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I wrote a mathematics manuscript (see Extremely mild punishments for academic misconduct), and sent it to a professor, who then attempted to have it published after adding coauthors to the paper. His misconduct is not my concern. My concern is that the manuscript is not of publication quality, and I would prefer that my name not be attached to it. Virtually all of the manuscript is written by me, and all the work was done by me, so I can't claim that it is not my product.

My question is: What excuse do I use to have him take my name off the manuscript?

I would prefer to remain on good terms with this professor. I would also prefer not to mention in any way that the manuscript is worthless, because it solves a problem that he had been attempting unsuccessfully for quite a while, and such a statement would be deeply challenging to his pride.

  • I was thinking about saying that my interests had moved on. But this excuse is very flimsy, so he would likely push me to retain my name on the paper, and then I would have to give another excuse. – Feij Dec 24 '14 at 21:46
  • It isn't worthless; you just don't think it's publication-ready yet. Ask if he'd hold off until you've finished polishing your work. (I'm taking your word for it that the co-authors aren't your concern.) – keshlam Dec 24 '14 at 22:04
  • The work is already polished. It's a result on an easy problem. – Feij Dec 24 '14 at 22:11
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    The manuscript is probably better than you think and you just have impostor syndrome or something. Your professor will be better at evaluating how your results compare to other recent results in the field. – Ben Bitdiddle Dec 24 '14 at 22:48
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    How does he know what journals to send it to then? Maybe you guys would be better off sending your manuscript to a journal in a more applied field that he is more familiar with, and selling your work to that audience. – Ben Bitdiddle Dec 24 '14 at 23:04
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You have a third choice:

Do not forget that all the authors should sign a contract before publishing a paper. I am not telling you not to sign it. However, it would be a good approach if you told your professor

I am sure that huge improvements can still be made on this paper. Could you please delay the submission and let me work on the paper for another period of time?

This way, you told that paper is not of publication quality and implicated that you're not comfortable with your name on it. If the professor still insists on publishing, only then you may say

It's not like I'm not trusting your judgmental skills but when I know that I can do better, I cannot do with less. So please do not misunderstand me but I don't want to be a coauthor of a work that is less than my potential.

If your professor is professional enough, he will hear what you say.

Maybe not the best solution, but I would go with this one.

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I think cagirici's advice is sound but, of course involves a bit of confrontation. In fact there are no actions other than letting the whole thing pass that would not involve something that would do so. It sounds to me as if your work although not of publication quality at this time really is yours. This makes the action from the professor problematic to say the least.

So what can you do. First, regarding unwanted co-authorships: you could argue that you want to see the contributorship of the new co-authors. Search here on academia and on the web for the term contributorship and you will find many good hints on what can be counted as enough contribution to be on the paper. One link, I often use is to the ICMJE. I realize the thoughts of coauthorship/contributorship varies between fields so you will have to imagine how to set the rules in perspective for your field.

Second, about just adding authors: clearly from your post the ownership of the work is yours so to have somebody else add authors is not right and you have the right to say no. You can even dump the professor and go elsewhere.

If you really want to leave your work in the hands of others you could just say that you are happy to see someone trying to take your attempt and turn it into something useful and that you do not feel you should be part of that development and that your "meagre" contributions in your view doesn't merit co-authorship. After that type of grovelling, you may wish to have a drink or two. I personally think such actions would be going too far and you really should take the bull by the horns and try to see how a proper paper could emerge and with contributors that really contribute. You can at least start by talking to the professor about the merits of your draft and how the professors sees it developing and being published in the end

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Just publish the paper and move on. No one is going to hold you accountable for publishing some paper that is not spectacular. Academics are judged by the number of successes and not penalized by the number of subpar efforts. Don't create a confrontation that is not necessary as this person is going to have an effect on your future.

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    I disagree: penalties for subpar work can be real, and sometimes large. It's true that scientific reputation in the long run is based far more on successes than failures, but hiring decisions are made in the short run. Publishing a bad paper calls into question your judgment (maybe you don't realize it's bad), suggests you may spend time on similarly unproductive things in the future, and generally hurts your reputation. It gives an easy argument against you for anyone on the hiring committee who is pushing for another candidate. – Anonymous Mathematician Dec 26 '14 at 3:40
  • I really disagree. Not unless the paper is obviously wrong or laughable. Not saying it is good. Just saying that it isn't worth burning bridges over. Subpar papers are simply forgotten. – Dave31415 Dec 27 '14 at 2:41
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First, I'd say try as hard as you can to see if what you've done is already known. It sounds like there's a good chance for this to be the case if it's simple mathematics (which I infer from your question and the comments). (Math Stack Exchange might be useful here.) If so, you can just provide the professor the reference and say it's already known, so you can't publish it. Problem solved.

If not, answer this: is the problem a pure mathematics problem, or a problem in another area that just has a simple solution for mathematicians? If it's the latter, then it may not be so embarrassing to publish something with simple mathematics. Alternatively, if the question itself is pure math and interesting, but just has a simple solution, you could aim for a "recreational" journal like Math Magazine (I think that's the name of one).

Otherwise, here's one possible route that might work, but it really depends on the professor and the situation. You can tell him that it's his problem and that your mathematical contribution was not enough to warrant coauthorship (both true), so please not include you as an author but just mention you in the acknowledgements.

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