31

I was recently asked to be tangentially involved in writing a review paper as part of a research group I am involved in. Originally, I was just supposed to review some sections I have particular expertise in once they had been written.

With the time of year, many people moved positions and I was asked to write said paragraphs. With some sickness absences, etc., I ended up writing the entire paper. Recently, a draft was sent to me to review, with only minor changes made from the version I had written from scratch but without my name on it.

This has obviously upset me as I feel that my name should at least be mentioned on a paper I wrote entirely. From a purely ethical standpoint I think that is quite clear. What am I wondering is, is this commonly accepted practice? Or is this something I can take issue with?

For context, I am an undergraduate student working in a research group. I have been part of this group for quite a time, and the people in it have done a lot for my career to date. This is the field I want to pursue after graduation and I am apprehensive of causing a fuss and hurting my career, but at the same time I feel this is a complete abuse of my time and effort.

8
  • 44
    Did they remove your name, or is it possible that they just forgot to add it because they were only looking at the content of the paper? Feb 13 at 12:41
  • 2
    Do you have all the drafts and communication with your supervisor about the review saved? In case it gets dirty, the better and more detailed proof you have that you done the work with the acknowledgment of your prof, the better your chances.
    – Greg
    Feb 13 at 13:30
  • 6
    When you say "write paragraphs", does that mean that you produced all the content in the paragraph as well, or that you just formulated out the content which was already there as a bullet point list or similar?
    – user151413
    Feb 13 at 23:53
  • 4
    What was your role in the production of the content of the article? Did you just typeset the handwritten text given to you? Or was the content something you created from scratch? Something in-between? Talk with your immediate supervisor 1-on-1, and ask for their opinion as to whether you should be included. They can explain their views. Feb 14 at 7:22
  • 4
    Just to clarify - in the version you had written from scratch - did you list yourself as an author?
    – einpoklum
    Feb 15 at 15:42

8 Answers 8

88

Based on your account, it sounds clear that you have a very strong claim for co-authorship; I would recommend asserting it tactfully but firmly.

As ever, when there’s a halfway-plausible good-faith interpretation, I recommend assuming that in your initial approach. You could write something like

Dear A, B, and C, Thank you for the review copy; I’ll follow up with detailed comments shortly. May I just check upfront before continuing — is it intentional that I’m not listed as an author, or just an oversight? When I was asked to write the section on XYZ, I understood this as an invitation to join as a co-author, and had been working with that understanding — especially considering the amount of the present version that I ended up writing.

Whether or not the omission was actually accidental (which seems unlikely but not impossible), this gives an easy and face-saving way for the other authors to accept your claim and add you as co-author. By not accusing anyone, you lower the chance of anyone getting defensive and confrontational, and maximise the chances of settling it amicably with all relationships intact and no feathers ruffled. And if someone does choose to push back, then they have to set out their own case explicitly, and it’s clearer to others that that person is actively excluding you.

Your claim here sounds strong enough that if the other authors don’t accept it, you have good grounds to take the matter to an higher authority — depending on your setting that could be a head of department, a university ombudsman, or similar (and you can contact the editor of any journal they submit to). And before that, of course, you can tell the other authors that you intend to do this, and hope that they may back down to this “threat”. But taking it to this level will burn bridges with people whose support can be helpful for your career — so I’d consider this as a worst-case fallback scenario, and hope to avoid it if possible.

10
  • 22
    Making errors in the author list is a common accident. I almost sent out a paper with my own name misspelled. I told a coauthor one what the author order would be then put it in the other way. This happens to me when fiddling with latex errors and getting distracted from the content. In any case, this is a solid answer and it may lead to a resolution where everyone saves face. Feb 13 at 17:54
  • 4
    I have completely inadvertently cut (rather than copied) a coauthor's name while editing. I did fix it ASAP though. Sorry again, Spiros!
    – Matt
    Feb 13 at 23:55
  • 17
    If the author section of the document was written months, or a year, ago, it might not be a case of "forgetting an author", but just "no-one went back and edited it", and you can get "page blind" to that stuff at the start of the document. I've submitted a paper that still said "Author Name" at the top, which was checked by myself and the two other authors. Feb 14 at 9:54
  • 8
    @ChrisJefferson: I had that too, the paper was from insert author here and insert author here. It was for a conference and the organizers said that this is a very unusual name that the authors share :)
    – WoJ
    Feb 14 at 16:28
  • 5
    @user151413 I think there is some reason to believe this was in fact an accident, in that the paper was sent to OP for them to review; it sounds like they're treating OP like an author, except for not having their name on it. Possibly a "too many cooks"-type situation where everyone assumes someone else has drafted the author list and ensured it is correct.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 14 at 19:10
13

