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Can I put the name of my baby as one of the co-authors of a scientific paper?

I know it sounds disturbing, but it's a way of mine to protest against co-authors that haven't made any contribution (they haven't even read it or are part of the research area) to a paper, but they are part of the research group.

What are the legal / ethic concerns?

So technically I was writing the paper with my baby in my hand and the baby was talking with me in its own language. The baby even wrote a few characters in the paper when it managed to get near the keyboard while I was holding it.

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    For example: The IEEE affirms that authorship credit must be reserved for individuals who have met each of the following conditions: a. Made a significant intellectual contribution to the theoretical development, system or experimental design, prototype development, and/or the analysis and interpretation of data associated with the work contained in the article; b. Contributed to drafting the article or reviewing and/or revising it for intellectual content; and c. Approved the final version of the article as accepted for publication, including references. – teter Oct 29 '15 at 9:46
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    Your question isn't very clear. Are the ethical concerns not one-in-the-same as those that the motion is meant to satirize? – user38309 Oct 29 '15 at 9:46
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    @teter "coauthors generally that havent given any contribution" !!! if they have not given any contribution, why are they coauthors? The best protest is to remove them from coauthor list. – d.putto Oct 29 '15 at 9:50
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    If your baby is going to start an academic career in the future, maybe in a totally unrelated field, it's going to add more confusion than being helpful, I'm afraid... – silvado Oct 29 '15 at 10:39
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    It sounds like the question is, "I am being pressured into committing an ethical breach. Rather than stand up against it, may I instead commit an additional, sillier ethical breach?" – Nate Eldredge Oct 29 '15 at 13:39

12 Answers 12

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There was a similar case in 1975, when an American mathematician and physicist, Professor Jack H. Hetherington of Michigan State University, added his cat as a co-author. Apparently, a collegaue who had reviewed his manuscript, had pointed out that he had used "we" and "us" throughout the manuscript, but this was incorrect as he was the sole author. so, instead of typing out the entire document once again (those were the days before Ctrl H), he decided to speed up the process and added the name of Chester, his pet cat as a co-author. However, to disguise the fact, he put "FDC Willard" as the name, with FD standing for "felix domesticus" and the C for "Chester." And Willard was the name of Chester's father.

However, these days, with so many regulations in place, I'm not sure if it would be ethical to include your baby's name. If however, you choose to do so, I would suggest you inform the editor and mention this in a disclaimer somewhere within the title page, so that readers are not misled about your intent.

Another well known case is the paper "In a fully H-2 incompatible chimera, T cells of donor origin can respond to minor histocompatibility antigens in association with either donor or host H-2 type." by Polly Matzinger and Galadriel Mirkwood in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, 1978.
As Ted Anton described it in his book Bold Science, "Refusing to write in the usual scientific passive voice ('steps were taken') and too insecure to write in the first person ('I took the steps'), she instead invented a coauthor": her Afghan Hound, Galadriel Mirkwood. Once discovered, papers on which she was a major author were then barred from the journal until the editor died and was replaced by another.

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    If the editor didn't mind, mentioning the intent in a disclaimer would also serve as a more straightforward, and probably effective, way of protesting than being discovered later by someone else. – Orion Oct 29 '15 at 13:19
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    Can regulations alter ethics? – paul garrett Oct 29 '15 at 13:51
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    F.D.C. Willard (fl. 1975–1980) was the pen name of a Siamese cat named Chester, who internationally published under this name on low temperature physics in scientific journals, one as co-author and the other time as the sole author. – Ooker Oct 29 '15 at 14:04
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    Your first paragraph would have made a nice comment I would immediately have upvoted (although the connection to the OP's question is rather far-fetched). Your second paragraph is problematic. What will the OP's coauthors say when they read the disclaimer? This will make the OP no friends among her coauthors. And many readers will be put off, considering this a silly passive-aggressive stunt. – Stephan Kolassa Oct 29 '15 at 14:18
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    IMO using a baby is worse than using a cat or a made up name. Sometime that baby will grow up and then you have a person who really exists falsely attributed on the paper. – Peter Green Oct 29 '15 at 19:03
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I disagree with most of the other answers, which are basically telling you that it's unethical and you shouldn't do it. Their reasoning is sound and conservative, but overlooks the basic idea that this is an act of protest.

