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I need help to avoid any potential academic misconduct regarding ongoing research. It is a bit complex. Let me explain the situation. It is not related to my Ph.D. thesis.

I am an international Ph.D. student starting in February 2022. Before starting my Ph.D., I found a public dataset and conceptualized a research question. Then I did all the required analyses, achieved the results, and prepared a draft paper with only an introduction and material methods. Then it was time to come to start my Ph.D. So, I thought I would no longer have time to complete my paper.

So, I invited a person (from another University) to contribute to writing the paper. I accepted him as the first author and was the second author (with equal contribution to the first author). I also was the corresponding author. So, he wrote results and discussions and prepared the paper for submission.

We submitted the work to a journal. It was rejected, but we were encouraged to re-submit the paper to the same journal once we addressed all the requested revisions.

So, I re-do the analyses and sent the results to him to apply the revisions. Then, a conflict occurred between us, and now, he claims that since he has an intellectual property to the results of this research, I cannot publish the paper without his consent. However, as I mentioned earlier, I started the study, conceptualized the research question, and did all the analyses, and he just contributed to writing the paper.

So, I would like two questions to be answered. 1) Can I publish this paper without consent? and 2) Does he have intellectual property on my results? What if I want to re-write the paper and not use his writings?

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  • Did you ask him on what condition (including maybe adding work, rewriting etc. done by either him or you) he'd agree on publishing still together? Do you understand the reasons why he wouldn't consent to the joint publication anymore? (Obviously I'm not asking you to explain this to us if there are reasons not to do it, however it is of course relevant if there is still a possibility to do this together in some way, maybe by addressing his objections.) Sep 21 at 10:53

4 Answers 4

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There is no "law" on what one can and can't do in academia regarding unpublished work. There is no single code of academia that works similarly across the globe. Academia is not uniform. Academic reality is often not fair. Depending on their position in academic hierarchy and local customs in their Department/University/country, some people get away with doing something, some are promoted and celebrated, and some have their career ruined for doing more or less the same thing.

The rule of thumb is: try not to do things to others which you won't enjoy been done to you. Ask yourself the following questions: What would I feel if my co-author published our collaborative research without me? Do I have intellectual property on these results?

Now, flip the sides for a moment and look at the situation from your collaborator's eyes. What did they contribute to the research which justifies their role as an author? What would it mean for them to be sidelined and removed from the publication at this stage?

Please, consider talking to your co-author and find a compromise, which allows you to publish the paper together. If this is not possible, discuss as adults, how to move forward with the results you have. You may agree to bury all the research and move forward, or maybe to split it in some sensible way, or maybe invite a third person to the party to help you pick up the pieces and moderate things between you. Whatever you decide to do, write the decision down and respect it.

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Generally speaking you need the consent of all "authors" to publish with a reputable publisher. They will insist on it.

To avoid plagiarism, it might be impossible to "remove" them as an author. It isn't just a question of their "words" and what they "wrote", but what ideas they contributed to the whole. If their ideas are still included, their intellectual contribution, and you don't acknowledge that, then you are committing plagiarism.

You don't describe the nature of the conflict, but you need to resolve it. Removing the "first" author from a publication would be noticed and likely questioned.

However, he doesn't own your intellectual property, nor do you own his. It may be too late to try to separate them. I suggest that you err on the side of caution here.

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  • Isn't the rejected submission already a source that he can cite if he rewrites the parts of the paper that the other author wrote? Otherwise it is very stupid for one author to block the research of another one. Of course a compromise should be easier. Sep 20 at 17:36
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Since this person has contributed to the paper, sufficiently to have previously been offered authorship, it seems to me that it would be improper for him not to get authorship credit on the paper if it is published. At the same time, it is also improper to hold a paper hostage by refusing to make further contribution but also refusing to allow the other person to work on it and publish it. As Dmitry points out in his answer, this is primarily a matter of academic custom and research ethics rather than law.

If you are at loggerheads in conflict, I recommend you try to negotiate a way forward that ends in joint publication of the paper, with each of you making whatever contributions need to be mae to finish. If you cannot agree, it might be worthwhile to consider having another academic act as a mediator and making a binding determination on the way forward.

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TLDR: You can't and shouldn't publish without his signature. Either him signing that he agrees to be removed as the author, or him signing that he agrees to submit the paper with his name on it.

He cannot publish this work in any way because you came up with the idea and analysis. Your contributions were yours, he cannot take them. You cannot publish this work as long as there is some of his work remaining in it. His contributions were his, you cannot take them.

You might see that you simply need to rework his wording and you are done. But even if you actually manage to rewriting everything without his words, ideas etc - who can tell that you completely eliminated all of his contributions? That none of his text and ideas remained? He was the first author in the submission system - this implies he did a lot of work. If he was 5th you might get by with something along "oh, he did some analysis in the v1 and we replaced it all in v2 because he was a troublemaker". Here you cannot. Most journals will err on the side of caution and see tons of red lights in your case. Typical journal policy is "any author change must be accompanied by signatures of all (past and present) authors" - but of course there are differences to what degree they ultimately adhere to it.

If you two cannot solve the conflict and you still really want to publish, seemingly one way to sidestep issues with journal would be to submit elsewhere that doesn't know of v1 with his authorship. DO NOT DO THIS. If you get any repeated reviewer that notices author changes, your submission will be blocked outright; or worse. But even if it gets through, that author could show he was the first author in rejected version of the same paper to your university and the journal where you published. This will be a lot of trouble for you from both - even including getting paper retracted and kicked out of the university. Even if he doesn't do it right away, do you want that possibility hanging over your head forever?

There are stories (including on this site) where a senior professor and/or a distinguished researcher got away with what you want - removed the student that did all the work and submitted as him being the sole author. Yeah, in that case journal and university might opt to side with the well-known professor that a student was a troublemaker, so the professor opted to redo all the work himself. They might not actually believe the story, but see it is easier for them to pretend they do believe it. But you are a mere PhD student, this strategy has 0% chance of working for you - your university and the journal will prefer to protect themselves and throw you under the bus in the light of serious misconduct.

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