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I've been working on a research paper in the field of education with co-authors for the past year. I know both of these individuals professionally for several years. One is a more seasoned author than the other, and I am the most published author.

The manuscript is currently back from review and we are working on the revisions. We also co-authored and presented at a national conference presentation last year. My status in both is second author. My co-authors/collaborators are newly tenured, and one is not tenured. I am a retired professor who is still active in research.

My plan was to attend this research conference and I am looking through the program and I found that my 2 co-authors are on the program to talk about the topic of our paper! I also see that their abstract includes ideas and references from sections that I wrote in the paper.

When I asked why I was not included one responded, "so sorry, that was so unethical" while the other said she got the invitation to present and it was quick turnaround. They both offered to have me on the program but only after I found out. Both have apologized for both not inviting me, although if I hadn't found their presentation, I am not sure either would have told me.

They did not apologize for using my ideas and citations of other research in the abstract because "currently our paper is unpublished" and they did not see a need to cite our paper? Yet, my ideas were used without my consent or knowledge.

One author tried to make the claim of 'ownership,' and basically no one owns ideas. I responded it's an issue of authorship. I did 'pen' my ideas to that paper and since we formatted the paper in a dialogic format (narrative research), it's clear to see where my ideas begin and end. I see it as plagiarism.

So, there is an issue of excluding me as a co-author in a conference presentation, not citing our paper in the abstract which I consider self-plagairism as well as not citing me-plagiarism.

What do you all think? What would provoke 2 co-authors to do this? Am I correct in my assessment of the issues of authorship and plagiarism? What strategies would you recommend for addressing co-authors and collaborators who don't understand what I consider to be basic professional etiquette, but also have a motive that appears to be more devious? One co author appears to be more sincere and apologetic but the other one, I think the one who submitted the proposal appears cold, and indifferent.

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    Did you come up with the idea, or did you write it up after one of them proposed it? From your question is isn't clear who said "no one owns ideas" -- whole system of academic citation is designed to give credit to the source of the idea. Obviously they are wrong to think that a presentation can't mention a paper under review (and its author list), but you appear to be overstating the importance to an oral presentation of work on the written publication -- the speaker's obligations to you are the same as if the same group had discussed these ideas in a conference room and not written anything. – Ben Voigt Apr 8 '17 at 14:58
  • The ideas and insights that I authored in our paper and that my co-authors/collaborators included in their conference proposal abstract originated with me; that is, they came from areas of the paper that were of my contribution. I of course, included citations for ideas not my own, and they took my ideas, and my citations, but did not cite the whole paper in the abstract. I am not sure what you mean by 'overstating the importance to an oral presentation." This international conference presentation is highly regarded in my field. – drk Apr 9 '17 at 21:55
  • I fear the only way to get answers is to talk to your colleagues directly. The answers here will be speculative. They will possibly be marginally useful to you, but won't be useful to anyone else. I'm voting to close. – Cape Code Apr 26 '17 at 13:19
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    What strategies would you recommend for addressing co-authors and collaborators — Direct professional honesty. Also, stop working with jerks. – JeffE Apr 26 '17 at 20:18
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What do you all think? On the surface, I don't think this is plagiarism. When a group of people author a paper, imho the entire group can be considered the originators of the ideas in that paper. Basic professional etiquette (as well as any co-author situations I've been fortunate to be in) is that each author, when speaking about the ideas, typically says, "We" did such-and-such, or "we" had this idea. In my experience, many high quality authors, out of modesty, or an abundance of honesty, will often credit their co-authors for many of the ideas. But unless a person specifically says "this-and-such was my idea" when indeed it wasn't, then I don't think this is plagiarism, but rather as you put it a matter of "basic professional etiquette."

What would provoke 2 co-authors to do this? Could be anything from a simple lack of social skills and/or social awareness, to major ego subterfuge and game playing. Depends on the personalities.

Am I correct in my assessment of the issues of authorship and plagiarism? As I said above, I personally wouldn't label this plagiarism, but rather a lack of professional etiquette -- unless they outright state that your ideas were their own. In my opinion, if they use the word "We" (and at some point state the names of who "we" are) then they are entitled to do that, by dint of being co-authors together, even if it was your idea.

