58

One of my advisors suddenly passed away while I was in graduate school. We had some discussions and ideas about future publications, but he passed away before any of the work was completed. When the work was finally completed and published, I and my co-authors were therefore presented with an ethical dilemma about how best to acknowledge his contributions to the ideas behind the paper. Should we list him as a co-author? Put him in the acknowledgements? Listing him as an author would give credit for the original idea, however, we would have no way of knowing if he actually approved of—and would want his name attached to—our methods and writing.

In the end my co-authors and I decided to list him as a co-author with a footnote stating that he passed away before publication.

I’m interested to hear from others who have been in similar situations and/or suggestions on what constitutes “co-authorship” when one of one’s collaborators passes away before the publication or work is complete.

  • 1
    Actually, while ethics are an issue, I imagine that this is something which your university has a policy on. – eykanal Mar 16 '12 at 22:28
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    I can't find any policy about posthumous co-authorship at my university (and we have LOTS of ethics policies). – JeffE Mar 16 '12 at 23:44
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    My master's thesis adviser passed away suddenly after I had obtained my master's degree and after we had written a paper about it, but before the paper had been accepted for publication. I included him as co-author as we had previously planned, but I added the word "(deceased)" after his name. – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 17 '12 at 0:28
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    Two words: Paul Erdos :) – Suresh Mar 17 '12 at 2:55
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    Caroline Series, a mathematician, published a celebrated paper co-authored with Rufus Bowen, which died before the completion of the article; it is available here, you can have a look at the end of the introduction to see a way to proceed. – Benoît Kloeckner May 27 '12 at 17:53
32

I had a similar situation. In this case, we did exactly what you did: we indicated that the participant (not a team leader, but a team member in this case) was a co-author, but that he was deceased. I think this is the only fair way to recognize substantial contributions.

Of course, the difficult comes if there is a challenge to the work of the deceased. In our case, however, we had a very substantial paper trail which was audited and reviewed, so the individual work could have been sorted out and dealt with appropriately.

So, I think the best defense is generally to keep good working notes and use version control.

26

aeismail's answer is definitely good advice, but I'll add two more bits:

  • Check the journal policy and author guidelines. There may be something in there that can guide your choice, like the Journal of the American Chemical Society has:

    Deceased persons who meet the criteria for inclusion as coauthors should be so included, with an Author Information note indicating the date of death.

  • Check with the editor, if in doubt. He has the final say in the matter, and these things are probably best run by him if no official policy is established.


In terms of papers with deceased authors, I think the record holder is probably this one:

               enter image description here

Can you spot it? One author died in 1919, and one had her PhD in 1911: while no date of death is provided for her, I don't think she's still around. (Also, it was probably quite an achievement for a woman to get a PhD at the time.)

As we say: old chemist don't die, they just reach equilibrium!

  • 2
    Any idea what Werner's contribution was? Not knowing if scanavy-Grigorieff is alive or dead suggests to me she did not make a contribution. – StrongBad Sep 25 '13 at 23:16
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    The compound whose chemical structure is reported in the paper was synthesized by Werner and Scanavy-Grigorieff, but it had not been identified at the time. The MIT team identified and solved the structure of that compound, from Werner's collection (Werner was a famous guy, so his collection was kept as historical artifact) – F'x Sep 26 '13 at 0:22

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