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What can be some possible reasons for an author to request his name be removed from an almost ready paper?

The authors consist of 4 students and our professor. A few days before the submission deadline, the professor told us to remove his name from the paper for "personal reasons". This makes me wonder if he thinks the paper is of very low quality. Is there any other possible reason?

The field is computer science. The supervisor contributed a lot and the paper was written for a conference.

  • 7
    Or it is not in his field, or he thinks it doesn't fit his profile. But, yes, a good assumption is that he thinks it is weak. Why don't you ask him? – Captain Emacs May 24 '17 at 18:10
  • I would directly ask him if he's concerned about the quality of the paper, since you both understand that it affects everyone's views of the paper if a professor's name is missing. Don't let him dodge worrying about that fact; bring it up directly so he realizes he's damaging your submission by this action. – Mehrdad May 25 '17 at 9:18
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    At the very least, ask him if he thinks that you ought to proceed with the paper, or withdraw it. – Mawg May 25 '17 at 9:20
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In general coauthors should communicate with each other about what they're doing and why. It is strange to withdraw as an author for "personal reasons," as this is a purely professional decision.

A supervisor of a graduate student has much more responsibility: they have a mentoring role on the project and they are training the student both intellectually and professionally. In my opinion it is not acceptable for an advisor to take their name off a paper without offering any real explanation.

Of course this puts you in an awkward position. I would nevertheless recommend trying to talk to your supervisor about this, preferably in person. If you have your own concerns regarding the quality of the paper, then I'm sorry to say that you should think very carefully before going ahead with the submission. It might be appropriate to tell your supervisor that you will delay submission until after discussing the reasons for their withdrawal, but I leave that decision up to you.

  • Do you have any recommendation on how I can remove my name too politely? – SuperMike May 24 '17 at 17:36
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    @SuperMike Sounds like that should be a different question entirely, despite the common origins. – Pharap May 25 '17 at 3:53
  • Here is a scenario: Professor X for personal reasons won't have time for xx months to proofread the manuscript and make changes if it turns out they are needed. (Maybe this is the sort of thing they do Fris and Sats, and their medical treatment will take one of these days and leave them too tired the other. Whatever, the point is this may have nothing to do with the quality of the paper.) Rather than withholding publication, which would be unfair to their coauthors, they ask that they proceed on their own. Maybe Professor X even feels the paper is fine, and so wants the students to proceed. – Andrés E. Caicedo May 26 '17 at 11:59
  • (On the pther hand, they rather do not discuss their treatment with students, so "personal matters" it is. Professor X worries the students, against their own best interest, may choose otherwise to wait.) – Andrés E. Caicedo May 26 '17 at 12:02
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    @AndrésE.Caicedo: "for personal reasons won't have time for xx months to proofread the manuscript and make changes if it turns out they are needed" would already be a much more acceptable explanation. – Pete L. Clark May 26 '17 at 16:54
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In medicine there are clearly defined rules for authorship, although they are not generally followed. Computer science does not even have such rules, unfortunately. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors has an excellen page about this at http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/roles-and-responsibilities/defining-the-role-of-authors-and-contributors.html

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

(notice the conjunctions!)

Additionally, anyone who contributed substantially must be listed as author.

I strongly suggest that you ask your professor why they want to be removed as author. Communication needs to be strong between authors!

I know that I once added my professor as a courtesy, and he insisted (rightly so) that his name be removed, as he was not a substantial contributor. I needed to learn to stand on my own academic feet, he said. "Honorary" authors should be avoided at all costs, as they indeed did not contribute to the work or stand behind it.

6

Even though the professor thinks the paper is low quality, that does not mean it is low quality for you too.

A professor might not want to appear in a boarderline paper, and that is very natural. On the other hand, any paper significant enough to get published in a peer reviewed journal or proceedings (except fraud ones) is valuable for a master's student.

The number of possible reasons for him to withdraw from authorship is maybe hundreds, if not thousands. But the real question is, is it a reason for you to withdraw as well?
I think not.

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    "On the other hand, any paper significant enough to get published in a peer reviewed journal or proceedings (except fraud ones) is valuable for a master's student." I disagree. Peer review is no guarantee of anything, in particular not of correctness or quality. A paper has to be very shoddy indeed for it to actively hurt someone's academic reputation and career, but many student papers confer no value for the student. – Pete L. Clark May 24 '17 at 17:16
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    "[W]hat is the metric for a paper to be good or bad?" Well, quality. You seem to be asking: "If a few people spend several hours each looking at a paper and decide that it is correct, novel and important, how could it not be correct, novel or important?" The answer is simple: the community consists of a lot more than a few people, who collectively will spend a lot more time looking at the paper. Also, the chance that a paper is good increases with the quality of the publication venue [that's what the quality...means!] but never to 100%. – Pete L. Clark May 24 '17 at 19:12
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    @PeteL.Clark My question remains. Who is deciding quality? The community indirectly decides to transfer their judgemental skills to some very restricted subset of community by legitimizing some conferences and journals. We publish in those organs because we think they worth it. They have good impact factors since we, scientists use the works published in these organs, approved by assigned reviewers. Unless there is a system like StackExchange which is open for all scientists to vote for quality, reviewers of outstanding conferences/journals are the metric. – padawan May 24 '17 at 19:19
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    You seem to be arguing that a paper is good or bad according to where it is published. That's not true. And my answer remains: the community as a whole judges quality. Every time I read a paper, I evaluate it. If I see an especially good or bad paper, I remember it, tell people about it, and so forth. The most important decisions in academia -- hiring, grants, promotions -- are made by actually evaluating the quality of the work, not just where it's published. I invite people to visit me because I like their work, not the journals they've published in. And so forth. – Pete L. Clark May 24 '17 at 20:01
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    Said differently: You decide whether the paper is good or bad, when you read the paper yourself. – JeffE May 25 '17 at 2:37

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