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Two advisors of my coauthor for a paper I'm first-authoring were listed few days before final submission. As far as I see, they did not contribute to this paper, nor have even read it.

Sparing my rationale, I'm against this. How do I object? I intend to make the first contact calm and simple - problem is, I don't know what to expect.

I was invited as an author by a prospective researcher for single-handedly developing the paper's underlying algorithm, so I didn't orchestrate the research effort. The paper's submitted to the International Conference on Digital Audio Effects (DAFx), and all authors but myself are affiliated with research institutions, and are in France or UK. I am fully independent.

What are the rules and expectations? Is this legalized bribery?

Clarification

It appears most efforts are directed in doubting my position. I have reasons for not disclosing all relevant information, as I'm not the sole affected party. We know such things happen, so for sake of this question, the productive thing to do is assume I'm right and advisors contributed absolutely nothing. They've not read the paper, never heard of the algorithm, they might as well be the result of mail_to(names_list[random_integer()]).

Yes there's political reasons. But I am in a position where I don't have to contribute to this rot.

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  • What does your coauthor think? What would be the effect on them if you refuse to go along?
    – Buffy
    Apr 10, 2022 at 11:34
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    Unfortunately, it is not always about right and wrong in academia. There are many political reasons why you include someone as a co-author. I was like you when I started my PhD but later on, I realized that everyone does it and if I don't follow, I will work alone. My advice is to let it go as long as you are the first author and to include a contribution paragraph (in the footnote for example), in which you explicitly state the contribution of every co-author.
    – Yacine
    Apr 10, 2022 at 11:36
  • @Buffy I confirmed they will not be meaningfully affected. Apr 10, 2022 at 13:50
  • I don't know this field, but it seems to be on the cusp of math, CS, and something, maybe physics. Is that correct? Is it a field, though, in which nothing is possible without heavy lab support with lots of external funding?
    – Buffy
    Apr 10, 2022 at 13:55
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    Actually, my position is that this is probably misconduct by the advisors. No, general funding isn't enough. And proofreading isn't enough. And in some fields the advisors who do contribute don't consider themselves authors (but like a bit of "thanks" in the ack section).
    – Buffy
    Apr 10, 2022 at 14:30

4 Answers 4

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Given the comment stream on the question, I think that the request for gift authorship is probably improper. Some people in power abuse those who lack it, punching down in the current vernacular.

The way you stop it, though, is to just refuse to have your own contribution included in the paper at all and inform the journal that you don't agree to publishing your work. That can have consequences however, and you may not want to go there.

But if they try to include your work with you not as an author then it becomes plagiarism. Journal editors don't like to be put in such a situation and will want the issue worked out before publication.

Note that journals need the positive agreement of all authors to publish (reputable journals, anyway).

Since you are not "under the thumb) of those advisors, you could also complain to the administration of their employer/university that coercion is going on as well as academic misconduct. More consequences, maybe to your co-author, so you need to think about it.

Another possibility is to confront those people directly, giving them your opinion about this and pointing to some appropriate codes of conduct that are relevant to your field(s).

Not everyone will want to press it that far, actually. And no single paper is likely to have a big effect on one's career, so letting it go may be the best short-term option, though it won't change the culture.

The statement of Bryan Krause about not making this the hill to die on is good advice as is the rest of their answer.

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  • Accepted for answering the question while acknowledging caveats. Apr 18, 2022 at 19:27
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This could be "gift authorship", but you don't really know how much your coauthor was supported by their advisors. Even if you worked only with the junior person, they may have received guidance all along unbeknownst to you.

If you want, you could nominally ask that your coauthor verify that all listed authors should be listed as authors according to the journal guidelines; this is typically part of submission anyways.

However, in general, it's up to the primary author to ensure the author list is correct. I wouldn't make this a hill to die on, just try to avoid gift authorship on your own papers. From your question, it's not even clear to me that you would actually qualify for a strict authorship guideline yourself, if you've already published the algorithm you're being included for somewhere else.

If your own authorship is valid, then another issue you might worry about is that including these other authors dilutes your contribution somehow - it doesn't. Whether or not your coauthor got research supervision doesn't change the value of your contribution, and their inclusion on the author list doesn't, either.

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In my own experience while I was working on my doctorate, my two advisors were listed as coauthors on several papers that they did not make meaningful contributions. I accepted this as normal practice until I read more thoroughly guidelines from ACM and IEEE that stated that each author should have a meaningful contribution. As an example, below is from ACM:

Anyone listed as Author on an ACM paper must meet certain criteria, including making substantial intellectual contributions to some components of the original work and drafting and/or revising the paper

https://www.acm.org/publications/authors/information-for-authors

Given this, a coauthor needs to make a substantial contribution and one of the two: draft or revise the paper.

I did ask my advisors about this and one did acknowledge this and the other indicated that advisors being listed as coauthors were the norm, even though it seemed to contradict the guidelines. As a graduate student, this is the tough situation they are in as advisors are also the ones that allow you to graduate. However, a good advisor would be ethical and say yes, you are correct. But, I believe the pressures of publication counts and grants have had an effect on this.

So what should you do? It may be too late, but you could ask your coauthor if their two advisors meet that criteria. If not, with you not being their graduate student, are in a better position to say that they should not be listed as coauthors and explain why.

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  • I think that in CS, gift authorship for advisors is not, in fact, the norm, so you were probably lied to and abused.
    – Buffy
    Apr 10, 2022 at 13:43
  • @Buffy I disagree. Inferring that one is lied to and abused are really a stretch based on the reply. I truly believe the one advisor believed it was just the norm to be on papers of their students as that is probably what they went through. I also believe that is part of the problem in grad school that it has become the norm. Abused though? How could that be inferred from that reply?
    – CSProfK
    Apr 10, 2022 at 16:33
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I agree with @Buffy that it is partially misconduct and I agree also with @Brian that you should remind your co-authors about good academic conduct. However, this will have consequences whether we like it or not. In the end, you want to stay in a good relationship with your co-authors.

If you want to make this right, I would give my co-authors tasks (e.g. revise the introduction, analyse this table, etc.) so that including them as co-authors would be meaningful and more importantly "legitime".

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  • It would be better to comment when downvoting!
    – Yacine
    Apr 10, 2022 at 21:32

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