Here is my case:

I wrote a paper and invited a post-doc to help me edit it. As the post-doc is much better than me, the post-doc changed a lot of content (nearly all, but without changing any idea). According to this contribution, the post-doc stands as second author. The post-doc agreed on the paper, then we submitted and the paper was accepted. After that, the post-doc claimed to be the main contributor, threatened to withdraw the paper (personal-conflict) and really did so. But the editor of the journal refused the withdraw request and asked me for final version. Even so, the second author kept on claiming that I don't have the right to submit the final version. In this case, is it ethical to continue the publication process?

  • What field are you working in?
    – Ambicion
    Jan 18 '17 at 16:53
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    I would get help from my adviser, given the circumstances. The other thing is you are the first author and you did the main work. He has the option not to sign the paper, but no right to stop its publication. The unethical thing is using your paper to put pressure on the other co-author.
    – user21264
    Jan 18 '17 at 19:36
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    Do you have anything to document that the post-doc approved of the initial submission, with you as first author? My opinion, though others may disagree, is that you have an ethical obligation as a first author to offer authorship to people who deserve it - you cannot submit the final paper with this person as an author if they do not agree, but they have no recourse but to remove themselves from the author list if they don't want to participate further. They cannot simply block publication because they don't feel like it, unless they have specific concerns to be resolved.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 18 '17 at 23:07
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    @JoJo The approach I would want to take in your situation would be to A) Try to obtain, or at least have evidence of you trying to obtain, a list of specific complaints that this person has with publishing the paper. If this list is unreasonable (that is, not based on any facts or scientific reasoning) or the person refuses to provide such a list, then B) have this person removed as an author before publication, on the grounds that they are unwilling to participate in the final review of the paper. It would be best to have your advisor and the editor's support on both counts.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 19 '17 at 18:26
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    @JoJo For example, the editor may be able to address the second author and say that they see no further issues with the manuscript and if that author wishes to withdraw their name from the paper they may do that, but otherwise the editor would like to publish as-is. Given a choice between losing a publication and losing the fight, your co-author may concede.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 19 '17 at 18:30

I checked the authorship guidelines of the two most important computer science societies, IEEE and ACM. IEEE's guidelines have a clear answer to the question, although I wish it was a different one, given the unfair situation the post-doc has put you into:

"Each individual named as an author must approve the final version of the article as accepted for publication, including the references." (Source: Sect. 6, "Author Responsibilities")

In the case of ACM, I didn't find a direct answer. The closest statement I found was the following:

"Once a submission has been accepted, [...] ACM expects authors to speak with one voice even if there are multiple authors." (Source: "Processing of accepted works")

(Not a particularly helpful statement anyways: there are certainly situations where an individual author would behave ethically by not speaking for all authors, like whistleblowing).

In any case, you should look up the authorship guidelines of the journal where your paper was accepted - they might have yet another relevant policy for your case.

  • The journal is under IEEE. In this case, the paper will be stuck...The paper withdrawal request is denied and publishing it will be refused by the 2nd author.
    – JoJo
    Jan 19 '17 at 2:11
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    @JoJo In that case the only way to fix this is to clear things up with your co-author. Good luck!
    – Ian
    Jan 19 '17 at 7:27
  • @ian_itor I don't think it will work as I am already very angry about this. As an innocent person and the largest victim, I don't want to lower my standard to satisfy this co-author any more. I tried, but didn't work. It acts like a trap.
    – JoJo
    Jan 19 '17 at 8:50

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