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I helped a friend with an analysis and this will now be published. The analysis only took me two evenings of work and I saw this as a favour to my friend and told them I didn't need authorship in return. In the past, I have helped several colleagues from my own field with analyses and regularly invested similar amounts of time in this and never got authorship in return, which was fine to me. However, this friend now offered me authorship because the analysis is the core of the paper and other co-authors contributed less than I did. The paper is in a completely different field as I am, so it may not add too much to my CV except that my skillset is transferable to other fields. Do you have any advice on whether I should accept this co-authorship?

Potential cons:

  • Hard to take full responsibility of the paper because I don't know anything about the field
  • Perhaps it diffuses the focus of my CV/publication list(?)

Potential pro's:

  • Extra publication/citations etc.
  • Shows that my skillset is transferable and acknowledged and valuable by/to others

For context, I just finished the first year of my postdoc. Do you have any thoughts or advice?

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    I think you have correctly listed the most important pro's and cons. The decision you make is up to you. Personally I would say yes: publish what you can: you never know where you end up in future, and it is more likely to help than to hurt you. Of course you could consider informing yourself about the "unrelated field" to remove one of the cons. I hope that my comment helps, but I will also vote to close this question because the choice you end up making is opinion-based.
    – Louic
    Feb 16, 2022 at 11:38
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    Agreeing with @Louic (at least on the decision part, less so on the closing part), and I also think the pros you list would outweigh the cons. Interested in seeing other perspectives on this though.
    – MiG
    Feb 16, 2022 at 12:26
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    @user151413 I don’t understand why it would be necessary to “talk your way out of it” – why would honesty not be the best policy in this case? Why would the facts as presented in the question hurt the OP’s chances at a job interview?
    – 11684
    Feb 16, 2022 at 23:27
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    @user151413 In that case, you respond "Oh, glad you asked about that paper! T. his was an interdisciplinary collaboration with my friend and colleague Dr. X Y and my contribution consisted of (...). The research question was set out by Dr. Y, and my understanding is that my analysis lead to the conclusion that (summarise main conclusion; probably can grab that from the abstract)."
    – penelope
    Feb 17, 2022 at 13:47
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    It really depends on how many papers this happens. If this happens one one paper, fine. If this happens on 50% of our papers that you supplied the method to someone else and don't understand the other part of the paper, this will affect hiring decision. Of course, if they look for someone who just applies their method to many contexts and thus produces papers rather than developing their own research profile, this might be a plus as well.
    – user151413
    Feb 17, 2022 at 16:56

3 Answers 3

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You have listed the wrong reasons for considering accepting an authorship. The only consideration should be whether you've put in enough work to qualify as a co-author. That threshold is field-dependent, and presumably, your friend knows a lot more about the standards in their field than you.

What may be a trivial analysis in one area might not be somewhere else. Actually, I'm worried you were overly conservative in turning down prior authorships.

With regard to taking responsibility for the paper, a comment from Bryan Krause:

I have encountered some journals/submission systems that do ask that all coauthors take "full responsibility" for the paper ... That said, I don't take those declarations too seriously, and I'm comfortable declaring I take "full responsibility" as long as I feel comfortable with the aspects of the paper that I've had the ability to influence.

To which I would add that there is always trust between authors. If you're otherwise confident your co-authors did everything correctly, that shouldn't be a barrier to becoming an author. After all, if there's no author that takes responsibility for the "core" analysis that's a serious problem!

Even if it does end up "diluting" your publication list, then you can always not list it, and name the section "selected papers."

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    Thanks for your responses. I'm quite confident that I formally did enhough to qualify as a co-author. I made a script to run all analyses and made all figures. Thanks for the discussion on the 'full responsibility' and 'diluting'-issue.
    – Jeroen
    Feb 16, 2022 at 21:17
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    I disagree that it is only about "whether you put enough work into it". This is what is relevant to decide whether you deserve coauthorship. But you can still reject it, e.g. because you don't understand certain parts of the paper, and you don't want to be blank when people ask you about the paper. Different people care to a different extent about this aspect, and it is a fair point to say that one only wants to be on papers where one fully understands all aspects.
    – user151413
    Feb 16, 2022 at 21:31
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    @user151413 Well, I completely disagree with all your points, so feel free to leave an alternate answer. We don't know the OP's field(s) so yours might be more accurate in another field. Much better move to understand the paper than reject authorship ... Feb 16, 2022 at 21:46
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    @Azor I certainly have colleagues who do exactly this - only accept coauthorship on papers they can comprehensively explain. It is not standard in the field, but they care about their reputation in a different way than others. That's a fair point, and really also a matter of personal taste. But you don't want to earn the reputation that you just the bare minimum to be on the papers you're on.
    – user151413
    Feb 16, 2022 at 21:52
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In terms of authorship, contributing to the analysis done for a paper does rise to the level of being an author of the paper. You can see some examples of what contributions give rise to authorship in the CRediT statements used by some journals: https://www.elsevier.com/authors/policies-and-guidelines/credit-author-statement. Listed in there are things like the formal analysis (applying statistical analysis, etc.) and writing software for the research (which can also be the analysis software). So, from what you say, the offer of authorship is proper. At a minimum though, there should definitely be a mention of your contribution in the acknowledgements section.

As for accepting the authorship, while you say it is hard to take responsibility for the full paper, do you at least know enough in the field to understand its ideas and do you feel the collaborators you worked with have a good understanding of it? In my experience, the expectation for knowing everything and taking full responsibility rests mostly with the corresponding author rather than each individual author (since the corresponding author is usually the one who has been involved the most). The individual authors should be knowledgable and responsible for their areas of contributions.

In my opinion, yes, it would be fine to accept the authorship. You also mention that you had already done work like this in your own field with other colleagues without the authorship credit, and I would encourage you to bring up the topic of authorship with future collaborators you work with during the project (typically it is better to discuss these things when you are starting the project to ensure there are no surprises). I know it can seem tough, especially when some of them may be more senior, but you can make strong cases for being included (and it can definitely help your career by showing you can collaborate and work with other teams).

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It would be good for the authors to acknowledge your contribution in an acknowledgements section. All authors should accept full responsibility for the entire paper and you have stated that you can't do that. It is, of course, your decision. But what if other results turned out to be fabricated? What would you want to do then?

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    While lovely in theory, there are many situations (high energy physics for example) where any given single author can't personally vouch for the whole thing. Here it sounds like the OP provided a specific analysis that was needed, and so is core to the results. If some other collaborator fabricated results, that really isn't on the OP - they can't know everything.
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 16, 2022 at 15:45
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    @JonCuster, you may be comparing apples to oranges here. If you are working in a well developed area with leaders of the field then their reputation matters in accepting the arguments without personally verifying them. In other fields, with untested authors it may not be so clear. And not being "on the OP" may be an unrealistic judgement. I think this is an edge-case that isn't clear either way. Hence the OPs dilemma.
    – Buffy
    Feb 16, 2022 at 16:12

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