Yes, it is unethical to add your baby as a co-author. However, you believe that you are already being forced to do an equivalent unethical action by your group. In effect, what you are doing is planting a signpost that says (without being explicit), that you are aware of the unethical actions that you are taking and protest against being forced to do so.

This is a risky stance to take, from a professional career perspective, but from a legal and ethical perspective you are doing nothing worse than you are being forced to do already. It does, however, change the situation slightly for each of them:

  • You are more likely to face consequences with the publisher, because a completely implausible author makes the unethical co-authorship more likely to be detected .
  • I think you are actually in a better position ethically, since you have declared your disapproval of the behavior that you consider unethical.

I would thus judge your proposed course of action to be an ethical act of protest of an unethical situation. It would be better to get rid of the unethical coauthors in the first place, but if you cannot do that, this is within the reasonable traditions of scientific defiance (F.D.C. Willard being another example, as are the uses of SCIgen).

You need to be aware, however, that doing this is likely to create enemies out of everyone in your research group, and may end your scientific career. That is a reason that many people would choose to not make a fuss about the unethical co-authorship and instead perpetuate the problem. Only you know how important your personal goals are, and whether this act of protest is worth the likelihood that you will make enemies and may destroy your career. From an ethical and legal standpoint, however, I think that you are fine.

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    -1. "from a legal and ethical perspective you are doing nothing worse than you are being forced to do already": two wrongs don't make a right. – Stephan Kolassa Oct 29 '15 at 14:19
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    @StephanKolassa, indeed. It makes civil disobedience, in this case. Ofc, if that is advisable or fruitful, is another discussion altogether... – Fábio Dias Oct 29 '15 at 14:24
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    I like your stance supporting unconventional attitudes, but there is a fairly high profile case in which a crazy neuroscientist did this (the entire family actually; accepted paper was un-accepted). So I'd be careful at the least, if only as so doing might remind some of this case. – gnometorule Oct 29 '15 at 15:54
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    Passive-aggressive action isn't actually unaggressive and this just makes the OP look childish and unprofessional. If you can't negotiate to remove false co-authors then it is unlikely that adding a baby will go unchallenged. – JamesRyan Oct 29 '15 at 16:11
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    Essentially, it seems to me that, baby or not baby, once the paper sees the light of day, all the damage to be done is done, professionally as well as interpersonally, assuming the fraudulent coauthorship ends up being detected. The protest might seem petulant, but I don't see how, from an ethical standpoint, it's "a second wrong," seeing as nobody will be wronged moreso than if if the protest didn't occur. (This would also make the original question somewhat of an XY problem.) Unless you're arguing that it's right and "professional" for the OP to do his best to cover up a breach of ethics. – millimoose Oct 29 '15 at 23:38
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No, that is not okay. I will quote Peter Jansson's answer to a question on this site, Is it common to claim co-authorship by helping writing a paper without doing any research:

The so called Vancouver protocol (developed by ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors) and its definition of authorship has been mentioned in many questions of this kind here on Academia but I think they deserve being repeated. The protocol describes authorship through three components which every author must fulfil:

