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My PI often submits papers without waiting for feedback from all the authors. Sometimes this behavior is relatively anodyne. For example, I was once the second-to-last author on a paper and would have only been able to make minor suggestions to the work. Other times, I think he does not want to waste time—I am sure he would not phrase it this way—considering the opinions of junior people. For example, a summer student may collect some data, and he will write and submit a paper with that student as an author without soliciting his or her feedback. But in other cases, he will do this to a first author. For example, I have been working on a project, wrote the first draft, and now he just submitted the paper without even allowing me to read the final draft. He simply ignored my requests to read the final draft. I am not the only person to whom this has happened.

Is this ethical? There is a power imbalance, and the publish-or-perish mindset incentivizes everyone to play along. I'd rather publish than not, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and demotivates me.

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    It's not merely unethical, but rude and obnoxious. (For that matter, some ethically "ok" things are rude and obnoxious.) – paul garrett Jul 12 '16 at 22:11
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    In the conferences where I published before, papers would not be assessed before the submission deadline, and any author would be able to update the submitted paper if needed. In this setting, what you're describing is not a problem. But then, in your area things probably work in a different way. – Alexey B. Jul 12 '16 at 23:15
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It's rude and obnoxious, but it's not illegal and depends on your relationship with the offender whether you want to try to do anything about it. I have a paper that I never saw before submission and whose conclusion I would have qualified in a different way than what was submitted and accepted for publication. I keep my eye on that group of people now so that it doesn't happen again. I never complained because I wanted to keep the relationship on decent terms.

It's not ethical, but calling the publisher and asking for a retraction is probably your only defense now that the article is published. That's not really great for you, and it will probably destroy any relationship you have with this person. Saying something about future papers can probably be done tactfully, but I'd still be careful.

What I don't see is how this demotivates you. Papers are being published with your contributions in them which will still contribute your value to future employers. If you had an expectation of author order, that should have happened before the writing was started, and really before the research was begun. That's a conversation that can still be had before other research continues.

  • Okay, I suspected as much. Why is it demotivating? I think everyone is a bit more motivated when they feel like the work is "theirs", even if that's somewhat of an illusion. I should have been more clear that often the final draft will include additional authors, maybe an experiment that I was not privy to, and so on. It never fundamentally changes the work, but I feel like I have to fight to see the big picture. – gwg Jul 14 '16 at 15:26

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