31

During my postdoc, I began to question the morality of a part of my group's research project. But I kept working on it, and a year later, we submitted the paper to a journal with me as first author. Shortly after that, I left the lab.

My concerns about the project's morality increased every day and I no longer wish to be an author.

Now the paper has been preliminarily accepted. I contacted my advisor. I told him the situation, emphasizing that I wanted to cause as little inconvenience to the other authors as possible while simultaneously not violating my moral code. I suggested two options:

  1. Remain on the paper after removing the component I found morally objectionable (this is about 20% of the paper), or

  2. Remove myself from the paper, send a brief explanation to the other authors, and allow the paper's contents (including the parts I found objectionable) to remain as is.

Although my advisor tried to be understanding, in the end, they stated that the content I found morally objectionable could not be removed and that I should not remove my name either. They said that redacting my name would be incorrect (as I would then be a ghost author). They also said I was "selfish" for bringing it up. They said I should "sacrifice" my moral stance to keep the situation easy. They finally stated that they are older than me and that they have the wisdom to know that I will be more well-rounded as I age and that my moral objection will lessen over time.

This type of research is not illegal and it easily passes all modern research ethical committees. However, it still is a morally contentious area. I have no concerns about legal liability or anything like that. My concern is about my personal moral objection.

What is a graceful way to move forward with this painful situation? Is the behavior of my advisor or myself or both or neither unethical? Were my proposed two optional solutions suitable?

Some clarifications:

  • I did not directly participate in the ~20% of the paper I find morally objectionable, nor did I receive money from it.
  • My advisor did more work, but wanted last authorship, which is why I'm first author. The project evolved over time.
  • I imagine my coauthors would be even more offended if I made direct/public statements about my moral objection to their work.
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  • 5
    As others have said, this was way way way too long. I have made some heavy-handed edits to shorten it. This shortening is a moderation action: please do not roll back the edit or otherwise make it super long again. On the other hand, the edits themselves are a suggestion -- so long as you don't lengthen the post, please feel free to make any corrections / changes you see fit.
    – cag51
    Jan 4 at 8:15
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – cag51
    Jan 4 at 8:18

10 Answers 10

39

Do not let others pressure you into something you consider morally intolerable.

The two options you presented to your advisor are very reasonable. If he is unwilling to choose one he prefers, he must accept the one you choose, whatever the consequences to everyone involved. (And, as far as I can see with my limited knowledge, your two options do no measurable damage to anyone besides maybe yourself — in the form of some burnt bridges.)

10
  • 6
    Agreed. This does not have to be complicated. If you do not feel right being first author or having your name on the paper at all, you do not have to. It seems that you already know this, and are looking for support. Your reasoning is sound. Stick with your moral compass.
    – user5836
    Jan 2 at 21:37
  • 4
    You are right that I'm looking for support (if it's genuine). It's hard not to question myself after being called "selfish" and told to "sacrifice myself" for the "bigger picture". Many responses here on SO seem to state that I should feel obliged to remain on the paper at this point. It gives me something to think about now seeing these comments emerging suggesting that indeed morals should be prioritized here.
    – ilctf
    Jan 2 at 21:59
  • 4
    You will find that a great many people, including some who like to present themselves as moral and correct, lack integrity. And they do not like it when someone with actual integrity gets anywhere near them. I would personally refuse to have my name associated with research I consider immoral. So yes, thank you for following your own moral compass.
    – Dúthomhas
    Jan 2 at 22:26
  • 4
    This answer is beautiful - correct, factual and succinct.
    – user121330
    Jan 2 at 23:48
  • 5
    While the second option presented to the senior author is a reasonable compromise, there is a reasonable ground for objecting to it. Authorship is an act of taking responsibility for the material. If there is a set of material in the paper that you, and no one else, was responsible for, then someone must take moral and technical responsibility for that material. Taking the name of the person able to take responsibility for a certain set of material off the papers means that the rest are guaranteeing the truth of that material while being in no position to honestly do so. Jan 3 at 14:03
26