  1. Conception and design, or analysis and interpretation of data, and
  2. Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content, and
  3. Final approval of the version to be published.
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    And that protocol is only used in some fields; by no means all fields. – EnergyNumbers Oct 29 '15 at 13:42
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    Yes, @EnergyNumbers, I don't remember granting the ICMJE any authority... :) – paul garrett Oct 29 '15 at 13:52
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    I'm listed as an author on hundreds of papers where I've failed all three criteria. Some fields are just different. – Shep Oct 30 '15 at 7:40
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    @Octopus, Yes, again, 3: "I read the paper, I think it's OK and should be published, therefore add me as a co-author". Now I know why many supervisors are added as co-authors, without any contribution to the actual paper. – Joseph Oct 31 '15 at 10:47
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    @Daniel, I'm not saying I like the system, but I guess you should take it up with CERN, the ATLAS Collaboration, the CMS Collaboration, Fermilab, and a half dozen smaller particle physics experiments. Clearly it's not unethical by all standards, since at least some of the thousands of authors on these experiments (I'm not necessarily including myself) believe this approach is perfectly ethical. – Shep Nov 4 '15 at 22:06
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What would I think if I found out that someone had listed their baby as a coauthor?

  1. This author is out of touch with academic publishing practices. His/her judgment probably can't be trusted in other matters either.

  2. It could be an attempt to be funny.

  3. It could be intended as an sentimental tribute to the baby.

  4. It could be a way of thumbing one's nose at academic ethics.

I would not guess it was in any way a form of protest against the forced inclusion of other authors on the paper. A protest that does not appear to be a protest defeats the purpose of protesting. If you don't call attention to the problem and express disapproval, then you can't really consider it a protest at all.

I might not even believe it was truly intended as a protest if that was explained after the fact. Instead, I might see it as just one aspect of a larger pattern of misbehavior and lump you in with your coauthors. For comparison, if you are caught breaking windows during a riot, you can't expect leniency if you explain that your real intention was to protest against looting.

In practice, I imagine that including your baby as a coauthor would lead to a worse outcome for you and a better outcome for your unethical coauthors if there were an investigation. For the other people inappropriately listed as authors, someone would presumably vouch for them and explain why they merited authorship. The explanation might be a lie, but it's often hard to prove that someone definitely didn't deserve authorship. On the other hand, it's easy to prove that your baby didn't deserve authorship, and your coauthors would surely do everything they could to undermine your credibility. If you explained that your act was intended as protest, they might counter that in your inexperience you mistakenly thought you detected something unethical, so you got carried away and started committing unethical acts yourself in some bizarre payback fantasy (while their only sin was being overly trusting in assuming the coauthor you added must have contributed in ways they weren't aware of, because why would you have added them otherwise?). Everybody would look bad, but your transgression would be much more easily proved, and you might well end up being thrown under the bus to get the whole situation resolved. Having a scapegoat is a good way to keep the real villains safe.

To summarize: don't do this. It's inappropriate in itself, it's not an effective form of protest, and it might help deflect attention away from your coauthors in an investigation.

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    "I would not guess it was in any way a form of protest against the forced inclusion of other authors." I would, straight away, especially after this thread has been brought into being. It would also immediately spring to my mind that, if this were one of the principal intentions, it was rather good, precisely because of its oblique and uncertain character. Clearly the fact of not being able to state openly what the problem is is, precisely, the nub of the matter. The effect on the OP's career is a separate question and one which s(he) obviously needs to think about quite hard. – mike rodent Oct 30 '15 at 9:49
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    @mikerodent: so the OP is put in a position where, having gone through with this act, you will consider it a protest and AnonymousMathematician will consider it looting. So it's certainly a precarious position for OP to enter, knowing that a goodly proportion of people will disbelieve the stated motives for doing it even having read this question. – Steve Jessop Oct 30 '15 at 11:11
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So, you're saying that your chosen way of protesting against a practice you disagree with is to do the exact same thing but on an even worse scale? How does that make any sense? If you object to co-authors who haven't made a significant contribution being listed, you already know the ethical concerns involved. How can doing it yourself be a reasonable way of protesting? That's akin to honking your horn to protest against people who honk their horns.

