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I am the first author for a review paper with ~10 authors. I wrote the full first draft entirely alone (about 8,000 words and 200+ references). Then, I opened the (very polished) draft to all authors for contributions.

Some authors made very small revisions. Another author (Author A) sent me one page of text, and asked me to add parts of it if I wanted. I did add their text throughout the manuscript.

While preparing for submission, I asked each author to add themselves into the CRediT system. Later, I noticed in the "author contribution" section that 3 names were listed as "Writing-original draft": Myself, Author A, and Author B.

I understand why Author A listed their name. Even though I wrote the original (very polished) first draft entirely alone, Author A did later write one page of text... enough to warrant more than a "Writing-revisions and editing" contribution. So, I agreed with that.

However, Author B not only did not write anything substantial, they did not write anything (even a single minor revision) at all. The document has lived entirely on Google Docs, so I can see they made not a single revision or comment.

Author A and B are both senior authors. In my head, I imagine two scenarios:

  1. Author A and B both wrote the full page, and only Author A sent it to me. In this case, Author B deserves the credit.

  2. Author B noticed that Author A listed themselves as having written the original document, and assumed they could just do the same. After all, Author B could not see that Author A wrote a full page separately, since they sent it to me behind the scenes, and I added the full page directly myself (under my name on the Google Doc). In this case, Author B does not deserve the credit, and acted unethically (in my opinion).

In any case, I recognize it is unfair/useless for me to make such assumptions. I would like to know the truth, and I plan to ask Author B.

I have not seen many questions like this on StackExchange. I see much more authorship byline questions, but not so much authorship CRediT questions.

My questions are:

  1. Is the culture around author CRediT creating this possibility that Author B might have acted unethically? I'm sure it varies across fields (I'm in biology).

  2. Is it even worth asking Author B? I suppose this depends on Question (1), and, if it is ingrained in the culture for a senior author to claim CRediT unfairly, then better to just move on and not work with them as much? I am only at the graduate student level; Author B is a professor.

Thank you.

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    You should definitely ask Author B why they listed themselves as writing the original draft if you couldn't find any evidence of their doing so. Do it in person and in a non-confrontational way: bring it up nonchalantly during your next in-person encounter. Based on their response and body language, you'll get all the information you need to judge their character. Jul 14, 2023 at 15:48
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    Thank you. I did end up asking Author B. We just received reviewer revisions, and I wrote to Author B, asking them to "remind me" what they had written for the original draft... so that I could assign appropriate reviewer comments to them (I assigned some comments to Author A if the reviewer covered Author A's original text). Author B wrote back that they only "coordinated logistics" and "read the paper". So, I then asked them if it was a mistake their initials were credited with helping write the original text. Author B agreed, and we erased their initials. Jul 16, 2023 at 21:28

3 Answers 3

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I am sorry to hear it happened with you. You obviously did a fantastic job -- congratulations on pulling through wiring such an impressive piece!

If the document tracking system (git or Google Doc in your case) says Author B did not wrote anything, and Author B did not bother to present a proof of his contribution to you and other authors, then it is natural to assume author B did not actually contribute to writing. If Author B claims it via the CRediT system, it is natural to assume they free-ride on the work of others, hence act unethically by passing the work of others as (partly) their own.

Academic culture in many places is very hierarchical and protects established professors and directors of big labs, even when their acts are blatantly unethical and wrong. Depending on your local culture, it may be safer for your career to let it go. But please do not feel bad about this (Prof B should feel bad about this, not you), and do not allow this situation to gaslight you into thinking that bad acts of others towards you are somehow justified. They are not justified, and it is just a reflection of a poor state of our current academic culture that such things still happen.

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There is an option you haven't considered yet.

  1. Author B has been working on several papers, being at a professor level they can't remember each one individually and so just took a quick guess at how they contributed to the paper before moving onto something else more interesting/something they view as more relevant. They may also consider it bureaucratic paperwork and so are just ticking the boxes. Infact maybe they contributed initial writing to another paper on the same topic and confused it with yours.

Coming from physics I won't say anything about the culture. But its worth asking Author B if you trust them. If not you could also ask Author A or anyone else who supervises you and may be able to provide insight/back you up/prevent you falling into a political trap, then depending on the response ask Author B.

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I tend to follow the CRediT guidelines generously under the assumption that all of the authors did in fact do significant work. If there is some evidence that someone contributed to a particular domain, then I try not to split hairs. But if there is no evidence of a particular contribution then an author shouldn't be listed. The entire point of the CRediT taxonomy is to be more transparent not less.

To try to answer your first question, CRediT is a relatively recent development - within the past 10 or so years. So I don't know that their are really ingrained cultures around it. It hasn't been common for all that long to include an author contribution statement. That being said, I'm sure the same people who would fudge an author list would have no problem fudging a contribution statement. Also, I'm sure a percentage of people see them as just a box to tick, so to speak, and so might not be inclined to put too much thought into it. I hope that answers your first question.

As for the second question, it would be reasonable, since there appears to be no evidence that author B actually wrote anything. Since you're a bit lower in the hierarchy, you might try to be diplomatic about it. But even that might stir the pot (whether or not that is worth it is up to you). You would definitely be in the right though. Best case, it might be that there was a misunderstanding or some measure of laziness involved. It might be that you were correct in your initial assessment. From there, what you do depends on how secure you feel and how far you are willing to fight it. It's a shame that this sort of thing happens.

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