I'm very sorry you're so anguished over this issue. But it's not clear to me how removing your name from the paper would be a solution to anything. After all, you did participate in the research, so if the research is immoral, then unfortunately it's not possible to erase the fact of your having participated in its creation. If this weighs on your conscience, wouldn't it still weigh on you even if your name were removed from the author list? And wouldn't removing your name be merely a way to mislead other people into thinking that you had nothing to do with the research? (And wouldn't the deception involved in misleading people in that way merely compound the ethically problematic nature of your behavior, rather than diminish it?)

Well, obviously I could be missing something since you have not provided much detail. But if you could clarify (at least to yourself) why removing your name is ethically superior to including it, I think that might help you figure out a way forward.

Now, if your goal with this plan is simply to not be seen to be supporting this type of research which you have come to regard as morally unacceptable, I think this can be achieved without hiding your contribution. Here are a few possible ways to go about it:

  1. you could agree to have your name listed as an author, but insist that the paper must include a statement in which you disavow the research and state your position that it is immoral (without refuting that it is scientifically valid). Obviously the statement will bear only your name and not the names of the other authors, so it seems like something the other authors might agree to include.

  2. you could agree to have your name listed as an author, and not insist that the paper must contain a statement of disavowal as described above, but publish the statement of disavowal separately (for example on your web page, or as a letter to the editor or commentary article that will be published in the same journal where the paper is being published).

  3. you could ask not to be listed as an author of the paper, but to be listed in the acknowledgements section instead, where it will be explained what your contribution to the research was, and where it will be explained (for example with the insertion of a statement of disavowal as above) that you morally object to the research and for that reason asked not to be listed as an author.

Perhaps another goal that you have in wanting to remove your name from the paper is wishing to avoid being rewarded for engaging in the immoral research in the form of an extra publication on your CV. Suggestion 3 above manages to achieve that, while suggestions 1 and 2 are still a bit problematic in that sense. It's understandable that you do not want to profit from immoral behavior.

Good luck, hope you find a way to navigate this tricky situation!

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  • 2
    Option 4: you can ask not to appear on the paper, since this is what you seem to really want (afaik there's no obligation not to renounce your authorship! most answers here look like there were, it sounds very odd to me), and also publish a separate statement as proposed by @Dan Romik if, as he suggests, there is also a problem with having participated in this research, beyond authorship. Jan 2 at 15:46
  • 2
    I'm unfamiliar with scientific publication conventions. Would the conflict of interest statements be an appropriate place to disavow the methods?
    – Vaelus
    Jan 2 at 15:53
  • 5
    I appreciate your feedback @sparusaurata. I am also a bit surprised by many of the responses so far. There seems to be a cultural/traditional viewpoint that one cannot renounce authorship. This does not take into account how large projects evolve out of one's hands, how moral viewpoints evolve, and "dynamic consent" to be an author. I sometimes worry that we as scientists are trained to not develop and act on our own moral codes, and that is secondary to "group collaboration".
    – ilctf
    Jan 2 at 17:29
  • 3
    @ilctf I read your edits. It sounds like you need someone to tell you it’s okay to completely withdraw from the project, remove your name from the paper and not speak publicly about the topic of the research, either in support or to express your moral opposition to it. Well then: sure, it’s totally okay to do that; it just wasn’t clear to me why that would resolve your sense of guilt, but your explanation makes that a bit clearer, and in any case if that’s how you want to proceed, I don’t think anyone can fault you.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 2 at 23:07
  • 8
    One more piece of advice: when you inform your coauthors of your decision, it might be better to avoid long explanations, examples and analogies of other people removing their names from papers (as in your post), etc. I find these arguments immaterial. Signing your name to a piece of work is entirely at your discretion; you are free to do it or not do it, for any reason or for no reason at all, and you are not required to give a reason even if you have one. Sometimes it’s best to not give reasons because it invites people who disageee you to try to argue. Good luck!
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 2 at 23:09
15

This is about moral codes, so nobody can tell you what is the right thing to do. We can only come up with suggestions, and hope that one of them feels right to you. Here's one:

Accept authorship, and then write an article/essay/blog post describing your misgivings.

