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My full affiliation is:

Abacus Beard Department of Underwater Basket-Weaving, Calvin Doofus Division of Ocean Science, University of Watering-Down.

A. B. is the name of a big donor. C. D. is the name of another big donor.

I dissent with many opinions of A. B. and my department. I don't want my name to be with AB. I like C. D. on the other hand. Can I omit the department's name and AB, putting only the CD Division as my affiliation?

The university does not have any specific rules on writing affiliations.

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  • 8
    @user438383 Not only against the journal rules. Your employment contract (or grant) may require you to list some acknowledgments or affiliations.
    – JiK
    May 17, 2023 at 11:10
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    When do you actually need to state that affiliation? For papers? Grant proposals? Pep talks? Are you actually the only one of your department involved, or would there be e.g. a co-author with maybe different views? May 17, 2023 at 18:15
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    I would suggest that dropping the name of a donor, gives the impression not of disagreement with their views but of impropriety—an attempt to hide a conflict of interest.
    – jmoreno
    May 18, 2023 at 4:39
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    If you do not want to be associated with these people, you may want to consider changing your affiliation. It seems rather dishonest to refuse to acknowledge that you live off their donations.
    – Servaes
    May 18, 2023 at 9:30
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    So you're willing to take their money (as a post-doc or faculty member) or give them your money/labor (as a student) and have their name on your paycheck or diploma (figuratively if not literally) but not on your publications? Huh.
    – Anonymous
    May 18, 2023 at 13:18

6 Answers 6

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Your suggestion seems strange to me, and also rather churlish. In the first place, acknowledging a person or organisation in an academic paper does not imply that you share their views or that you "like them" --- acknowledging a donor just means that their resources contributed to the research and listing your department in your byline just means that it is the department you were in when you did the research. Thousands of researchers publish papers that are funded by places like the Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, etc., and I would never imagine that these researchers necessarily share the views of Bill and Melinda Gates, or the various other billionaires who control these funding bodies. Likewise, I would think there would also be thousands of academics who have grievances with their departments or donors, and I would never presume the absence of such grievances merely because they list their department name in their byline or list donors as contributing to funding the research.

There is variation in the particular types of acknowledgements that people make in papers, so you probably have some legitimate discretion here. Nevertheless, these decisions are usually driven by clarity and candour in relation to the relevant organisations and people, rather than the author's personal views on the merits of ideas held by those people. Clarity and candour in the acknowledgements is really just a basic element of politeness in relation to sources of research and the general desire to give the reader correct and complete information. It's not a good idea to develop a reputation as someone who withholds acknowledgement or credit to others simply because you don't get along with them personally or don't share their views.

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It's simple enough: do you benefit from the department and hence (indirectly) from the donation of A.B.?

If you want the benefits of being affiliated with something then you should be willing to acknowledge that affiliation.

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    There are so many evil rich people out there trying to buy reputation with their money that this answer seems very misguided to me.
    – Arno
    May 17, 2023 at 11:25
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    @Arno I don't understand why you think that. All I am saying is that if you don't want to be associated with the evil rich person, then don't take their money. May 17, 2023 at 13:37
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    Imagine you are a faculty member of an extremely large medical school. The dean of said medical school decides to take $50 million from a donor. What control do you have over that decision? Your argument is to resign in protest?
    – Ian
    May 17, 2023 at 15:43
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    @Ian Some people may be willing to resign in protest, and most (including me) would not. But it's only the people who resign who get to say "I am not affiliated with that school or donor." May 17, 2023 at 16:01
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    @Vaelus I said nothing about whether or not one should decry the donor's position, and I did not use the word "hypocritical". I have no problem with someone taking the money while publicly disagreeing with the donor. But I would feel the need, as a matter of honesty, to qualify my disagreement by admitting that I took the money. May 18, 2023 at 12:51
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Congratulations, you have come to a point where you need to decide what matters to you more - your beliefs or money. If your department accepted funding from someone you disagree with, then you are always free to quit in protest. This way, you will not have to accept money from someone who you feel is abhorrent, and you will act in accordance with your beliefs.

