I collected data almost a decade ago with a bad collaborator. The collaborator contributed very little and I didn't want to continue the partnership. When data collection was complete, I ran basic analysis and wrote a short report for the funder. I then set the project aside and moved on to other work. I didn't want to work with that collaborator any more.

Recently, discussing a paper idea with a different collaborator, I realized that the old data would be of some use as part of a broader paper. The old data would probably be used for about 1/3 of the tests in a notional paper. I believe that I am obligated to write to the old collaborator and ask if they want to be involved. I expect they'd accept co-authorship, and then the other co-authors and I will do most of the work. Is there an ethical way to avoid this situation?

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    Was the dataset ever released? Perhaps you can reference the old paper, then apply your new tests to the dataset, not involving the collaborator at all?
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 4, 2022 at 23:39
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    The only output was the report I wrote for the donor, without a data release. The report wasn't released in any public way, but I suppose it's still citeable. That would be a good, albeit small, way to acknowledge the collaborator since his name was on the report Jan 5, 2022 at 18:11

2 Answers 2


Tell the old collaborator that you want to use the data, you already have enough people working on your current project, you are not proposing to work with the old collaborator again or include them as a co-author, but you will mention them in the acknowledgements. Ask them if that is OK.

If they say no and they insist on being a co-author, try to figure out a way to minimize how much you have to work with them but still follow the rules on authorship. For example, perhaps they could just check the paper and approve it just before you submit it.


If the data set was previously published in some form, you can just cite the data set. If it was not published, then, yes, you should ask your previous collaborator for permission. And why not include this person in a new paper? The question is not whether the collaborator was "good" or "bad", but whether s/he made a contribution. You could also retroactively publish that data set somewhere (e.g., on Zenodo, no peer-review required) with both names on it, after asking your former collaborator whether that's okay. Even just "publishing" the report you wrote might be okay, as long as it acknowledges your collaborator's contribution. If you get no reply, then it becomes a bit more problematic.

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