Ultimately, you did author the paper. Removing your name from the paper is always an option, and always your decision and yours alone. However, your co-authors may not feel comfortable publishing without you, if you made substantial contributions, so you'd be inconveniencing them (which you indicate, you don't like doing).

In a way, you can see your authorship on the paper as an acknowledgement of guilt. If you really contributed to research you feel is unethical, the best thing to do is to acknowledge that fact and then to show remorse. This is more honest since you're not hiding your involvement, and it allows you to more precisely refer to what you did that you regret, since your involvement has been clearly documented.

You can use the current threat of pulling your authorship, to get a small ethical statement into the paper highlighting some of the issues you are worried about. That way, you can show that you were already concerned about these issues at publication.

Then, once the publication is done, you can start writing down your misgivings in detail. Point to the original paper, acknowledge that you took authorship and why, and then explain why you regret your contribution to this research. The exact format of this article depends on what you want to say. You may want to go into your personal struggles (as you have done in your question), in which case a blog post or published essay may be a good format. You may want to make a more academic point about these research practices, in which case an opinion paper or even a regular paper may be best. You could even do both.

One upside of this approach is that you are not wasting the energy you poured into obsessing over this issue for the last few years. You can finally use this productively to write about your struggles, while closing the door on a painful chapter in your life. This will be both therapeutic, and help your career.

A downside is that it will definitely sour relations with your current co-authors. As I read it, that ship has pretty much sailed already, and even if it hasn't, you likely can't be on friendly terms with them while being honest about your values. In such a case, it's probably healthier to pick your values , since they clearly weigh heavily for you. If you want to hold your head high, it's probably best to announce up front what you intend to do: say something like, "Yes, I will take authorship, provided that there is an ethical statement, but be advised that in the future I intend to write about these issues more, and that will require me to essentially denounce this paper."

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  • 1
    "This is about moral codes, so nobody can tell you what is the right thing to do. We can only come up with suggestions, and hope that one of them feels right to you." Not everyone believes in moral relativism. Even if you do believe in it, there are many moral questions in academia where there is almost universal agreement.
    – toby544
    Jan 2 at 10:06
  • 6
    Fair enough, but since the specific issue is not explained, we don't know whether it's one of those cases. The OP clearly doesn't want to give those details, so they should make the decision which course of action fits their moral code. Jan 2 at 10:10
  • 1
    I can definitely consider some of these options and thank you for providing them. I'm not sure if it is necessarily more honest to stay on the paper though, even if I contributed toward parts of the work. I still need to sign a form stating that "I agree to all content in the final version of the paper", and I quite simply don't. So, if I remain as an author, unless we remove the immoral parts, I would be dishonest when signing that form.
    – ilctf
    Jan 2 at 20:40
  • 1
    @iclf Yes, I may have phrased that too strongly. Removing your name comes with some ethical questions, but it's certainly not an unethical thing to do. As for the form, that's partly a matter of interpretation. "agree to" could mean that you agree that it's published under your name as a record of what happened, but not necessarily that, in retrospect, it was the right thing to do. I expect the form is mostly there so the publisher can prove that they published what you wanted them to publish: that is, so that you take responsibility for the published material, not them. Jan 3 at 7:53
  • "This is about moral codes, so nobody can tell you what is the right thing to do." <- What a weird thing to say. Morality is not a matter of personal taste.
    – einpoklum
    Jan 3 at 22:23
13

I know someone who is finalizing their removal as an author right now. I mention this to say that I have some familiarity with the next steps in this process. Regardless of what should happen, what will probably happen is an exchange between the journal and the Committee on Publication Ethics, or COPE, which has worked with academics and journals for the past 25 years on ethical practices in authorship.

