having any writing, review, or editing role, which would be highly irregular if I had agreed to be on the paper.

  • I left the group over a year ago due to a hostile and abusive work environment created largely by some, but not all, of the authors on the paper. At the time, I informed them and the management of the host institution that I did not wish to be included on any further papers coming from that research group.

  • A few months ago I received an enquiry about a paper that in retrospect must have been this one. The enquiry was from a colleague that I have remained on good terms with (and who isn't one of the authors of the paper). They informed me that some former coworkers were revising a paper that I was a coauthor on and wanted to know what my current affiliation was. I reiterated my request not to appear on any further papers from the group (the go-between did not mention that the paper had been submitted before I left). I also reminded them that listing someone as a coauthor without their approval is highly unethical.

  • The journal shows the paper as having been revised and accepted earlier this month. My name appears with my new institutional affiliation, which suggests to me that they were aware of my conversation with the go-between, though they could have tracked it down from other publications.

I am torn on whether I should try to get this rectified. On the one hand, making someone a coauthor without their approval is not ok, and the group shouldn't be allowed to get away with such cavalier disregard for the rules. On the other hand, having my name on the paper isn't really causing me any material harm, and making an issue of it will likely dredge up old animosities that, frankly, took a long time to properly bury, so maybe it's best to drop it.

With all of this in mind, my question is, should I pursue this matter, or just let it go. If the former, how should I go about it (assuming I don't get a satisfactory response from the corresponding author)? If the latter, is there any potential for harm (i.e., from having my name on the paper) that I'm not seeing?

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    Assuming the paper looks fine, and given that you were, in fact, a contributor, would you rather be (ethically) right and fight incorrect process, or at peace and keep what was in the past, in the past, while focusing on your current life and career? Sep 15, 2021 at 14:06
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    It's inappropriate to put you on the paper if you wish to be off it. Maybe the authors feared to be even more inappropriate to leave you off, but didn't want to kill the paper (which, strictly spoken, they would have had to do if you refuse to be an author but substantially contributed to it). A dilemma. Unless the quality of the paper is substandard, you disagree with the conclusions or you really didn't contribute at all (but why would they add you then), you might let it slide. If you hate the authors, it means you do not want to work with them in the future. But this work is done. Sep 15, 2021 at 15:08
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    @gnometorule Well, if I had a firm answer to that, I wouldn't have had to ask the question. You are, of course, right that fighting over this would cost time and aggravation and gain me nothing directly, but then again what good are ethics and norms if we don't enforce them? We know from behavioral economics that people do sometimes incur tangible costs to enforce norms, and if you've ever been in such a situation it's easy to see why. There is something deeply distasteful about watching somebody behaving unethically and just getting away with it.
    – Nobody
    Sep 15, 2021 at 18:53

2 Answers 2

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It is possible that the paper can only be published ethically with you as author. This would depend on whether you made clear intellectual contributions to it.

I suggest that you first get a copy of the paper and look for your own contributions. I suspect you may find them. If you do, I'd let it go, even though you don't want to be associated with them anymore.

It would seem odd if they gave you "gift authorship" under these circumstances.

Of course, if you think the paper itself does harm then you need to disassociate yourself from it and you can object to its publication under the circumstances you list.

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    Thanks for your perspective. It's a little ironic, this coming up now, after we butted heads over almost this very topic a couple weeks ago. (FWIW, the conversation with the go-between was a big part of what I had in mind when I was arguing with you then.) I think you're right about letting it go. I skimmed the paper, and it's fine. Not very good, IMO, but nothing obviously wrong. They used an algorithm that I developed. The worst I can say about it is that they didn't cite the paper that inspired the algorithm, but the algorithm wasn't directly based on the other paper; it was more like ...
    – Nobody
    Sep 15, 2021 at 18:55
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    ... "That's an interesting approach, but I don't think it's quite right. Here's how I would do it instead."
    – Nobody
    Sep 15, 2021 at 18:56
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I would first read the paper. If it is a reasonable paper and you would be happy to be a co-author on the paper then it might be easier in your situation to let it go. I wouldn't normally suggest that, but sometimes it's better to take to the easy path (if it's not causing you harm).

If you think it's a bad paper and you would not have approved it, had you been asked, then I would first contact the other authors. If they refuse to help or explain the situation (maybe they thought you had agreed), then contact the journal. At the end of the day only the journal can actually remove your name, but asking the author's first gives them a chance to explain any possible misunderstandings

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