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Recently a researcher shared on Twitter

I've reached that stage as a supervisor where the students have the idea, do the math, write the code, run experiments, draft the paper and I contribute by fixing the formatting errors in their bibliography files.

If this is the case, should the supervisor be on the author list? Or, on the acknowledgments? If the supervisor contribution is just small suggestion to the redaction of the paper and that she/he gained the grant paying the student, is this enough to become an author?

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    It depends on the standards of the field of study. In some fields, the person who provided the funding is listed as the last author of every paper from that lab.
    – GEdgar
    Nov 20, 2021 at 11:40
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    @GEdgar ain't this unethical? Nov 20, 2021 at 11:47
  • Agree with @GEdgar. That is the way it is in chemistry.
    – Ed V
    Nov 20, 2021 at 13:17
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    FWIW, I doubt that tweet is meant to be taken literally.
    – avid
    Nov 20, 2021 at 19:15
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    @CarlosMougan Here's one from Cambridge University Press, which has the clause of the type I mentioned at the start, rather than the end; here's one from Springer; and here's one from Elsevier. Nov 20, 2021 at 20:07

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I think that there's some ambiguity about "providing funding": quite often the funding is the result of the supervisor applying for some grant by submitting a plan for some particular research direction. The fact that the grant was approved is supposed to show that the submitted plan is considered solid. This would mean that the supervisor has at least put some decent work into the initial stage of the project, maybe they had the idea to study the broad question on which the student focuses and they established the motivations.

In this scenario I think that the supervisor has some reasonable claim at co-authorship: their contribution is at a more abstract level but it is substantial nonetheless.

But in general it's certainly a grey area, there's no simple way to determine in which cases a contribution is significant enough for co-authorship.

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  • Very good point! Nov 20, 2021 at 14:16
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    I think that, in some fields, the last author listed on papers written as (part of) a dissertation is understood to be the supervisor/funder only and is, at best, a minor contributor. If that is the general understanding in the field, it is probably benign. Most readers will be in that field and will understand the convention.
    – Buffy
    Nov 20, 2021 at 14:18
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If the "small suggestion o the redaction" did not include substantive ideas, your case might serve as an example of unethical behavior. Unfortunately, it happens in academia.

"Acknowledgements" are meant to mention funding and such kind of "redaction" support. In my opinion, the supervisor's name should be in the acknowledgments if he or she made no intellectual contribution to the work.

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    Quite frequently, I've been in the situation where a PhD student lists me as a co-author on the first draft of a paper, then I find myself scratching around for some reasonably substantive contribution I can make to deserve that co-authorship - which is particularly hard if the first draft is very good. Nov 20, 2021 at 13:29
  • "Redaction support"? Nov 20, 2021 at 21:44
  • This is how I understand it. Thanks! Nov 29, 2021 at 13:11
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I would respond to the twitter post suggesting that in these circumstances an acknowledgment would be appropriate and quite sufficient.

Coauthorship seems like cv padding. Better to take credit for being a good supervisor in the next grant proposal.

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