COPE has previously handled a case very pertinent to the original question, titled Request for removal from author list for reasons of religious belief:

Case text: We have been contacted by an author of a published article who has requested to be removed from the author list. ... because they no longer want to be associated with the research for reasons of religious belief. They further state that, because they now consider a lot of applications of knowledge in their field to be sinful, they do not want their name to be associated with activities that they no longer agree with, and they do not want to be recognised as someone who is involved in such research.

The COPE Forum came to a consensus in this case that:

Advice: ... accountability for the article is the most important consideration. Since there is nothing wrong with the article itself the author must retain their affiliation with it. While a ‘silent correction’ is possible where an author has requested a name change, that does not apply in the current case since the author is asking for their name to be removed altogether.

(emphasis added). Having said that, the Forum further said:

Advice: ... The journal should, however, consider whether the author is in any personal danger because of their connection with the research. If that were the case then it might be possible to remove their name, but their contribution would still need to be acknowledged in anonymous form. It is not possible to remove an author entirely from their responsibility for the article’s content.

(emphasis added).

So, your case hangs between these two rules. On one hand, safety aside, you must stand as an author of research you originally authored. But your safety is paramount.1 If authorship of this article would convincingly harm your well-being, the norms around scientific authorship accountability would yield to basic ethical principles to "first do no harm".

(The standards are this rigorous because if they were looser, there would be plenty of risk in the opposite direction -- imagine supervisors having the power to instigate removal of their PhD students' first authorships after a dispute!)

COPE would probably then advise the journal to obtain written approval from all authors (including you), and then revise the manuscript to move you from author to the Acknowledgements as an anonymous contributor, following this procedure.

All the best!


1 I am sure you mean no harm or insult to anyone, and I have no doubt that you have withheld more details to protect yourself. But I suspect what you said here:

This is the first time in my life that I have resorted to therapy (and I will likely need it for a while yet).

by itself is not the level of "harm" that rises to such a drastic action. "Therapy" covers a variety of practices and interventions; it may be a life-saving days-long program in a stay-in centre, or monthly chats about old childhood regrets, or anything in between. I myself attend regular therapy to process academic norms and practices that are deeply harmful and abusive; this does not imply that my daily functioning is (or isn't!) impaired enough to risk my safety.

I am sure that what you are going through is more serious than what I am going through -- I say this just to emphasize that we should normalize psychological therapy, and "I need therapy now", by itself, will probably not be treated as safety-threatening impact.

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  • 1
    If it helps, you can pass COPE's materials on to your co-authors to assure them that these situations, while infrequent, can be handled in standard ways that will not significantly disadvantage them. (Everyone simply has to come to agreement and then sign a basic PDF form.) Jan 3 at 4:23
  • 1
    The timing of the authorship-removal-request seems like it might be important - Does the COPE Forum have different rules if the paper is "only" in preliminarily accepted status? The text you've provided makes me think that is for published papers, but I don't know.
    – user121330
    Jan 3 at 7:07
  • 3
    The important difference here is that the manuscript has not yet been published
    – djs
    Jan 3 at 17:36
  • Yes, my situation is before publication. However, I can relay this to my roommate, as they've asked about this exact situation.
    – ilctf
    Jan 4 at 23:40
5

The reality is that you have done the work, and took money to do so. In one way or another it was funded, and other people put in significant amounts of time on this. So unfortunately, it exists, and it exists beyond your immediate circle of control.

Pretending it never happened will not change it. Additionally, if somehow the work you did is not allowed to reach the light of day, then who is to say it will not be repeated again either by your former group in order to complete the publication (should your actions compromise it), or by someone else following a similar research trajectory (perhaps in continuation of the partially complete work that may result from your omission).

