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I am a graduate student in a STEM field. I collected and analyzed data for another graduate student (different PI) and they are now refusing to include me as an author on a research paper. I optimized conditions/parameters, characterized a new material with a specific instrument/technique, and processed/analyzed data.

Can I prevent the data from being used if I’m not included as an author? What I have in mind is saying "I'm not OK with this data/analysis being used if I am not included as an author".

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    You say that you "took" data for another graduate student. Do you mean that you collected data for them? Did you have an agreement with the other student about how they would use the data that you have given them? What is it that you want to be included as an author on? Their PhD dissertation ?!?! A conference proceeding? A research publication? Additionally, how would you propose to "prevent" them from using the data? Any sensible answer to your question is likely to depend on you describing the situation more fully. Feb 26, 2023 at 9:48
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    I suggest that you now go back and heavily edit your original question. Add in the additional information that you have included in the comments. Don't do this as a series of "additions"; integrate the material from your comment into the question. That is the way to attract an answer! Feb 27, 2023 at 11:48
  • People asking for clarification here are trying to help you. If you don't treat them respectfully, what does that suggest? It's totally understandable that this is a stressful situation, but it's important that everything is clear so that you don't get the wrong advice. Things that may seem obvious to you might not be obvious to another asker.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 1, 2023 at 0:11

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Before getting to a solution to your problem, you should take this as a useful lesson for future work: always negotiate authorship up-front before commencing work on a project. That is a useful lesson to learn and it will prevent you from getting into these types of situations in the future.

As to the present project, I would recommend that you first seek to resolve the matter through negotiation with this other student, and if that fails, arrange to have the matter reviewed and have a determination made by an appropriate third-party expert in the university (e.g., an experienced academic in the ethics office or in another department). Before negotiating the matter or raising it for review, first read some guidelines and academic literature on authorship for statisticians/data analysts (see this related answer to get you started) to get an idea of the principles used for determining when data analysis is enough to warrant authorship. Your description of your work sounds substantial to me, so it is likely that it will be enough to warrant inclusion as a co-author according to relevant guidelines/literature.

I recommend against withholding your analysis, except perhaps temporarily while the issue of authorship is reviewed and considered. If you are unable to come to an agreement with this other student, the best course of action would be for you both to agree to a binding determination being made by an appropriate third-party expert in the university. If you are both willing to agree to this then a decision on authorship will be made and you can both proceed accordingly. (Even without agreement, the university has mechanisms relating to research ethics that can allow it to investigate and make a binding determination for its employees.) In the event that the decision is against you, I recommend you accept that, supply your analysis without any impediment, and just take this experience as a lesson in pre-negotiation of authorship.

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I think that there are really three different questions, or possibly four. I'll begin with the very hypothetical fourth!

  1. Is it likely that other people in your situation would feel that they had been treated unfairly by the other graduate-student/PI pair? Quite likely, but frequently when you (i.e., many people) invest in another person without expecting any great return for either of you, and then the other person gets a great reward (e.g., authorship), you might feel cheated. To highlight an analogue situation, consider that you've spent one dollar on a lottery ticket for your friend, and then they win really big! Many people in this situation are likely to feel as if they've been treated unfairly when the winnings aren't shared with them. It's human, but the feeling is driven largely by a (completely hypothetical) notion of what you yourself would do in the reverse situation.

  2. Is it unethical for the other graduate student/PI to refuse you authorship? I don't think this has an answer with which everyone would agree! You indicate in your comments that you wouldn't anticipate being included as an author on other student's PhD thesis ( ... a completely bizarre outcome that I suggested merely to test the limits of what, and why, you feel unfairly treated). But you do feel that you should be included on a research paper, as indeed I would in a similar situation. Yet I've also been in the situation of (i) having my name mentioned only as an "also-ran" in the acknowledgements (as indeed you might hope for a mention in the student's PhD thesis); or (ii) not mentioned anywhere at all despite the significant contribution I felt I had made.

  3. Can you really prevent publication if your name is not included? There are such ways, but most methods of truly preventing the publication entail enlisting the help of third parties: lawyers, university research review boards, journal editors, etc. You (wisely!) show no inclination to do any of those things, and instead say that you would "prohibit" the publication by expression your verbal prohibition to the authors, and hoping that they attend to you.