I agree with the first point of @PLL's answer, and would take it even a bit further:

  • You are a co-author of the paper.
  • I would recommend asserting this tactfully but firmly.

However, I disagree with his concrete suggestion on two points:

  1. Don't ask why your name was removed. Assume it was a mistake, and when returning the draft, put your name back, and mention – not even at the top of the email – that your name had been removed by mistake. Otherwise you are recognizing in advance that it is conceivable that you should not be listed as an author, which is not the case.

  2. Before sending out an email, consider talking to a more senior researcher involved with the paper informally. That's when I would consider mentioning the fact that your name was removed, and seeing how s/he reacts. That's because email is a medium of record, especially if there are multiple recipients; so it might be better to maximize the amount of information you have before you "commit" to a response.

4
  • 1
    I prefer this approach to the other answers. There is one remaining issue - "put your name back" assumes that OP's name was there before, and it's nit clear to me if that is really the case. If not, then an additional question becomes in which position OP should put their name.
    – RafG
    Feb 15 at 9:45
  • 1
    @RafG: I thought that was clearly implied, by fair comment I suppose.
    – einpoklum
    Feb 15 at 15:42
  • 1
    +1 for assuming incompetence before assuming malice.
    – Alexis
    Feb 15 at 22:44
  • @Alexis: That is just a pleasant side-effect of self-entitelement I guess :-)
    – einpoklum
    Feb 15 at 23:14
11

author

/ˈɔːθə/

noun

a writer of a book, article, or document.

If you wrote the paper you almost by definition should be listed as an author. So yes, it's something you can take issue with, and you can/should tell the principal investigator that you want to be listed as an author.

5
  • 2
    Agree though some tact in how you talk to the principal investigator rather than just telling them Feb 13 at 8:44
  • 26
    @Ben: Agreed, this sounds absolutely unethical. But the tact isn’t to protect the bigshot’s feelings — it’s to maximise chances of OP getting the best outcome possible (fair credit on the paper, continuing good relationships with as many people as possible, etc).
    – PLL
    Feb 13 at 12:14
  • 5
    @PLL based on word choicer, it's quite possible that Ben isn't familiar with the goal of "getting the best outcome possible" or if they are, it's not their top priority :-)
    – uhoh
    Feb 13 at 12:40
  • In my view, the top priority and best outcome in this situation is reform, which is achieved by proceeding directly to an ethics complaint. Good relationships may be restored when the other party apologises for their unethical conduct and has a misconduct process against them come to its natural conclusion.
    – Ben
    Feb 13 at 12:48
  • 4
    @Ben Once you've made sure it wasn't a typo, sure. I've taken out entire paragraphs before because I leant my hand on the touchpad and selected half the document, then pressed a letter. If it was deliberate, it's attempted misconduct. If it was an accident that gets corrected, it's of nearly no consequence.
    – wizzwizz4
    Feb 13 at 21:43
10

It sounds like you are essentially the primary author of the paper, in which case the person who removed your name from the draft is acting in a highly unethical manner. That is really bad. You can certainly raise it as an issue. Start by raising it with the PI and then consider your options. In my view that behaviour would even warrant proceeding to a formal complaint to the ethics board at your university (and then watching the person quirm as they try to pass off the removal of your authorship as an error). Such action would most likely breach academic honesty requirements for faculty and could be considered misconduct.

Whilst it is not reasonable to remove your name from the paper when you are the primary author, in future you should always negotiate authorship prior to beginning work on a project, and you should renegotiate if the scope of your work increases.

