TLDR: I am being excluded of a paper for which I worked, and I am not sure how to proceed.
Long story short, I am a theoretical physics PhD student and I was approached by experimental physicists about their experiment. They had a nice setup, didn't know what to do with it to make an interesting paper nor how to validate the data.
I worked for them for six months, writing a lot of code, doing a lot of theoretical analysis to see what was possible. A big part of it was the validation of their data.
I did the work they asked me, I was very careful and precise with my coding to be sure to avoid mistakes, and maintain reproducibility. The conclusion is that the data they gave me is inconsistent: it doesn't validate.
Before annoucing the news, the postdoc leading the project (I was mainly working with a PhD student, the postdoc being less directly involved) was already quite toxic, authoritarian, not wanting me to write the validation part of the paper or even sharing the draft, etc. It felt to me that he didn't really care much about the science, and just wanted a nice, marketable statement, to publish a paper fast, and move on.
Now that I told him about data not working, he is are pushing me out of the paper: first he ghosted me, then he told me on whatsapp bullshit emotional reasons of why we shouldn't keep on working together. After pressuring him a bit, he agreed to call, and it was basically a big mess of gaslighting, narcissistic-abuse style speech. Impossible to have a reasonable discussion.
He says that I should not be an author for various reasons, the most credible one being that they do not use my work. Well, of course, otherwise they couldn't publish it. But, even if they could, they do implicitly use all the analysis I did, as it changed their experimental choices, etc.
They will probably publish something, and this paper will be impactful because of the technical prowess of the experiment (probably Nature-level publication). Either they will not make claims/hide under the rug the validation part and just focus on the technical achievements, or maybe even fake data analysis? I don't think their experiment doesn't work, but the data they provided me clearly doesn't, and they showed very little interest for calibration runs, debugging, etc.
I have a strong feeling that they dismantled the experiment already, many hints point out in this direction.
I am not sure what to do. For me, this paper would make a significant difference on my CV. Of course, I don't want my name on something incorrect (if they do indeed make incorrect claims - I have no way to know as no access to the draft), but at the same time, it's six months of work. Above all, such behaviour should not be tolerated in science.
I might contact the professor overseeing the whole lab. Never spoke with him, don't know if he would take me seriously - I have many screenshots, and proofs of my work. He is really famous in the field, but I don't know about his character. The postdoc being the manipulative politician that he is probably made sure to be seen in a good light by the professor, so it might be hard to be taken seriously, even though I think my case stands.
I am quite afraid that if I do get in touch with the professor, then I would have some unpredictable backlash from the narcissistic postdoc - reputation destroying (made up) emails and whatnot. Even if I negotiate to get my name on the paper with the PI, the postdoc will probably feel wronged. After all, what does it cost him to do it now? There will be multiple authors already, so the effect of one extra name seems negligible to me; there is something irrational in putting my name or not.
It would feel really bad to let this go: it's my work, and it's also for all the people who might be impacted in the future by working with this postdoc who is on a good way to become a professor. I feel that it is moral duty to act against such toxic people. I unfortunately have an experience of narcissistic abuse in my romantic life, and I know how destructive such characters are.
- Should I contact the PI?
- Should I rightfully be on this paper?
- Should I ask for it?
- How can I moderate the risk of backlash from the postdoc?
Many thanks in advance!