So, this is unfortunate. But you have made choices and taken actions and these are the consequences you must live with and learn to navigate. I do legitimately feel bad for your personal outcome which has resulted in obviously very unpleasant mental anguish.

I suggest you continue with therapy and look for ways to advocate against the issues you find unethical or immoral. Don't try to erase your contribution but use that as a way to advocate for change, from a point of view of direct personal experience. Without knowing more, there isn't much more I can say.

Good luck!

9
  • You response is appreciated. A quick note that I added an edit to my post. I did not do the 20% of the work I find morally objectionable, nor did I receive money for it. I also feel it is untrue/unethical for me to check a box that says that, as an author, I "agree to all contents of the paper". Because I do not agree to all its contents.
    – ilctf
    Jan 2 at 16:42
  • 1
    Thank you for clarifying. The question about agreeing is not asking you if you holistically agree to all implications of the research. Was the research done following legal guidelines? Has the data been accurately and ethically (within the confines of the legal definition, not your personal opinion) represented/handled to the best of your knowledge? Do you agree to the inclusion of all authors, i.e. is there academic fraud occurring or has everyone made reasonable contributions worthy of authorship, etc...
    – R1NaNo
    Jan 2 at 16:51
  • 2
    Wouldn't this all mean I should be untruthful/dishonest and check the authorship consent form that "I agree to all contents of the paper"? And even sign that false statement too?
    – ilctf
    Jan 2 at 18:02
  • 3
    That is not what that check box means. It means you think the contents are technically correct. I have never heard of anyone arguing this is an ethical statement.
    – Dawn
    Jan 3 at 15:09
  • 1
    @Dawn Great comment. You are agreeing to the conclusions, the interpretation of the data, and the accurate representation and reporting of all aspects. It is not a question about your opinion on ethics and morality. It seems the OP is hung up on this tick box, but they are trying to answer the wrong question. In an extreme case, if that's what the question implied, then one author may refuse to sign off on a paper because they found out one of the collaborators was of a race/gender/sexual orientation/politic they do not wish to associate with for whatever personal/religious/cultural reasons.
    – R1NaNo
    Jan 3 at 15:53
4

Many widely-held guidelines for authorship all agree: If you do not approve of the final pre-publication version of the article, and you do not agree to take responsibility / be accountable for the whole paper's content, then you should not be listed as an author.

Here's an example from a book chapter on "Guidelines for the Responsible Conduct of Research" from the National Academies:

On a larger scale, each author has the responsibility to be able to agree with the general conclusions and interpretations of the paper. Any disagreements should be resolved prior to submission of the work for review. Ultimately, any individual author has the right and the responsibility to remove his name from a manuscript if he has substantial concerns with its conclusions.

The Council of Science Editors summarizes several other such guidelines on their page of "Authorship and Authorship Responsibilities". For instance, they cite criteria from the NIH (US National Institutes of Health) including "a willingness to assure responsibility for the study."

They also give another example:

the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) [...] which defines authorship by the following criteria: [...] 3) final approval of the version to be published, and 4) agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

In many of these guidelines, it doesn't seem to matter why you don't approve of the current state of the article. Even if you had no ethical qualms about the paper, you could simply decline to review & approve the final draft (with no particular reason given), and that should be enough to make you ineligible for authorship under many of these guidelines.

2

I am very sorry you are experiencing such severe personal distress about an issue that, as you say yourself, "easily passes all modern research ethical committees". This means that the research is not viewed as unethical or immoral by a certified board of experienced scientists. This in itself says something. You yourself seem to see the research as completely unethical and that is your good right and a personal call that of course should not compromise. However, instead of prolonging the situation and your anguish, I think you should make the psychological effort and move on. As other comments state, removing your name from the paper will not change the fact that you performed the research. Start a career in a completely new avenue of science and be careful next time not to proceed with any research you find unethical or immoral and please don't be too hard on yourself.

