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During my undergraduate degree I was involved in a research project under a new, young professor. I was much more involved than a typical undergrad researcher (at least from what I have seen during the past year in a PhD program); I was a major contributor in developing the theory and solution codes, and I was a first author on one paper and a coauthor on another during that time. A long story short, the professor had a really bad attitude and had no problem making enemies. Within two years he was gone (rumors that he was forced out) from his first professorship, which is a top 10 engineering school to a much less prestigious one. I graduated at the same time and started my PhD at another school.

An extremely long story short, we had a falling out not long after because I had had to shift my priorities to my PhD as any reasonable person would; however, I had agreed to keep working with him during my spare time as we were nearing in on one last paper. In short, he sent me some pretty disrespectful emails, and any time I tried to defend myself in any way, he took it as inappropriate. I tried my best to remain professional and respectful, and in my opinion I succeeded with that. I just decided I had my whole future ahead of me under a much more prestigious advisor and one relatively low impact paper was not going to mean much. So I told him that I could no longer contribute to the project.

A few days ago, I see that he published the paper we were working on. Unsurprisingly, I was not included as a coauthor or acknowledged in any way, though he did cite our previous papers. What was really bizarre was that he included as a coauthor another undergrad researcher who was less involved in the project. This guy happens to be my good friend, so I know he hasn't worked on it at all in the last year. To make things even fishier, my friend didn't even know he was going to release a paper nor was he ever notified that he was going to be a coauthor. I was the one that told him about it, and he was completely shocked.

The paper contained nothing new from what I had done, and the results were most definitely produced with the subroutine I wrote. Also, the wording was very very similar (not quite word for word) to what I had written in the past. The figures (containing conceptual designs) had been reproduced directly from my own unpublished ideas.

I am wondering just how unethical this is, if at all. I know typically undergrads might not contribute much, but I genuinely feel that I was the major contributor of this work. I even secured two external fellowships to fund the project. I have developed a lot of close contacts that are in high positions that I am confident would support me in a dispute, not to mention his reputation in the community isn't the greatest. I am just trying to decide if its even worth it and what route to take. Should I just let it go or am I in a position to act? I haven't contacted him yet since he will surely try to sabotage me in some way, which I am not that worried about; I really just don't know if I want to deal with it.

I am just looking for some thoughts, so I can approach this as unbiasedly as possible. Thanks a lot for your time.

  • If you told him you were withdrawing from the project, you should expect he would continue and publish it. – Shake Baby Jul 18 '17 at 6:47
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    @ShakeBaby he had written much of the text, done the figures. Using these without attribution is plagiarism / misattribution. Unless he agreed to "you can use my material, but keep my name off the paper" this is scientific misconduct. If you can't reach an agreement among the authors, you must not publish (but rewrite and redo). – Anony-Mousse Jul 18 '17 at 7:02
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    I probably could be more clear when I said he "reproduced" the figures. They weren't exactly the same, but they were very close; probably just another section of the same data I produced. Also, one of the figures was a conceptual design of a device. He redrew that, but it was obviously the same design. So since he technically didn't use my figures directly, is he still in the wrong on that part? – toodles Jul 18 '17 at 14:21
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    Expect him to argue that they were originally his design idea, that he only tasked you to flesh out back then, but where all the innovation was in the assignment already. There certainly are cases where this kind of reproduction without attribution is okay (when you really had to redo everything from scratch, and the idea was yours, e.g., when it clearly predates the involvement of the "removed" author), and cases where it is just done to hide plagiarism... it's certainly smarter to avoid such situations in the first place and rather collaborate better. ;-) – Anony-Mousse Jul 19 '17 at 7:01
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Contact the editor responsible. Talk nicely to him, and ask him how to proceed.

Since a friend of yours is included as coauthor without his knowledge, you have quite some leeway. If one of the authors asks for the paper to be withdrawn because of incorrect attribution, this may very well happen. Such behavior is considered scientific misconduct.

Also many universities will have an office responsible for processing with plagiarism and other scientific misconduct, and may be able to assist you with drafting such emails.

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