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I am postdoc working at a university, and I was hired by the PI of a specific project, let us call it Project X.

Apart from working on Project X, when time permits I like to concentrate on my own research, and from time to time I end up writing a paper. Now I have a doubt. If I write a paper that is completely unrelated to Project X, should I still acknowledge funding from Project X?

According to the head of my research group, who formally is my boss, I should do so. However, the answer to this previous post claimed otherwise.

What is the correct way to move forward? Should I simply accept the boss recommendation, or should I instead ask the funding agency directly? I am hesitant to accept because Project X has a very explanatory title and so it would be evident to the reader that it is unrelated to my paper.

I know that some journals have specific guidelines about this. But the problems comes even before proper publication, if one wants to submit a preprint on arXiv.

Thanks in advance for your input.

EDIT. Perhaps "completely unrelated" is too severe a judgment. Certainly the paper lies within the same discipline (mathematics); it deals with some theoretical aspects while the project is applied.

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    Does this answer your question? Should I acknowledge funding from an unrelated project? Jun 8 at 12:00
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    @Sursula-they- I have cited that post myself in my question. So the answer is no.
    – MK7
    Jun 8 at 12:02
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    Did you work on the paper while on the clock with funding from project X?
    – Polygnome
    Jun 9 at 11:00
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    Part of the issue is that "on the clock" is difficult to define in a world where salary is allocated via "percent effort" rather than clock time. If you work 9am-5pm on X and 6-9pm on Y, X is formally getting less effort than if you worked 9am-4pm on X and 4-5pm on Y. (Agree this makes no sense but...)
    – Matt
    Jun 9 at 14:42
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    This doesn't really apply to pure mathematics, but in some other fields a lack of declared funding source might be suspicious; e.g. a paper critical of some piece of climate science which discloses funding from a reputable body, is probably more credible than the same paper with no disclosed funding source, because the latter might have been paid for by an oil company who prefer the arrangement not to be disclosed. Disclosing who pays your salary, even if the reason they pay your salary is unrelated to the particular paper, helps people judge whether the funding creates a conflict of interest.
    – kaya3
    Jun 10 at 13:20

2 Answers 2

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It is simple: If project X is paying for your (entire) salary, then you need to acknowledge project X in any publication you write. More generally, you need to acknowledge project X in any publication that has used resources from project X.

For as far as there are any ethical issues, these occurred when you decided to use resources from project X (your time) for work that is completely unrelated (in your words) to project X. For the record I don't think there is much of an ethical issue though, since it is generally understood that project members do some work that is at best tangentially related to the main goals of the project.

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    @TerryLoring How related the work is to the project is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is if the project paid for your time.
    – TimRias
    Jun 8 at 18:26
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    Isn't this dependent on whether or not you worked on your personal research during "Working hours"? If you are doing independent research on weekends, using resources that are completely separate from resources provided by/for Project X, then I wouldn't think Project X needs any mention. Project X is not entitled to 100% of your waking hours or productive output just because they pay your weekday 9-5 salary.
    – wakey
    Jun 9 at 0:13
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    I feel like @wakey's point is extremely important. Suppose someone was employed at IBM, and in their non-working hours performed research which led to a paper; should IBM be credited as providing support? Suppose someone was working as a clerk at a gas station, or (it could happen!) in a Swiss patent office; would the employer deserve credit then?
    – randomhead
    Jun 9 at 4:02
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    @wakey In principle yes. However, in practice academic working hours don't work in such a way that such a distinction can be cleanly made. In such a rare edge case where the distinction can be made, you should also not publish under your university affiliation.
    – TimRias
    Jun 9 at 6:31
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    @randomhead It is actually quite common for tech companies to stipulate in their employment contracts that the company owns all the IP generated while the employee is employed there. (It is also quite common for employees to ask to have such clauses removed from their contract before signing.)
    – TimRias
    Jun 9 at 6:35
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If its appropriate the use the university affiliation, its probably also appropriate to acknowledge a funding source. However, if the topic is so unrelated that the funding agency, or reviewer might rise questions why funding was used to work on an inappropriate topic, then better don't do it. But if the research is even slightly tangential related to the project X that payed full or part of your salary: Whats the disadvantage of acknowledging it? Really i would suggest to be a bit more like John Cleese and be flexible thanking or acknowledging people or funding agencies almost never hurts. I could very well imagine that funding agencies, use web-crawlers and keep stats counting the output of those who receive the funding and possibly even of those receiving funding salaries.

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