You can donate an amount commensurate with the donor's contribution to your salary (a rough computation would be the donor's contribution divided by the department's overall budget), which is in my opinion the most noble option.

You can also advocate with your department chair, dean, and provost to reject the donation. This is very unlikely to succeed (since administrators love money more than almost anything). You can campaign with faculty, staff and students, to get them to pressure the administration to reject the donation. This would also probably come at a personal cost.

Simply removing the donor's name is an empty gesture, unlikely to sway anyone and do nothing except make you feel a bit better about "doing something" or "sticking it to the man". It's also, as @Ben suggests, a bit hypocritical - you are accepting the donor's money after all (either directly or indirectly).

As researchers we often need to decide whether to accept funding from X. Unfortunately, having enough money to fund universities often correlates with some skeletons in one's closet. You can choose to accept this as a reality of research, and try and do the best things you can with the funding you were given. You can also choose to reject it (I, for one, will never accept funding from certain financial institutions that openly support terrorist activities/drug dealers; some people don't accept DoD/DARPA funding), but understand that it will come at a cost.

Besides being hypocritical and childish, ignoring funding sources most likely violates funding acknowledgments rules/department regulations. For example, when writing official letters on behalf of the university, such as reference letters, you will need to do so using the department's letterhead, and changing it is not allowed.

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I usually list only one "structure level" in my affiliation (it varies which one), and I've never been told off for that. I am also not aware of any potentially issues this could cause for the records (eg like a too weird formatting of a reference could deprive the cited authors of the citation count).

You could probably also just drop the "AB" from the departments name and just go for "Department of Underwater Basket Weaving".

Overall, the only problem you could face if your department/university has very detailed policies on how affiliations should be phrased, and someone actually cares enough to pay attention and then enforce them. This would surprise me, but you'll know much better than us how the local situation is.

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    I'd argue that there is a moral problem with dropping affiliations simply because you don't like them.
    – Spark
    May 17, 2023 at 15:58
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    This. Find a plausible compact way to state the affiliation and it's unlikely that anyone will complain. May 19, 2023 at 2:04
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This article might help you think about the tensions involved in philanthropy.

https://johnsoncenter.org/blog/philanthropy-and-reparations-righting-the-past/

I'm making some assumptions here, but often the tension people feel about having a foundation's or person's name on the department (or museum or whatever) gives the name an air of legitimacy, when the money may have been acquired by illegitimate means (or perhaps the person/family were historically involved in perpetrating racist polices, for example).

Some foundations have been publicly acknowledging this, and it would be reasonable for university faculty to suggest/encourage a foundation to try to acknowledge and/or redress past transgressions.

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I mean, if you feel better by omitting the department, why not just do it?

If somebody at your university objects, you can still change it.

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  • This is the answer. May 19, 2023 at 2:02
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    What's next? Omitting your affiliation entirely because you feel you will look cooler as a 'lone genius'? Omitting coauthors because you don't like them? This seems very contrary to the general attitude in the modern sciences that credit should be given where credit is due. I'm not saying this answer is wrong, but it could definitely benefit from some more thorough consideration.
    – Servaes
    May 19, 2023 at 15:10
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    If the affiliation has contributed to OP's salary/funding, this is not an acceptable answer. May 21, 2023 at 16:42
  • @Servaes I mean, if Donald Trump would donate a large sum to my department, and they choose to call themselves "Donald Trump department for X", I would also try to avoid to mention this as much as possible. May 22, 2023 at 18:35
  • @Servaes Omitting coauthor and omitting affiliation are very different legally. When submitting to a journal, you sign a legal agreement to include all coauthors.
    – dodo
    Jun 21, 2023 at 7:43

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