  4. What is good advice for a person in your situation? There are two things. First, see what you can gain by negotiation. Second, learn the hard hard lesson and move on. If there is the slightest chance in future that you would want to be included in the list of authors on a way-in-the-future publication, then set aside your feelings of friendship and loyalty, and ask for a written statement to that effect.

I think that the effort of negotiating is worthwhile. Try to meet with the PI (definitely) and student and be prepared with some evidence of the facts of the input you had into the substance of the paper. Definitely stress your unhappiness at not being included as an author given your input. Be prepared to lose ... but also be prepared to graciously (yes, it's hard!) accept an acknowledgement in the paper that outlines your contribution.

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Your summary might be framed this way.

I was handed a set of samples by a colleague. I characterized the samples in a specialized instrument, analyzed the data, and generated a report on the results. The only inputs that were given to me were the samples and the types of results desired. I worked independently using these inputs and turned over the report at the end. I did not consult with the colleague to decide why certain approaches in the characterization and analysis should or should not be taken. I did not enter into discussions about the interpretation of the results within themselves or in context to other findings from my colleague. Can I now claim right to co-authorship on a publication that includes the results from my report?

In the above frame, the most direct answer is no. First, the hard reason. You did not negotiate a contract on your duties and rewards before the fact. The party that got your report is under no a priori contractual (legal) obligation to award you co-authorship. Not simply written, not even verbal. This is not a happy situation to reach. As might be said also by others, at best, this finding can serve you as a lesson for next time.

The second reason for an answer "no" concerns the answer to the question of whether your colleague has any ethical responsibilities to include you as co-author. As you briefly framed your case, and as I have reframed it in greater detail, you served primarily if not exclusively as a service provider for the work done. You took in samples, took in a description of what was desired as the output, ran a specialized instrument over the samples, and provided the desired output result using the given inputs. Some consider the level of work just described as not being worthy of co-authorship on a publication. Some will instead consider it more responsible to be recognized only in the acknowledgement section of the publication.

The extent that the work you did deviated from the above description must be considered. Did you provide "original ideas" during your discussions, for example by suggesting different approaches to the characterization or analysis to obtain results that provided greater insights in their own right or in the larger context to the entire work itself. In addition, you will have to consider the extent that the other party carries your same ethics about co-authorship roles and perhaps even the extent that the journal enforces standards on when to acknowledge contributors to its publications. All these factors, which you have left rather unclear in your post, will dictate how much room you may have to negotiate for co-authorship or acknowledgement on the paper. If you do go down this path, you will benefit by having someone with a deeper background in your case to advise you on the best professional approach to take. Ultimately, you may find the effort so overwhelming that you simply have to allow even this level to pass as a lesson this time.

In summary, given that you have no a priori contract, and presuming that the ethical frame does not deviate significantly from the above, you may face insurmountable hurdles in pushing any further for co-authorship. At best, you should ask for recognition in the acknowledgement section. You should certainly do so in consultation with someone who has insights and experience to support your case. Finally, the scale to define what level of involvement leads to what reward in a publication, from being left off to being acknowledged to being a co-author, is not linear, standardized, or always agreed-upon by all parties involved. You likely have some further discovery to make beyond asking here for an affirmation.

Finally, with regards to the last part about discovery and consultation, implicitly understood in your posting is that you are working with a (different) PI. What advice does your PI give you about this situation? Was your PI in agreement with your decision to do characterization and analysis work for someone on a different project and then simply hand out the results from that work without some up-front agreement? What does your PI say to your attempts now to try to take back or block those results from publication? Your next step should be to answer these questions and follow the commensurate advice from you PI.

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  • I think this answer makes a number of assumptions regarding the relationship between OP and the other parties, and the amount/type of contribution that OP provided to the project, that are not necessarily supported by OP's post. Specifically saying that "you contributed only to the extent that a comparably trained machine or function or robot could do an equivalent job" is a significant leap.
    – academiaTA
    Mar 2, 2023 at 1:18
  • @academiaTA I have removed the bluntness. Also as modified, the OP has ambiguities about the true depth of involvement. Further consultation is advised. Mar 2, 2023 at 2:29
  • I think there is simply not enough information about the field or the tasks performed to just conclude "no." This is on the OP, not you, of course. My interpretation from a different field than you was "probably should be." Mar 2, 2023 at 17:07

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