0

It looks like you were initially asked just to proofread and/or review the paper, which is not enough to list you as author. Later, the circumstances changed and you were tricked into ghostwriting the entire paper -- well, too bad, but that's on you. Now, you technically can argue about having your name on the paper, but I'd advise against it because that would be at least a bit arrogant because writing the whole paper was not what you were officially asked for. Therefore, you should not be officially featured as a co-author.

I feel this is a complete abuse of my time and effort.

Negative mentality. What you did was a favor: you helped your friends and therefore strengthened the network of allies who would, in turn, help you if you face any problem in the future. Well, as far as I understand they technically were not yet your friends, just your acquaintances from a research group -- but they are surely closer to being your actual friends now than before you have helped them. Who knows: maybe due to some unforeseen circumstances you run short on time some day, and your friends will end up writing the whole paper for you!

0

If you already wrote a piece, there is nothing you can do about it. My advice would be to not push about your authorship. It would not give you anything except making powerful and idiotic enemies. There is nothing worse then Fools and Power combined together, and most probably you just stepped onto such exemplar in your life. You won't change anything. If your desire is to become scientist, you cannot waste your life on morons. Just remember - science is full of morons, and it won't be your last time.

PS. Copypaste your parts and send it to few other respectable scientists, saying you wrote it yourself and asking opinions. It will be your protection in a chance in future something will go wrong.

PPS. Get yourself familiar with encryption for adding signatures to emails etc. It won't be the last time. Emails can be modified to fake your incompetence.

Afterword. Cut off your pride, there is no other way. Physicists in poor countries are digging electronic garbage for parts. You are not alone, bro! I am not saying, that science is permanent struggle, but surely it is for people who are unlucky enough. And you can't let luck to influence your outcomes.

-2

If you really only modified the paper, you’re not supposed to be listed as a co-author. If you created (added new ideas that were used in the research project,) your name should be listed. However, being that you worked a lot on the paper and, this is the field you’d like to pursue in the future, even if you were not part of the “real authors” you could ask the head of the group if by any chance, is there a way to “include or mention your help in the paper” to be able to use it in the future as part of your resume. It might help you to get your name listed. If it doesn’t work, remember that your effort won’t be forgotten. You can always mention it when writing an application or use that experience to open doors for other projects. Another recommendation is to ask the main author if he/she would be oK to recommend you in the future when you apply for xxx ( your chosen field,) etc.

1
  • 2
    "If you really only modified the paper, you’re not supposed to be listed as a co-author." Nope.
    – Alexis
    Feb 15 at 22:44
-7

I ended up writing the entire paper.

This issue is not something specific to academia. If your responsibilities are about to change, you should negotiate new conditions before plunging into work.

To put it more directly, you should not "end up" doing something like "writing the entire paper". Your role had changed de-facto halfway through the project, so you should have discussed this change with the rest of the team right away. Just hoping for the best outcome is not a good plan.

If I were you, I'd express your disappointment, but it might or might not work.

4
  • 17
    Seems a little like blaming a victim for being exploited. How should an undergraduate expect to know the normal procedures to follow. Feb 13 at 8:42
  • 1
    Well, now the OP knows the normal procedures to follow, and this is the point to take from my answer. Feb 13 at 10:57
  • 5
    @rg_software: Sometimes life happens and responsibilities change without anyone finding the right moment to re-negotiate — and in most reasonably fair environments, some kind of credit can still be given afterwards. If OP was asking for extra pay, say, then I’d agree with you — that’s unlikely to be re-negotiable after the fact. But co-authorship is a completely reasonable expectation here, and in any academic setting I know, it would be unethical for the other authors to exclude OP (if their account is accurate).
    – PLL
    Feb 13 at 12:19
  • @PLL, I agree with that, and that's I said "I'd express your disappointment" -- so I support the OP's wish to renegotiate. However, the OPs might recognize that from the other party's view there was no plan to offer an authorship, and this kind of complaint might turn up to be a surprise for them, too. In any case, I advise the same as most other people here: negotiate in advance, not afterwards. Feb 13 at 14:15

You must log in to answer this question.