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In the framework of a collaborative project (i.e. 10 universities of the same country got granted money to do research using different approaches in the same topic), i was hired to develop a model. This model is not very novel, the novelty lies in coupling several sub-models, which have already been published.

I gave a talk to all the researchers of the project (around 50 people). During my talk, an Associate Professor from another university gave me a very valuable suggestion (I missed something, but it could be fixed just by adding a different sub-model to my model: i.e. changing a couple equations in the formulation). After that, he wrote an email to me and we had a 10 minutes skype discussion.

After submitting the paper 3 months ago, the Associate Professor wrote an email to me saying that he had been invited by the journal to review the paper, something that he rejected due to conflict of interests. In a polite way, he said to me that he considers he should be an author of the paper, as he read the abstract and thinks some ideas are his. In his email, he suggests that not only the idea of changing something was his, but other ideas expressed in the abstract were also his one idea. He tries to be friendly in his email, and he explicitly says that he writes to me and explains this situation, so I do not have this kind of misunderstanding in the future (as I am an early career researcher).

The paper has 5 authors. Me, my supervisor (we did all work) and three "guest authors": the principal investigator of the research grant, the head of the research grant at my university and a PostDoc that continued this research line after I left the University. These three people were not involved in the research.

To me, his reaction is toxic and over-dramatic. He was never involved in the coding and validation of the model, and he never saw a draft of the manuscript. The only two times I talked to him about the model was in the group meeting and in the subsequent skype talk (10 minutes). In my mind, he gave his opinion of the model and gave valuable suggestions on how to improve it. To me, this is the behavior a tenured professor (and expert of that field) should have in the context of a collaborative project between several Universities, without expecting to be added to the authors list. Moreover, my field is so small that, during conferences, other senior academics (with whom I have never talked) have suggested me ideas to work in the future.

My questions are:

To what extent giving a suggestion (even if valuable) in the framework of a collaborative project between universities converts you as a co-author, or adding that person in the acknowledgement is sufficient.

Should I reply to the Associate Professor being political correct (I feel sorry you feel this way, you know I tried to add you as a co-author,….) or being a little confrontational to him (One idea was yours, but you gave it in the framework of a collaborative project; you were never really involved in my research project….)?

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    Please make your post a lot shorter. Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 18:18
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    Your use of "political correct" has nothing to do with how this term is normally used. I suggest you remove it as it isn't helpful bringing it in here, rather it is a distraction. Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 23:00
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    Guest authorship is unethical. But since it seems that you are intent on having three guest authors ("These three people were not involved in the research"), why not include a fourth ("you were never really involved in my research project")? What's so special about this fourth person that the other three get to be guest authors and the fourth one doesn't?
    – JRN
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 6:08
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    "He tries to be friendly in his email, and he explicitly says that he writes to me and explains this situation, so I do not have this kind of misunderstanding in the future (as I am an early career researcher)." << This reads like "I write to you because you're the youngest, least-experienced and most-impressionable author, so I'm more likely to successfully talk you into adding me as an author than if I wrote to your more experienced co-authors"
    – Stef
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 11:24
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    @Stef I get a completely different impression, that this person is prepared to let it go but warning that others may be less tolerant in future. Of course they contacted the author they've previously discussed the project with, rather than anyone else. Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 16:59

6 Answers 6

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I don't know your field or it's customs, but in mathematics the interaction you describe could well be reason enough to include the person as a co-author. It is even possible, in math, that a five minute coffee room chat could provide the crux of the argument that breaks a jam.

Moreover, you lose little, and perhaps gain much, by including them as an author. Think about the possibility of future collaborations as they seem to be able to integrate things.

Some fields are more "strict" about authorship, requiring participation in the actual writing process for example. Others don't, depending more on the nature of the intellectual contributions. The fact that you were asked makes me think that the professor is thinking more like this is the latter case than the former, but there are many variations.

Think about what you gain or what you lose. This won't be your only paper, one hopes.


Edited to add:

Your comment on the participation (or lack of participation) of your authors suggests pretty strongly that this associate professor should be added. Their contribution certainly outweighed that of some of the others. Do The Right Thing.

