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Can I co-author a paper I dont entirely agree with ?

  1. Apr 30, 2013 #1
    Anybody here co-authored a paper or been privy to the process ?

    A high ranking professor has asked me to co-author a paper with him on Artificial General Intelligence, physics and neuroscience, primarily because I am still at university, and was very enthusiastic about his general approach. Also my primary area is neuroscience and computation where his is physics and computation.. so i can proof-check there is no major bloopers in the neuro-area.

    However on reading what he has written so far, I don’t agree with all the ideas he has about physics and information, which is central to the paper. I agree with some of it though. I have prepared objections, he seems pretty fixed, and I don’t see these making it onto the paper.

    So, what occurs in such co-author situations (there are no other author parties for this paper). I mean is it common for co-authors not to agree, but produce regardless ?

    I read some journal guidelines for co-authors a while back. It stated something like each co-author has to be responsible for the entire contents of the paper… so does this mean if I co-author I am stating I agree with everything in the paper ?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 30, 2013 #2


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    Part of a collaborative effort is that you have to actually collaborate. That means you work together to produce something.

    In a situation like this you have to voice your objections and discuss the problems. If you can't agree on something, then you shouldn't agree to have your name on the paper. As two scientists you should be able to come to a consensus prior to publishing your work.

    If the two of you can't do that, how do you expect two or three referees to do it?
  4. Apr 30, 2013 #3
    The idea was that I help out with the neuroscience, and leave the physics to him, so I would just be involved on those sections of the paper. So there wouldnt be such contradictions for the referees to deal with. The problem was I was reading the physics sections and I didnt agree with them, but its not really important for the referees, only for me personally. I have never been a second author, so I dont know how common it is it just let things slide if you are being hired on for a purpose i.e. The second author, position here is clearly a junior role for me.

    Just as you have many papers where there is lab-head and the various students he/she picked for various aspects in the paper, I am sure many of the students might not agree with everything the lead author does, so I was looking at it from how do things pan out in these situations ?
  5. Apr 30, 2013 #4


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    The bottom line is, you are named as an author of a document that is in the public domain for anybody to read for the rest of your working life.

    It will be on your personal publications list for the rest of your working life as well. Internet search engines have killed the days when you could just "accidentally lose" a paper from your CV.

    If you can't resolve your differences and reach something you can "sign up to", there is always the option of the prof publishing it as a single author, and including an acknowledgement of your contributions to parts of the work. That's better than being completely anonymous.
  6. May 1, 2013 #5


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    ALL the authors have to agree about what is written in a paper, at least the main conclusions.
    It is of course true that you to some extent have to trust your co-authors if the work is the result of collaboration of specialist in different fields (i.e. if you measured the sample using method Y, but were not involved in measuring the sample using method X, you have trust the co-authors who used x that he/she will accurately describe this in the manuscript); but if a someone does not agree with the lead author then he/she shouldn't have his/her name on the paper; it is always possible to put his/her name in the acknowledgement section instead.

    Also, remember that seniority does not matter when it comes to the list of authors. Everyone shares responsibility for the content, regardless of their position in the research group.

    There have been quite a few cases where PhD students have run into trouble because of research fraud perpetrated by their advisors (and vice versa). Hence, this is not just about moral, if you have your name on a paper that later turns out to contain e.g. manufactured data you could in principle we held legally responsible, and prosecuted for fraud if that paper is later used to e.g. secure more funding(very unlikely, but it does happen).
    Last edited: May 1, 2013
  7. May 1, 2013 #6
    I agree with the previous 2 posters. I think the hidden issue here might be that the OP was flattered to be asked to co-author a paper with a senior researcher and now has the daunting prospect of having to tell them they are full of @#$%#. How do you do that? If it were two peers co-writing a paper, they would hash it out vociferously, and if they couldn't come to an agreement, then the paper would not get submitted, or would hang in suspended animation until they did agree. This is a bit of a different scenario. I think also the OP might be looking at this as a way to increase his visibility in the field and/or curry favor with the senior researcher.

    However, in the long run I don't think the tradeoff will be worth it. Even if it works out fine, YOU are always gonna be bugged by it, and that alone isn't worth the risk. So, again, I think the safest way out of this is to be up front and say you have some concerns about the paper you don't feel comfortable with, but that you'd be happy to do the work anyway if he provides an acknowledgement for you. That way he's happy, you have a way out, and in the end get acknowldeged for your contribution without having to be responsible for the content of the paper.

    Edit: Oh yeah, he should respect you for being up front and honest about your professional opinions, which may even curry more favor with him if that's what you're looking to do. If he reacts otherwise, that should send up a red flag that you made the right decision, and you may want to reconsider dealing with him at all in the future. So, I think the approach I and the other posters have described may kind of self-regulate itself in a sense for a successful outcome.
    Last edited: May 1, 2013
  8. May 1, 2013 #7
    I dont actually disagree with the main conclusion, I support it..and the work in what it does is highly progressive. A lab even made headline news recently proposing part of the theory he has been working on for years, and we got to see the algorithms beat almost everything out there. its parts in the paper where he is proposing to view all of physics from his view. which is not actually that controversial, I just dont agree with it, but its not the point of the paper.

    The point of the paper is advances in Computational neuroscience, and I think overall it is a major advance. Part of the paper is generic experiment, and a lot of it, proposals on a new concept for viewing information processing. The physics stuff we disagree on is peripheral material, he is also overstating his claim as a pretty complete understanding, when I see there is problems left to be resolved.

    But anyway time is running out, I will need to get back to him on this.
  9. May 1, 2013 #8
    I am upfront, and I dont think it would bother me. Its not that big a problem.. I mean its not life and death, just computational theory. I was just wondering what standard procedure and practise is. I should re-state I dont disagree with the primary premise, just parts here and there.
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