Is it ethical to withdraw a CS conference paper after being accepted, but before the final version is due (because of authorship disputes). What other consequences would there be (like re-submitting to other conferences if withdrawal is is successful)?

  • 1
    Can you expand? What do you mean exactly by "authorship disputes"? Mar 17 '16 at 18:31
  • can't agree on inclusion exclusion of authors.
    – Jose M
    Mar 17 '16 at 18:58
  • 3
    How is that even a dispute after submission? Usually, it is not an issue. Apologize and claim there has been a technical problem and you have to withdraw.
    – electrique
    Mar 17 '16 at 21:33

If you are able to resolve the authorship dispute, then clearly that would be the best solution. On the other hand, if you are unable to resolve the dispute (at least on a timeline compatible with the conference's schedule), then not only is it ethical to withdraw the paper, but in fact that would be the only ethical course of action. Basically in this situation you have no reasonable choice and you simply have to withdraw the paper, which is why it is clearly ethical despite the fact that it means you will have wasted the time and effort of the organizing committee and reviewers.

With that said, even though withdrawing the paper is ethical, there may still be some hurt feelings and a small amount of loss of credibility on your and the other coauthors' part, so it is important to do all you can to minimize the damage by being as honest and transparent as you can about what happened and about your motivations. As Anonymous Mathematician points out, just telling the organizing committee that there's an authorship dispute might come across as a lame and possibly suspicious explanation. What I would do is make sure to include in my withdrawal email:

  1. an apology;
  2. a relatively detailed explanation of the nature of the dispute, which establishes the claim that withdrawing the paper is the only reasonable course of action open to you (if there are some highly sensitive or personal details, you can omit them, but try to provide as many details as possible to make your claim that you have to withdraw as credible as possible);
  3. an apology! Specifically, acknowledge that you should have sorted out the authorship issue before submitting the paper and that you and the other authors are at fault for not taking proper care on this matter. Make it clear that you understand what went wrong and will be more careful in the future.

My feeling is that with the proper explanation, no one will bear you any hard feelings for creating this somewhat awkward situation -- reasonable people understand that these things can happen (as Anonymous Mathematician points out, in rare cases they can happen even when everyone is behaving reasonably and has the best of intentions). Your reputation will survive. In any case, letting the paper be published when there are unresolved issues surrounding authorship is almost certain to lead to a much bigger mess and much greater damage to the reputations of everyone involved.


These sort of things do occur and are of valid concern. It would be best to withdraw your paper with a kind apology note to the conference committee. There is not an unethical conduct as your reason should be perfectly valid and you have no gain in this act.


You should be extremely careful with this. It's possible in principle to have an authorship dispute in which everybody is behaving completely reasonably and ethically (and it's just a really delicate, borderline case), but generally this means someone is behaving badly. If you announce to the organizing committee that there's an authorship dispute without clarifying, it could give everyone involved a bad reputation.

It's also unclear how withdrawing will help you (since that won't resolve the dispute), unless there's a newly added author who just doesn't want to publish in this venue.

  • On the other hand, you can ethically withdraw any paper at any time, for any reason or no reason, before you've actually signed the publication agreement. Yes, revealing an authorship dispute would make you look bad so don't do that.
    – JeffE
    Mar 19 '16 at 21:29
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    @JeffE are you sure you are prepared to defend the position that "you can ethically withdraw any paper at any time, for any reason or no reason, before you've actually signed the publication agreement"? It seems to me that if you submitted your paper in bad faith, intending to withdraw it (for some bizarre reason, I'm not saying it's necessarily a very realistic scenario), then you are clearly behaving unethically. So possibly I'll agree that in most realistic scenarios when one might need to withdraw a paper the withdrawal is ethical, but saying that the reason doesn't matter is surely wrong.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 19 '16 at 22:00

IMHO, withdrawing a paper is never a good practice, and this is much worse if you withdraw after acceptance. Indeed this means that you (and the co-authors) asked for a peer-review, several reviewer worked (for free) on your paper, then a committee accepted it, and at the end you decide to discard all this work.

Moreover, reviewers give you also some useful advices. If you decide to withdraw, then one can imagine that you will use those comments for improving the paper and (for instance) submit it to a journal or to another conference. And this would not be fair...

  • Can you explain what you mean by "this would not be fair"? Is it better to not improve the paper and simply let the advice go to waste?
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 19 '16 at 18:22
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    It is better to improve the paper and submit it to that conference... If one withdraws, a reviewer can think that authors "used" the conference just to have some reviews and improve the paper IN ORDER TO send it to a journal or a better conference... If this is the case, this is unfair. Mar 19 '16 at 18:44
  • 1
    But you are not addressing the OP's question. It's obvious that withdrawing the paper could lead to some unpleasant feelings, but on the other hand I don't see anything "unfair" about it given the situation that the OP finds himself in (admittedly, possibly due to his own fault in not taking proper care to resolve all authorship issues before submitting the paper). It could be unfair if OP was doing it for unethical reasons, but he isn't, so it isn't. So all you're saying is "no, don't withdraw because withdrawing is never a good practice", which I don't feel is a very helpful answer.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 19 '16 at 19:13
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    @DanRomik I think Vito means the following: Some editors consider the work invested by them and their reviewers as asset which improves the paper. They do not like a paper which has been improved by them to publishable level (and thus bears the editor/reviewer stamp of their review process) being published somewhere else. This is where the unfairness may be seen coming in. I never saw it like that, but an editor I sub-edited for made clear that he'd rather seen a reviewed and salvageable paper be published in his journal which had the work of bringing it to this level, rather than rejected. Mar 20 '16 at 12:53
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    @DanRomik I do not think that is field-dependent. This happened in a field very close to mathematics, where, in terms of possessiveness, I also have seen (far) worse. But, frankly, whether an editor has an unhealthy interest in keeping a submitted paper under their control, authors not resolving authorship disputes before it comes to a withdrawal, or a judgmental community who interprets all kinds of misconduct into a withdrawal, this is the world in which we live and all we can do here at Academia.SE is to give the best possible overview over the possible situations and motivations. Mar 20 '16 at 20:33

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