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    I would add that (at least as I understand OPs description) there are already 3 people on the author list who definitely contributed less ('guest authors') than the professor who gave you these valuable suggestions. If they make the cut why would you exclude this professor?
    – quarague
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 7:18
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    I agree that coauthorship for the important suggestion is appropriate. I might go further than @quarague and suggest that the three "guest coauthorships" are inappropriate. Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 15:32
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    @EthanBolker,I agree but we are both mathematicians
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 15:44
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Well, rightly, there ought to be only two authors on your paper: you and your supervisor, as you did all the work. The three "guest authors" are an academic disgrace. The helpful suggestion given by the Assoc. Prof. merits his mentioning in Acknowledgements. During my PhD, I (1) found an error in a famous Professor's ready-to-submit draft, which he then discarded; it was beyond repair. I was thanked in the Acknowledgements in his completely different second take on the problem. And, (2) I came up with a suggestion after a presentation of yet another famous Prof. to provide him a new angle to solve the problem. Again, I was thanked in the Acknowledgements. This was all well and is how things should work but in modern times, science and scientist have become mere merchandise. CVs and egos must be kept polished to keep afloat on the market. If you really want a scientific career accept/invite any co-authors, who will pave the way for you.

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    "The three "guest authors" are an academic disgrace." +1 Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 9:19
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Not being part of all of the communications it's difficult to say for sure, but it's possible there's a bit of a misunderstanding here.

It may not be that this professor feels that he should be a co-author having provided the suggestion and nothing else. Rather, he may be saying that if you wanted to incorporate his ideas, he feels he should have been included in the process, giving him the opportunity to contribute to those other aspects of model development and manuscript review which would fully quality for co-authorship.

Given you're apparently already part of an active collaboration, the context around this is rather different to meeting someone in passing at a conference, and it's perhaps not such an unreasonable request. Although it's the sort of thing they could have communicated much more clearly to a more junior investigator if they felt strongly about it.

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In my field, an isolated useful comment or suggestion doesn't really warrant authorship (or necessitate an offer to be included further). I would not make any/every person who provided feedback on an idea or manuscript draft an author. I've never had anyone ask to be an author as a result of one-off feedback either (I have offered if I feel like they provided some critical insight). So I would expect a more active collaboration before discussing authorship. If someone was interested in meeting and contributing significantly to the manuscript, even if it was in a late stage, I would think that would bump them up from an acknowledgement to a potential co-author.

That being said, it sounds like there is some pre-existing collaboration so maybe, from the perspective of your colleague, it's more reasonable to expect inclusion (or an offer of inclusion). You're also admitting to including "guest authors" so obviously there is somewhat looser authorship criteria in your group and therefore different expectations - whether or not this is ethical is a different conversation.

As for how you should respond, diplomatic is probably safest. Apologize for the miscommunication, maybe leave an open invitation to collaborate in the future, and leave it at that. Don't point fingers or make excuses. Don't go on a rant about how they didn't contribute enough. Being non-confrontational in this case costs you nothing (since it doesn't sound like you're being asked to do anything even remotely inconvenient) but you potentially burn a bridge if you're email gets read the wrong way.

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  • What is the 'miscommunication'? Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 18:10
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The scientific papers I have been an author for all had specific criteria that need to be met in order to be an author. Check the journal requirements. If an author doesn't meet the criteria then they shouldn't be listed. That being said, it's usually ignored unfortunately. You need to decide if it really is an issue worth fighting.

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I've been out of Academia for a while and so there are definitely other people more-qualified than I to answer your question directly. However, the term "miscommunication" has come up a few times, both in your title and in some answers.

If you want to get to the root of the question title - you had an opportunity to determine whether it merits inclusion or not. You had a 1-on-1 discussion on Skype so they clearly had some further interest in your project. You could easily have ended with "Well, it's been great to chat to you; thanks for following up on this! Would you mind if I included an acknowledgement for this input?". (After just a 10 minute dialogue I think that's a reasonable opener - including them costs you nothing). If they instead blocked out 3 hours, it's up to you to ask a frank question beforehand about the expected outcome.

That establishes a baseline from your perspective on the value of their input and gives them an opportunity to react:

  1. They decline. They judge their input to be below the bar for even that
  2. They graciously accept and are happy that you acknowledged their input
  3. They react somewhat "off" to the suggestion. The problem is now theirs - they didn't decide to clarify their position before they followed up (we're talking 10 minutes here...), and anyone that expects beforehand to get something substantial should have laid out their expectations. But, now everyone is clear on the expectations of both sides immediately, not by a 3rd party review request.

If they give a positive reaction (Option 1 or 2) then you might even extend it to a proposal for a full collaboration since they clearly know the field - "That's great! You know, if you want to get more involved with X, Y, Z then..." and then have a concrete discussion on terms going forward.

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