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My former postdoc mentor wants to be an author on a paper I wrote with some other people. Her role was to connect me with the other people (she knew them, and they had access to a specific patient population I needed). Also, my mentor and I talked about some related ideas years back, but never the specific experiment that the paper is about. She thinks the experiment was her idea, but she is mistaken about this: when I first told her about it, it was already completely designed, she gave no input.

Agree to the request?

Pros:

  1. She will support my career more (promote me to other colleagues) if I do what she wants.

  2. If I leave her off the paper, she will probably go around telling people it was her idea and that I'm some kind of jerk. And they might believe her... she is senior and well respected in the field.

Cons:

  1. It detracts from my record in the sense of making the paper look less independent than it actually is (a fairly minor concern as my tenure application is already under review).

  2. It detracts from the contributions of the other authors who actually worked on the study (also a minor concern because it only detracts slightly for there to be 6 authors instead of 5).

  3. She did not make a scientific contribution to the study, so it is unfair (this is maybe the real sticking point).

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    I'm not suggesting it's unreasonable to ask for your specific situation, but make sure you've browsed the answers already on the site. There have been too many questions related to this topic to count, and some of them might have relevant info for you too. – Jeff Oct 13 '16 at 14:43
  • Thanks, I did browse the other answers. But the specifics vary so much case by case, I'm interested in what people think about this specific situation. – duboce Oct 13 '16 at 16:14
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It is more typical for me to weigh in on the side of not putting senior people's names on papers when their contributions were borderline or less. However in this case it seems to me that it probably would be a good idea to include your former postdoctoral mentor as an author.

Her role was to connect me with the other people (she knew them, and they had access to a specific patient population I needed).

That is a contribution. It sounds like it is not an intellectual contribution, but in signing up with a mentor you probably were hoping to get increased access from her connections...and you did.

Also, my mentor and I talked about some related ideas years back, but never the specific experiment that the paper is about.

That does sound like an intellectual contribution. You didn't talk about the specific experiment, but that doesn't mean that your discussion didn't contribute to the design of the specific experiment. In my opinion high-level general discussions can be at least as valuable as specific implementations...especially when they lead to specific implementations.

She thinks the experiment was her idea, but she is mistaken about this: when I first told her about it, it was already completely designed, she gave no input.

Well, you are giving your side of this, and you are aware that her side is different. Do you have records that would support your version of events? If so, I would certainly discuss them with your mentor before deciding not to include her on the paper. If not: if the only thing you have to rely on is your own memory of events, then even if we grant that you and not she are remembering correctly, you still may want or need to act in a way that an external observer would regard as correct.

In terms of your pros and cons: as you mention, keeping a good relationship with your former mentor is a real pro. You seem to be able to put yourself in her shoes well enough to understand why she would feel slighted and react badly, so in my opinion you need to not let that happen, either by including her as a coauthor or by resolving the different perspectives you have on the situation.

Your cons are not very persuasive to me. As you say, the paper already has five authors. I don't know about you, but with that many authors I am going to assume that some have rather minor contributions unless I am specifically told otherwise. I don't understand how adding a sixth author undermines the independence of your contribution (presumably you will be first author). You mention that your mentor made no scientific contribution, but that's not clear to me since, as above, you mentioned earlier conversations on the general topic that led to your specific experiment. I also think that people should not be added as authors for no intellectual contribution...but this is not a very clear case for this kind of principled stand.

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    I like your answer and agree with your conclusion. I especially like your n+1 argument for co-authorship. – Richard Erickson Oct 13 '16 at 20:29
  • Thanks for your answer. I was leaning towards not including her, but based on your arguments, I am going to include her. I'm not super happy about it, but I think it's the best decision. Thank you for being willing to assume my side of the story for the sake of answering the question. Yes, there is a paper trail as to the origin of the experiment, it's all in email. I could show it to her, but she's not the kind of person who that would make much of an impact on... Anyway, thank you. – duboce Oct 14 '16 at 15:42

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