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Suppose I am the primary author of an article advocating a controversial view along with several coauthors, and my coauthors not only change their mind but want to stop my article from being published altogether. It seems wrong to remove their name if they contributed, but worse to make them sign on to something they disagree with. Is it okay for me to tell them I am publishing anyway and give them the choice between two options - either remove their name or keep it? Or do they have a right to prevent me from ever publishing ideas because they contributed?

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    We've seen this situation many times here, though usually the co-authors are merely non-responsive rather than combative. Though this one is very similar / possible duplicate: If an author declines authorship, may her co-authors publish without her?.
    – cag51
    Commented Apr 25 at 22:06
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    Could you add what field you are in? In a lot of fields the idea of an article 'advocating a view' seems strange, so someone more familiar with your field may be able to give better advice.
    – quarague
    Commented Apr 26 at 9:34

2 Answers 2

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For various reasons, sometimes some co-authors want to remove their names from a publication. Ideally, their intellectual contributions should also be removed (especially if they "want to stop the article from being published altogether").

It seems wrong to remove their name if they contributed, but worse to make them sign on to something they disagree with.

You have no power to make them sign on, and it's unethical to remove their name without removing their intellectual contribution.

Is it okay for me to tell them I am publishing anyway and give them the choice between two options - either remove their name or keep it?

Neither. The third option is to rewrite the paper so that it has only your contributions.

Or do they have a right to prevent me from ever publishing ideas because they contributed?

They can't stop you from publishing your own ideas. Hence the need to rewrite the paper.

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  • If the ideas presented are the results of interactive collaboration (as opposed to a sum of contributions), it might be difficult to even agree on who was the author of which part.
    – J..y B..y
    Commented Apr 26 at 10:49
  • As the other answer says, "you can divide contributions between content (concept and ideas) and form (writing)." Removing their writing is easy. If I had an idea and discussed it with them, they contributed even if it was my idea and they didn't write anything.
    – Brad
    Commented Apr 26 at 13:41
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Short answer:

  • Write your own article representing your own ideas, trying to abstract away what you feel was contributed only by your former co-authors, and acknowledge what is left of their contributions in the acknowledgment section at the end of the article.
  • Send your draft to your former co-authors, asking if they agree with your depiction of their contribution or if they want to make alternative suggestions.
  • You are the author of the article you write, you decide if taking into account their suggestions or not.

Longer Answer:

Simplifying a bit, you can divide contributions between content (concept and ideas) and form (writing). Both can be difficult to attribute to a single person, but the strategy to cope with this differ:

  • if you are not clear about who wrote a given paragraph, delete it and rewrite it entirely as your own work to avoid the most subtle risk of plagiarism.
  • if you are not clear about who contributed a given concept which you wish to still present, do present it (in your own words), but acknowledge in the acknowledgment section at the end of your article the persons with whom you discussed the concept, in statements such as "the author thanks XXX for interesting discussions which lead to the concept of YYY" or even "the author thanks XXX for suggesting the concept of YYY".

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