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So I have been on my own completing a paper that I had started with initial discussions with a professor more than an year ago. In the meanwhile I have lost contact with that professor and I haven't heard back from him when I emailed him the recent state of the draft.

I had showed the draft to another expert in the field and he had given me some very positive comments and had asked me to complete a certain part of it more fully. He had introduced me to some other renowned experts in the field to talk to about the paper. But I haven't gotten back any feedback from any of them about the current draft.

As it stands I am unable to find any experts to read my paper.

In this situation can I (a) submit it to arxiv and (b) submit it to a journal?

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    Can you visit him in person? Call him? Check on with his colleagues, to check he is not on vacation? – Davidmh Nov 24 '15 at 16:24
  • Currently as it stands I and these people are on different continents. – PhD_Aspirant Nov 24 '15 at 16:28
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    A visit is impractical, but do you know if he is still at the same institution? Can you call? – Davidmh Nov 24 '15 at 17:09
  • What was your previous level of collaboration with these various people? Were any of them expecting to be listed as co-authors? How many rounds of revisions have each of them responded to previously? Where is your advisor in all of this?! – aparente001 Nov 25 '15 at 13:11
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The most important question is whether anyone else should be a coauthor. From your description, it's unclear whether the professor you were initially talking with should be one (the others do not sound like coauthors at this point). The fact that you describe it as "completing a paper that I had started with initial discussions with a professor" suggests that maybe he should be. The key issue is whether he contributed anything significant to the paper's content. If so, then you need to discuss the authorship issue with him and cannot make a unilateral decision. If he did not contribute anything, then there is no ethical barrier to submitting the paper to the arXiv or a journal if you choose to do so. However, you should be careful with this decision, since it is a major problem if the two of you disagree about coauthorship (especially if you find out after you have already submitted the paper without him). If you think the situation might be ambiguous, then you need to discuss it with him before submission.

When I say there would be no ethical barrier to submission if you have no coauthor, I mean submitting it would not be a form of academic dishonesty. You might still offend people, if they feel you are not taking their advice seriously or giving them a sufficient chance to respond. I'd recommend giving everyone plenty of warning before submitting the paper. For example, you could send an e-mail saying something along the lines of "I'm just about done with the paper on topic X. I'm planning to submit it for publication in a month, after I do some final polishing, and I would greatly appreciate any feedback or suggestions you may have." (But don't say it this way unless you are sure nobody else could have a case to be a coauthor.)

  • I'm not sure you read the question correctly. – CGCampbell Nov 24 '15 at 20:45
  • @CGCampbell: In what way? The title now says "former co-author cannot be contacted", but that was changed by a third party (and seems to me like a much stronger assertion than anything actually stated in the question). I may be misinterpreting the question, but I don't see another compelling interpretation offhand. – Anonymous Mathematician Nov 24 '15 at 23:56
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You can always submit a paper whenever you want. However, if someone has significantly contributed in your work in any respect, you should mention him/her as coauthor. Again, if the prof. is not responding you, means he/she is not really interested and does not provide you comments/review of the paper (no other contribution)), i believe you can ignore him. Remember, its always better if someone can read your paper (an expert) before submitting your paper to a good journal/conf. For example, if your prof. reads the paper and gives you the comments, it is perfect. Otherwise, you can ask to your friends/colleagues to read the paper and give you feedback (in this case no co-author is required to be mentioned). Hope this discussion will help you.

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    DO NOT submit a paper with the consent of all the co-authors, it is grounds for retraction. DO NOT submit a paper omitting co-author, it is grounds for retraction (and even more for such a bad reason as not answering an email right away). – Davidmh Nov 24 '15 at 19:29
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    Davidmh@I'm not saying to remove the coauthors or do not take consent. If it's your work and you asked someone to read and if he is not interested, then you can ignore him. I'm telling this based on my researcher experience of 8 yrs. What is wrong with it? I think you could not understand my comments. – user24094 Nov 24 '15 at 19:33
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    You cannot omit a person who made a significant contribution to the paper from the list of authors. You cannot submit the paper without explicit consent of all authors. – Dmitry Savostyanov Nov 24 '15 at 19:47
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    @Dmity this is what I'm saying. If I have asked someone to read my paper and he has not made any contributions and also not responding, I'm always free to submit the paper. I never said to omit a person who made any contributions to your work. – user24094 Nov 25 '15 at 15:27
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    This is a correct answer. If the person is unreachable and did not agree to be a coauthor beforehand, the ethical turn is to submit a paper without him/her in the author list, but putting his/her name in the acknowledgments and describe the corresponding inputs. People saying that you must spend your life to find the missed contributor at any price are just waffling. – phys_chem_prof Nov 25 '15 at 20:58

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