More importantly, your problem seems to be with the people involved in your project. Why are you now wishing to make the problem affect the general community? If you have issues with the way authorship is assigned in your research group, take it up with your PI or your collaborators. Your paper will be read by people in different institutes and countries. They won't give a hoot about your personal issues with your co-authors and they shouldn't be dragged into a private dispute. There is a very real problem in certain academic fields with authors being listed despite their lack of contribution. Your suggested "protest" will only add to this and make the problem worse.

In addition, your "protest" will be completely pointless since i) nobody will know why you've included your baby's name and ii) nobody will know your baby isn't a bona fide co-author, so what's the point? You will just be adding to the problem, cluttering up the author's list with yet another name that doesn't deserve to be there, and all to make a pretty pointless statement.

If you want to protest, do so, please! I'm all for it. But chose a way that might actually produce some beneficial results and which doesn't constitute precisely the type of offense you are trying to protest against.

If you are truly so offended by this, as you have every right to be, and talking to your PI or collaborators doesn't help, then don't publish the paper. Either block it completely or walk away and don't put your name to it. What you certainly cannot do is both accept the non-contributing authors and add an extra non-contributing author as a form of protest. In other words, either have the courage of your conviction and stage a real protest or do nothing. This sort of half measure might make you feel better but I can't imagine how it will have any sort of beneficial effect in the long term, and it will definitely have an immediate detrimental effect since you will be including yet another extra author who has no right to be there.

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    How is this worse than the other ethical breach? – Konrad Rudolph Oct 29 '15 at 18:49
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    @KonradRudolph: for one, as Peter Green points out, this is taking advantage of a baby that cannot consent or not to being used in this way. Suppose that baby starts an academic career, and in 20 years all publication lists are auto-generated? Does that researcher really need a publication that was just his/her mom making a statement? – Stephan Kolassa Oct 29 '15 at 19:55
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    @KonradRudolph for another, I expect the undeserving authors will have a better understanding of the subject matter than a baby. I'm not saying they deserved to be authors, but they probably have at least a passing familiarity with the work. The OP hasn't explicitly said otherwise, so, presumably, the extra authors have done something at least tangentially related to the paper. The baby had nothing to do with whatsoever, making its inclusion even worse . – terdon Oct 30 '15 at 11:39
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    @terdon I somewhat agree with the first point. But I don’t think I can agree with the second point: the whole point is to put the baby on the manuscript facetiously. No actual claim to authorship is made. And although this will probably be misunderstood by many people (which itself, yes, is problematic), I fail to see how that’s ethically worse than to actually claim authorship for something that you’re plain not an author for. One’s a protest, the other is an actual, dishonest claim. To maintain that protest is worse than dishonesty is putting ethics on its head. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 30 '15 at 11:44
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    @terdon I was careful when I used “actual” rather than “explicit” in my comment above. I agree that an explicit claim to authorship was made. But, for what it’s worth, no actual claim was made: As in, the authorship claim is undeniably not serious. And I agree with all the practical implications you’ve listed. The only thing I disagree about is that this is somehow ethically worse. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 30 '15 at 11:54
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Don't. Just don't.

I get the frustration with including authors that didn't contribute much. I've actually lost a publication due to exactly this kind of thing. But listing a baby as a co-author? It just doubles down on the absurdity, further muddies the concept of authorship, and is essentially indefensible by any authorship criteria you could come up with.

Be the change you want to see. If you want to make a principled stand against adding courtesy authors, make a principled stand. Don't stick an infants name on a paper.

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    This. And keep your kid out of your petty office disputes. – Cape Code Oct 31 '15 at 6:01
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The most important ethical concern has not yet been discussed at all:

On the long term, what is the impact for your child?

It might be funny to have your little one as a co-author. However, the little one will grow up, while the "funny" co-authorship will stay forever – internet databases do not forget.

So what happens if your little one is going to follow you in your footsteps, aiming at an academic career in the same discipline? Could it happen that your child one day find itself in awkward situations having to explain where this thirty year old paper comes from?

Maybe it still makes a good story then. Maybe not. We just don't know.

So while I do sympathize with your intentions, do not forget about the personal rights of your own kid.

