This question is somewhat inspired by the question in When is a supervisor unable to request paper retraction if a paper gets published without her consent?, although I've no reason to suppose that the following situation describes the one prompting that question.

Suppose Alice and Bob do some research together, with Alice providing ~75% of the intellectual contribution (perhaps Alice is Bob's PhD student). Alice writes a draft of the paper, and lists both of them as authors.

Bob does not agree with part of what Alice has written, and says he does not agree to the paper being published in this form. Alice, however, is not willing to remove the offending section. (For the sake of argument, let's assume that neither Alice nor Bob can be said to be objectively 'in the right'.)

Is there any route out of this impasse? Can Alice treat Bob as refusing authorship of the paper, and publish the manuscript without his name?

  • 2
    My thoughts are not well-formed enough to be an answer, but by some (all?) definitions an author has final draft approval and a paper can only be published by consensus of authors. This would be an absurdity if Alice can just remove anyone who doesn't agree with her draft from the list of authors. Both "final draft approval" and "consensus" surely must mean "right to veto publication", which Bob has chosen to exercise. Sucks for Alice ofc, especially if Bob chose to feign objections for personal reasons unconnected to the content of the paper. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 19:46
  • @SteveJessop True. But are there exceptions? Suppose Bob decides to attempt to abuse his power, and demands a bribe before agreeing. He can clearly be disciplined by his employers. Can they also dispense with the need for his consent to publication? Or does he get to destroy Alice's career as revenge for "outing" him?
    – avid
    Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 19:54
  • 1
    Right, I'm sure one can make a case for "if you abuse it you lose it", but a simple definition of "author" won't include special cases. One might perhaps argue that by offering to publish in exchange for a bribe he has in fact approved the final draft, since his only stated caveat can be set aside as illegitimate? I wonder if, for another example, an "unreasonable" but not outright abusive refusal to publish can lead to an institution or funding organization invoking some right to "publish" the results in the non-academic sense regardless of who gets or deserves the academic credit. Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 22:47

3 Answers 3


There are several options for Alice:

  • Ask Bob if he is willing to give up his authorship. Then, if he says it is OK, publish without his name (but make clear in which part he was involved).

  • Remove Bob's contribution from the paper and then publish. (Which might not be possible.)

  • Find some common ground (maybe with the help of someone else) with Bob and then publish. (The best way, but may not be possible.)

  • Do not publish the paper at all.

Can Alice treat Bob as refusing authorship of the paper, and publish the manuscript without his name?


  • 15
    Are you sure your answer to the final question isn't influenced by your being Bob? ;-) Commented Jun 5, 2014 at 23:02
  • 9
    @espertus every paper should be only published with my name! Or at least with paragraph praising me. Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 2:31
  • Alice used to correspond with me in examples of encryption, but lately she's forsaken me for Bill.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Jun 6 at 20:57
  • I am not sure there is such a thing as "giving up authorship". Ghost writting doest not exist in academia; unless Alice can remove all intellectual contributions Bob made from the paper, I'm not sure Bob "consenting" to publication without his name is enough.
    – penelope
    Commented Jun 7 at 10:18

Is there any route out of this impasse?

Yes: the part which Bob is not happy about is clearly marked as opinion of Alice only, which Bob accepts.

I have seen papers published where the authors admit that they couldn't between them agree on some point and present both options to the readers.


The nice thing about academia is that intellectuals will generally allow, and even appreciate, this kind of impasse. I have seen this happen in the literature a few times, and it usually takes the form of dual conclusion sections, each titled by the author making the case.

Having an impassable dispute about the interpretation of data should be encouraged, even with (or especially with) advisors and students, colleagues and PIs. What should not be under dispute is the importance of the question, the data, and the scientific approach.

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