During a collaborative experimental project in my PhD, I developed a rather intricate simulation + data processing tool. The work was published with myself as the lead author. One of the collaborators, who is located in a different country, was keen on extending that work and, based on ideas and inputs during the course of the project, she got one of her students to prepare the experiment at their end. (Meanwhile, I finished my PhD and am now working as a Postdoc at a different group).

Recently, they got their first results and now to bring this study to a conclusion, the collaborator requested me to process their experimental data through that tool I had developed. I haven't been offered an authorship yet but chances are fair that I would be if the tool gives publication-worthy results (As also mentioned above: I have already contributed a bit in this study through ideas). My question however is, in the event I am offered a co-authorship, am I obliged to also share the entire code with them?

While I am certainly open to giving them a gist of how the tool works (or to even get it lightly reviewed) via code snippets, screenshots etc., I am wary of simply handing them all the files. This is due to the fact that we had had some authorship issues with the collaborator in the past (though I wasn't directly involved at that time). If they have the files, there is a good probability that they would obtain the results themselves, publish them, with my name -- at the very best -- being in the acknowledgements section.

Additional info in response to some answers: Certain parts of the code are generic and could be useful to the broad community. Being pro open source myself, I intend to release those parts publicly soon. The other part of the code is very specific to the current work and would be of use to only a handful of people, including the collaborator's group.

  • 4
    How broadly useful is the tool? Who else would use it? How would anyone else use it if you don't share? Do you expect co-authorship in perpetuity from anyone who might use the code? What, really, is bugging you here?
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 21, 2015 at 12:52
  • @JonCuster : I have modified my question to address the points you raised.
    – jayann
    Aug 22, 2015 at 1:57
  • 1
    Weren't you were obliged to publicly release your code with your first paper?
    – JeffE
    Aug 22, 2015 at 15:50

3 Answers 3


I will give the answer I have given a million times already on this forum: Communicate.

If you're unsure whether or not you processing the data will yield a co-authorship, write an email asking exactly this before you do the data processing. If the other side is an experienced researcher, then they will understand that as a postdoc you have many obligations to juggle and that you need to spend your time on things that will yield publications.

If you're unsure whether or not you will be expected to share your code, write an email asking exactly this before you start working with them. They may ask for it, and in that case you will have to discuss with them under what conditions you would be willing to do that. Or they may not even want your code and simply be happy to rely on you this time and in future times to do the data analysis in return for co-authorship.

In both cases, you can spend your day worrying and speculating, but you will never know the answer unless you simply ask what's on your mind. Communicate!


From scientific point of view, the right thing to do is to release the code publicly. That allows for the code to be reviewed for possible errors, and makes it possible for other people to use it in their work, or build upon it. You will save many people lots of work.

For your personal benefit, this action might also be close to optimal. By giving away free useful tools you buy people's goodwill. As you are working on something else entirely, you lose no competitive advantage by doing so. By publicly showing off your work, you in fact demonstrate your main competitive advantage --- ability to create good, useful tools.

Last, but not least: People are likely to act towards you similarly to how you treat them. If you do not share your tools or ideas, they are likely to do likewise with their tools and ideas. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you :-)

  • 3
    Making the code available also greatly increases the chances that your earlier work will be used and cited by others. Aug 21, 2015 at 14:53
  • 1
    This. No one would accept a proof of a theorem under "lightly reviewed", an overview of the proof, and a few pictures of the blackboard. Reproducibility is essential to science.
    – Davidmh
    Aug 21, 2015 at 20:33
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    Don't forget that if they're using your code, they will hopefully be citing the earlier paper in which you explained it.
    – Flyto
    Aug 22, 2015 at 7:34

They can't really check your/their work without the code, can they.

Besides, check carefully who the code really belongs to. Here in Chile, by law whatever a student writes (homework, thesis, or programs) belongs to the school, not the author (it is considered "work for hire", essentially). So this might not even be your call to make.

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