What strategies would you recommend for addressing co-authors and collaborators who don't understand what I consider to be basic professional etiquette, but also have a motive that appears to be more devious? Discuss with them, as you have, and if that gets you nowhere, chalk it up as a life lesson and avoid working with that person in the future. Unless it has a true consequence of facts harming your career (in which case you may want to seek legal advice). But if it's just your pride that has been hurt, because the other person is unprofessional or petty, then remember the phrase, "Every dog has his day." Move on, a let fate take care of them.

One co author appears to be more sincere and apologetic but the other one, I think the one who submitted the proposal appears cold, and indifferent. Trust your gut; perhaps avoid all interactions with the "cold and indifferent" one in the future.

One comment that you mentioned but didn't specifically ask about: You mentioned that they didn't reference the unpublished paper, but only the ideas. Imo this is also unprofessional. I was taught to reference every source, even if it is unpublished work (just say so). My graduate adviser impressed this on me years ago, as a strong ethical concept. I had made some statements in my dissertation that everyone in the field regarded as completely common knowledge (but possibly someone outside of the field would not know), and he made me go back and find the original paper from the 1950s and reference it. So I have taken it on as an ethical imperative: don't make statements or present ideas without referencing where they came from. If you agree, then perhaps you may want to convince the co-authors to mention the unpublished work.

  • Daniel, Thank you so much for your very thoughtful and insightful response to my question. drk – drk May 25 '17 at 12:36
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Authorship is such a tricky issue, which is why it is helpful to determine authorship (inclusion, order, future papers/presentation etc.) ahead of time and to work with individuals who you can talk to about authorship frankly. My ongoing co-author and I can tell each other, "You can have first author on this paper, but I'm going to do the next one."

That being said, academics with less experience can make mistakes with authorship, which can lead to rocky collaborations. It is awkward and I'm sorry you had to go through this with BOTH of your co-authors.

Your main questions is "Am I correct?" in regards to the assessment of the situation. In this specific situation, the co-authors are wrong IF they were presenting content that included your ideas, which is what you imply. If they were presenting on a similar, but different topic, I do not feel the need to include you as a co-author, though professional courtesy would recommend doing so.

The fact that the paper is not currently published does not matter, because (and this almost happened to me), "If the co-authors use your ideas to publish work (manuscript B) from an unpublished work (manuscript A) and manuscript B is published before A, then you would be considered the one to plagiarize, even if the ideas were you in the first place.

I ran into this problem with a co-author. We were working on similar papers with a group of several co-authors and each of us were first author for our own paper. I finished my draft first and sent to him for review. What I didn't know is that he copied a lot of my content into his first-authored paper and tried to submit it before me. I informed the lead person on the project about this and we confronted him to make sure he edited my copied work heavily. If he published his paper first, mine would have been flagged as plagiarized by the journal (for my own work!!!). I do not work with him anymore.

My suggestion? Give your co-authors the benefit of the doubt unless you have other reasons to think they were malicious. Be clear that on future presentations and papers you expect to be a co-author, or at least informed about their submissions so that you can discuss further. You may also choose not to work with either of them anymore, which may not be bad for you, since you are the most published. Good luck!

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    Nicole,Thank you so much for your advice and insights. Very, very helpful! – drk Apr 27 '17 at 14:20
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How much time do you have before the presentation? If there is some time, you can discuss with the conference organiser about the issue and let your coworkers know about it. How often do you work with these co-authors and do you plan to work with them in the foreseeable future? That might affect how do you want to pursue the discussion with the conference organiser. In any case, don't miss attending the presentation as a contributor so that the audience​ remembers you when the paper is published.

  • About one month to the presentation (May 2017). I discussed it with my collaborators but not the organizer of the conference. I didn't think this was necessary at this point. I don't see myself working with these two collaborators again. Thanks for the advice about attending the session. – drk Apr 10 '17 at 14:38

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