1

I think you are pretty clean in what you want and what you need for your mental health. If you want to distance yourself from the research and remove your name you should do so, instead of have to carry this around with you for the rest of your life, if your advisor and other authors are unwilling to let you remove the morally questionable part. Life is short and if this has caused you so much anguish already, don't risk it causing you any more by doing something that makes you uncomfortable.

(You mentioned someone did a lot of the work but did not want his name as first author so they put it last, generally the authorship order is in order of most to least work on the paper and research, so I find that strange and would put it in a similar category to removing yourself from the paper.)

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  • 2
    Group leaders often go last, even if they don't take corresponding authorship. Basically lets you know what group the work came out of.
    – R1NaNo
    Jan 3 at 16:19
  • 1
    I don't think this answer adds anything not already in other answers besides the side comment about authorship contributions that is wrong for many fields
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 3 at 16:54
  • @R1NaNo Agreed that group leaders often go last, but generally in those cases their direct contribution to the research and paper is minimal, they do not typically do more of the work than the other authors/researchers for the paper as the OP has stated
    – Dave
    Jan 5 at 12:47
  • @Dave I'm not sure what you are getting at. In my area, experimental nanoscience/materials science/chemistry, it would honestly be considered pathetic if a PI put themselves first. The rare case is for PIs at PUIs or just starting out where no group members made significant enough contributions to be considered as having led any aspect of the project.
    – R1NaNo
    Jan 5 at 14:59
  • @R1NaNo my area was MEMS and materials, but in other departments/groups and universities I visited, authorship order has typically been in order of contribution to the research and write up for the paper. Basically the person who has done the most work is the lead author. In my experience heads of departments are generally hands off, they will, propose projects, secure funding, review papers, give direction, but their priorities are running their department, while other individuals carry out the work. If my department head had done most of the research, I would expect them to be lead author.
    – Dave
    Jan 8 at 14:19
0

Is the behavior of my advisor or myself or both or neither unethical? I think there is questionable behaviour on your side, and I do not think you have adequately considered the ethical questions your advisor is facing. I sympathise with your dilemma, and do not think you should simply publish with your name on something you believe will cause (or is causing) moral injury. I do think you have to be prepared for this to have lasting (and possibly fatal) impact on your career. Personally, I would find it hard to ignore that you had tanked the publication of significant work after leaving the team. I likely would not hire you.

You CAN stop the publication with your name on it by simply withdrawing consent with the journal BEFORE it is made public. I'm not convinced this is a gracious way forward, but it might be your final option.

Were my proposed two optional solutions suitable? Not entirely. You are looking at what works for you, but I do not think you are considering the impacts on the rest of the team, impacts that may be significant.

Your advisor cannot ditch part of the team, and their research, without good cause. Unfortunately, the time to raise your moral concerns was in the past before the work was undertaken - at that point your advisor would have been obligated not to extend the study with you hostage to it. That is no longer the case as the study was extended with everyone appearing to be on board. There are potentially contractual obligations, ethical considerations of informal collaboration agreements, and just ethical considerations of having impacts on other's careers to consider.

Similarly, removing you as author is not simple. Your advisor would likely be seen as behaving unethically to publish without you - this impacts their reputation in potentially major ways. They would also need to sign agreements with the journal that everyone is correctly listed (but you would not be). Any changes would need to be done with the journal.

What is a graceful way to move forward with this painful situation? A couple options to explore

  • Would an author credit statement be something that interests you? That makes clear what your involvement in the project was and highlights it was not with the content you found unethical? This way you would still be named, but it would be stated what part of the work you were involved with.
  • Could you be listed under a pseudonym, thereby being properly recognised (lower in the author list, you'd want a genuine name as first author), but without the connection to your professional self that would continue into the future?
  • Could you be acknowledged rather than an author, with a clear explanation of your contribution to specific parts. Discussion with the journal would be necessary

If your (previous) university has an ethics officer it might be worth reaching out to them for guidance on how to proceed. They might be able to organise mediation with your advisor to find a way forward.