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I broadly agree with jakebeal, except for this point. While it is against the rules of the journal, but it is not unethical given what you aim to do. It's not all that different from deliberately submitting an article with false content to prove a point like Alan Sokal did. Of course, knowingly submitting a nonsensical article is against the rules. While in general it would be unethical, but not if you do this to prove a valid point. Another example is the way James Randi went about to prove that the parapsychology field was severely corrupted by bad research practices. He let two of his apprentices pretend to be psychics who were able to fool the researches of their alleged psychic powers.

The fact that people are actually more or less free to take such actions makes science more reliable. E.g. in discussions with climate skeptics, I often make the point of why they don't submit an article to a journal if they think they know better than most scientists in the field. They then usually respond by claiming that the field has been so corrupted that any nonsensical article would be accepted, provided it is promoting what they call is the "left wing socialist climate alarmist agenda". I'll then counter by asking that if this is true then why not submit a hoax article to prove your point. And then we come to the point of why such hoax articles don't already exist given that there are so many vocal skeptics around.

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B. Draco, L. Sadun and D. Van Wieren, Growth Rates in the Quaquaversal Tiling, Discrete Comput. Geom. 23 (2000), 419-435.

B. Draco is a stuffed toy dragon.

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    While this might be interesting, it does not address the question. – Jessica B Oct 31 '15 at 9:10
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    @JessicaB It doesn't address all of the question but it does show that you can add anything as a coauthor. That was the question in the title. – Felipe Voloch Oct 31 '15 at 10:39
  • @FelipeVoloch Is there some concise source that explains this situation? – E.P. Mar 10 '17 at 14:25
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It is quite well-known in at least combinatorics, that the author Shalosh. B. Ekhad is none other than Doron Zeilberger's computer...

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    The rationalization here is that Zeilberger's computer played a critical role in many of his papers by automatically generating identities used in proofs (contributions that might merit authorship if done by a human), which is a very different situation. – Anonymous Mathematician Oct 30 '15 at 2:44
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    Another rationalization is that Doron Zeilberger is a very famous mathematician who can therefore get away with things most of us couldn't get away with doing. That would also apply to the OP if he were equally famous, but it seems safe to assume he/she isn't. – Dan Romik Oct 30 '15 at 7:29
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I am very skeptical about the chosen action.

If OP does not have control over who they list as Coauthor, having gone down that road and fought that battle, why would they get away with adding their baby as well? Wouldn't whoever is actually "in control" not allow this?

Let's say the case is that the OP has already agreed and signed to list the group as coauthors in order to use equipment or learn (turned out to be unrelevant) information from them. Meaning the OP is somehow already stuck in a situation where they must list this group - but technically they could add anybody else they wanted.

So then the OP is protesting what, exactly? Being careful who you choose to work with and reading the fine print?

On top of all that, the inclusion of the child's name as Co-Author isn't even going to accomplish whatever point that is trying to be made. If I learned a co-author was the writer's child, I would think it was for sentimental reason, or that the child provided a brief moment of inspiration leading to a big solution (which is still a "sentimental reason") - and an inappropriate use of co-authorship. I would not think, "these other authors must all be fake too"...

To make it clear enough what is being protested - it has to be highlighted. Meaning they will receive resistance from the same source resisting being removed from the paper, or, risk the paper just not getting published.


I'll state it again. I am very skeptical about the chosen action. I don't think it could possibly turn out well for the OP. I believe there is probably a better way to "protest". But it's impossible to know for certain, because we actually don't have any background about what, exactly, is being protested.

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You risk the ire of your co-authors, which may not be worth it, especially if you are already unwilling to confront your co-authors about their lack of co-authoring. But if you do, following the answer by @Kakoli Majumder, you can add the disclaimer in the Acknowledgements (I lack sufficient points to add a comment to that question). Or you can simply add a sarcastic reference in the acknowledgements to having written it by yourself. But again, you risk ire.

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