I have, unfortunately, ended up working with a truly awful co-author on three separate projects. The problem with this co-author is easy to summarise: he contributes almost nothing to the projects, and yet he wants to make all the decisions. As you can probably guess, he is fairly senior (and substantially more senior than me).
To give an example, let me tell you about the second project we worked on. The co-author played no role in coming up with the idea of the paper. He played no role in designing the experiment on which the paper is based. He did none of the data analysis, and also didn’t write the paper up. In fact, he only saw the paper well after it had been circulated for comments! His only ‘contribution’ has been to take the completed paper, and then make some (terrible) edits to the finished version, thereby making it slightly worse.
Given his lack of contribution, you might think that he would feel lucky to be listed as a co-author at all. Unfortunately (for me), he doesn’t exactly feel this way. Instead, he thinks that he gets to make all the important decisions, including the decision of where and when to publish the paper. Moreover, he decided that we need to run some extra experiments before he will ‘sign off’ the paper for submission. That was over a year ago — and we still haven’t submitted the paper.
I could you about the other projects, but the story is the same. He contributes nothing to the paper until it is finished, at which point he makes some terrible edits. He then thinks that he gets to decide on everything — including whether his terrible edits can be altered and (more importantly) when and where we submit the paper.
You might ask why I ever agreed to work with him. The answer is that my friend (who contributes a lot to the projects) persuaded me to — and this coauthor is my friend’s employer. This makes it very difficult to resolve the situation.
I should perhaps add that this co-author co-owns the data on which the experiments are based. I think this probably makes it impossible to remove him as a co-author on the papers. In fairness, one could also view this as his contribution to the projects (he co-owns the company that has been running the experiments).
I really need some advice about what to do. On the one hand, I want to tell him how I feel about what he has put me through over the last two years. I have also considered contacting my university (and his university) to escalate my complaints. On the other hand, I feel pretty powerless here. What he has done is not exactly plagiarism, and he does co-owns the data which we use in the papers. In addition, he is fairly well known and could retaliate by trying to sabotage my career.
I should also explain the very specific conflict we have currently. We have recently finished our third (and final) project together. He has done his usual thing of making some terrible edits, right at the end and once the paper is completed. I now want to submit. However, he wants to delay submission (he won’t give a timeline), mainly so he has more time to make edits. Hence the conflict.