I am writing about an innovation camp, which private individuals took part to. During this camp, they developed systems. I have analyzed these systems in my study, and thus want to credit their author in my publication.

Can I write following sentence in my paper?

In this paper, we studied projects Fourtytwo conducted by John Doe and Erika Mustermann, and HolyGrail by Ann Onym and M. Icks.

My question focus on citing the name of John Doe, Erika Mustermann, etc. - that are private individuals - without their authorization.

I will to use the name given in the end-of-the-camp PDF report that is freely available on the web - what speaks in favour of yes. However, they are not public personalities (as politicians, etc.) nor explicitely revealed their names (as paper authors) - what leads me to this question.

  • 3
    If in doubt, why not ask? Email the folks saying "I wrote a paper analyzing X. I would like to credit you as the creators of it such as [example], but I wouldn't want to encroach on your privacy or anything like that. How would you prefer me to proceed with this?"
    – Pat Devlin
    Dec 15, 2016 at 14:35
  • @PatDevlin Yep, I actually did this for people I have interacted with. So I have some of their email adresses, but not all of them. The issue is for remaining people I cannot reach (no contact, or not replying)
    – ebosi
    Dec 15, 2016 at 14:41
  • Ask the folks you do have contact info for. Explain to them that you don't have contact info for the others.
    – Pat Devlin
    Dec 15, 2016 at 14:42
  • @PatDevlin I mean: of course I can ask John to give me Erika's email. But if I don't know neither Ann's, nor Icks' email (and so do organizer), it's trickier. Basically, my question focus on people I cannot contact.
    – ebosi
    Dec 15, 2016 at 14:46
  • 1
    Just to clarify: 1. You have interviews that you conducted and would like to cite, but 2. you didn't get permission when you conducted the interview and 3. you can't contact the people now?
    – 1006a
    Dec 15, 2016 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


Because these private individuals do not sound like they are publishing their work (in which course your questions about citation would make more sense), and you mentioned interviews with these individuals in a comment, your situation sounds more like it falls under the category of Human subject research which has all sorts of rules and regulations. Assuming you are at some sort of university, your institution probably has a Institutional Review Board that governs this type of research and includes guidelines for obtaining informed consent, etc.

In short, you cannot do research on human subjects without their consent, and this consent typically needs to be granted before the study begins. Human subjects research includes interviews, etc, you don't need to be doing medical experiments to be doing human subjects research.

If you are truly using only the publicly available resource I would still recommend trying to get permission to use the resource (and if you are reproducing any portion of the resource, permission may be mandatory), but at most all you can do is cite that resource and attribute it to the organization that has made it public, you can't attach your personal knowledge of the individuals involved.

  • Some institutions allow a "secondary use" exception for IRB approval. I can do studies on de-identified student grades because the study is a secondary use. It may not apply in this case. One should contact one's IRB.
    – Bob Brown
    Dec 16, 2016 at 4:34

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