2
  • Thanks. I definitely do not want to cause harm to my advisor. We discussed recently trying to remain positive and support each other, as we did have other produtive papers in high impact journals. I'm a bit sad they called me "selfish" earlier, but I never said anything about it, and I never returned a negative statement about them. We're drafting a letter so all authors know what happened, and make it clear it was my own spiritual decision entirely and that my advisor supported me. So, I'm hoping it will not damage their reputation at all, maybe even show they are supportive in hard times
    – ilctf
    Jan 4 at 23:51
  • We've worked on another project together (that I'm not morally opposed to), and we recently submitted it to a conference. My advisor might publish that paper without my name if they don't want to risk me leaving again (even though I wouldn't). But, maybe they would ask me if I want to be an author, and it could demonstrate we are still on good terms in case anyone might view their reputation negatively from me withdrawing from the first paper. I'm just staying silent and letting them decide in the future on that other project and suppor them either way.
    – ilctf
    Jan 4 at 23:54
0

I have 2 suggestions. First, consider the position you have put you and your coauthors (specifically your advisor) in. You have moral misgivings about a small portion (20% by your estimate) of a publication. You feel so strongly about this that you are willing to have your name removed from this paper...at the worst possible time. The paper has been through review and has been accepted (if the publisher uses an "open" review then this is worse as this can communicate to the community that you are separating from them (your coauthors) and there was something truly amiss; you cannot avoid perception and speculation). The time to have a conversation about authorship was when the paper was being drafted. Further, you are listed as the first author, which, in many academic circles, is a position of prominence. Maybe your field is different, but in my field this tells me that you made a substantive contribution to the research/analysis that is presented and you wrote the majority of the paper. Now, you've asked your advisor to remove you from the author list. At best, this is "bad timing".

Please consider this scenario from your advisor's perspective. What will he say/think when you begin writing the next publication? Without a doubt he'll worry about you having another unforeseen moral dilemma as that paper approaches the publishing finish line. This is not a small change to the paper.

Please also consider how this may be viewed by the editor and the referees. You, as a postdoc, need to build your career. Part of this involves collaborations (potentially with your advisor, your current coauthors, the editor, or the people who reviewed your paper). Another important component of building your career is participating in the review process as a referee. If you pull out at this point that may raise some eyebrows among the editorial staff at this journal, the referees, as well as your coauthors.

We had a similar situation (years and years ago now, not related to ethics) where an author wanted removed from the author list after the paper was accepted (not yet published, but accepted). Everyone on the coauthor list viewed this as a personal and professional insult and many bridges were burnt that day. Whether "burning the bridges" was the right thing to do or not is a separate matter. You cannot control people's perceptions.

In short, now is the second-to-worst time to request removing your name (the worst time would be after the article is released/published) and there are many potential consequences of this. You should have raised this issue before the first draft was released but that ship has sailed. Please understand that I am not saying you should keep your name on the paper. What I am telling you is there are unavoidable consequences (some more severe, some more likely, than others). You cannot control people's reactions, perceptions, or speculations. It is better to accept this now rather than later. If you still want your name removed and you view the potential fallout as acceptable (i.e., this is a hill to die on) then great. But if you want your name removed and you want your coauthors to give hearty approval and have no fallout then your attitude will burn even more bridges. Maybe there will be no fallout (I seriously doubt it) maybe there will; there is little you can do about that.

This brings me to my second (shorter) point, which is a potential solution to this issue. Many journals allow (some require) an "author contribution" section at the end of the paper. Here, the first author (you) tells the reader how each coauthor contributed to the manuscript. This is the perfect place to state "ilctf analyzed data in this section and composed the manuscript and did not participate in the collection or evaluation of this data (whatever it is you find objectionable), rather the objectionable portion of this study was carried out by these authors." This gets you off the hook of taking responsibility/credit for the objectionable bits, it attributes credit to the folks who did the work, and there will be no burnt bridges.

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