1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is this grounds for a lawsuit?

  1. Jan 6, 2009 #1
    Let's say a professor you're working under puts your name as an author on a paper without your knowledge or concent. You're then told its past the deadline to remove your name from the paper and the paper gets submitted with your name on it anyways. (Not having contributed anything to it or have been aware). Is there grounds here to sue said professor for forgery or misuse of your name without concent?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 6, 2009 #2
    He probably thinks he's doing you a favor... Why don't you want your name on this paper?
  4. Jan 6, 2009 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    That was my initial thought and question as well. On a patent application, it would be illegal to put your name on it without you having been a significant contributor. Don't think anything similar applies to publishing papers.

    Are there errors in the paper that you think should be corrected before publication? Has it already made it past peer review?
  5. Jan 6, 2009 #4
    Because I didn't contribute to it. Not one thing. None. And no one signs my name to papers\obligations without my consent.

    I was only made aware of my name being on it after it was too late to take it off as a list of authors.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2009
  6. Jan 6, 2009 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Your consent to work for the professor may have committed you to an explicit or implied right for him to credit you for work on his projects. Please check that before you dump on him. Many students appreciate being credited, even if their work was ancillary to the research project, and he might have thought this was good for you.

    "No good deed goes unpunished."
  7. Jan 6, 2009 #6
    I never signed any contract with him agreeing to this. The problem is that it's a total lack of consideration to sign someones name to an obligation without telling them. It's just not right.
  8. Jan 6, 2009 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Is it possible that you inspired him through:

    a) casual academic discussion
    b) submitting homework to him that asked open-ended discussion questions.
    c) any research that you have contributed to that he could adapt to his work.
  9. Jan 6, 2009 #8
    No, he and I don't like eachother and no longer work together.
  10. Jan 6, 2009 #9


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Then it's certainly quite puzzling that he chose to include you as a co-author!
  11. Jan 6, 2009 #10
    If I find out my name makes its way onto any papers I'm going to write a letter to that journal and tell them to retract my name from it.
  12. Jan 6, 2009 #11
    Tell him he can put my name on it if he'd like
  13. Jan 6, 2009 #12
    If you're not here to answer my question then leave.
  14. Jan 6, 2009 #13


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Ask him why first.
  15. Jan 6, 2009 #14
    So let's pretend Cyrus is completely self-serving here (we have no reason to think he is)

    He could:

    a). Leave his name on the paper and have one more publication. Depending on where he is in his career this could be quite a big deal for him.

    b). Retract his name by contacting the journal, making a big deal about it, etc. If people in the field know him at all and he can get something with his reasons for retracting his name published (assuming there are some scientific reasons as well) AND assuming he has no loyalty to this professor... then it might help him more to publish a retraction....

    c). sue the professor on dubious legal grounds.... I don't think this would accomplish anything....
  16. Jan 6, 2009 #15
    To be clear, I'm not getting a PhD, and I'm not trying to become a professor. I'm not here to publish as many papers as I can. The only thing I did was to collect data for a friend of mine because he asked me for my help. I agreed to collect the data for him. I find out more than half way into the deal that I'm supposed to be a co author and its too late.

    I do not deserve to have my name on a paper for collecting data. What a joke. If I'm putting my name on any papers its going to be because I helped with some form of analysis.

    My question still stands though: What right does an advisor have to sign your name to obligations you were not made aware of.
  17. Jan 7, 2009 #16

    Math Is Hard

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Did you talk to the professor about this and explain that you didn't think your contributions (helping your friend collect data) merited being listed as an author? What did he say?
  18. Jan 7, 2009 #17

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    To specifically answer the question, of course you can sue. You can always sue.

    Whether you will win is another matter. As is what sort of judgment you will receive, and as is what you will collect.

    There are two questions a court will probably ask you - what damages did you suffer, and what remedy is appropriate. You might think about the answers to those questions before launching a drawn-out and expensive legal action.
  19. Jan 7, 2009 #18
    I'm not going to sue :)

    But I am seriously PISSED OFF about the matter. So I wanted to know if it's illegal or not to use someones name without their permission.

    Anyways: Damages: Using my name without my permission
    Remedy: Take name off paper.
  20. Jan 7, 2009 #19
    Dude you're just angry at the guy and trying to find anything you can to get a dig at him.
  21. Jan 7, 2009 #20
    And presumably you did collect that data... right?

    Quite honestly, often most of what students at the undergraduate contribute to papers is just such a thing... simply the collection of data (even data slightly peripheral to the study... such as a case where I had an undergraduate measure surface roughness of some samples with AFM... and used his results to select which samples to study), a program to help collect or analyze data, or the manufacture of suitable samples to study. If some of the data collected from your small contribution was used in the process of publication, then leave it at that. To some extent you deserve to be listed as a coauthor. (Presumably there's a list of at least three or four authors, and you aren't the top/first author, right? -- In that scenario, people who look at your CV will assume your contribution is slight, and you won't be asked the full details of the work, although it's be good to remember the techniques used to collect the data.)

    It is surprising perhaps, that you weren't contacted... maybe your friend was supposed to pass on the info and neglected. Or maybe the professor feels bad about your personal relationship, and wanted to offer this as a sign of healing/respect.... even perhaps a sign that he would be willing to be a reference for you (it would be hard to give a bad reference once you're a co-author on a paper. right?).
  22. Jan 7, 2009 #21


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    You should write to the journal to have your name removed.

    I don't believe using your name without permission/consent meets the definition of damage. If somehow your reputation or character was damaged, then you might have a case.

    Perhaps the professor was doing this as a courtesy since you contributed to the data collection.
  23. Jan 7, 2009 #22

    Most academic and journal ethical guidelines either prohibit or discourage this practice. Whether you can sue to have your name removed would likely depend on the nature of your relationship with the professor, i.e, were you an employee or a contractor or merely a volunteer, and state law where you live.
  24. Jan 7, 2009 #23


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    A lawsuit would take time and cost money. It's best to just write the journal and have one's name removed.

    I would also expect the university has an internal body to deal with such matters, e.g. their legal staff or counsel.

    But one should start with the professor in question, then go to the department head, then perhaps the science or engineer school, then to the university - as necessary.
  25. Jan 7, 2009 #24


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Just to add to what Physics Girls Phd has already written. What the professor in question did is not that uncommon, it usually happens because someone decides to e.g. go to a conference at the last minute and the deadline for the paper is rapidly approaching.
    The same thing has happened to me a couple of times but I didn't mind; it is one more publication for my CV and I knew the author so I could be sure that the paper would be of reasonably good quality (and it was after all just conference papers).
    However, if someone wrote a "proper" paper without telling me I would be annoyed; mainly because there is no deadline meaning there is always time to show the manuscript to everyone involved.

    Also, you DID collect data that -as far as I understand- was subsequently used in the paper; meaning you SHOULD be listed as a co-author (or at least be listed in the acknowledgments). Although I agree that you should at least have been told.
    But again, this is not uncommon so I suspect the professor won't think he/she did anything wrong.
  26. Jan 7, 2009 #25


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    This seems like an odd case. I would expect it's far more common for the reverse situation to anger people: a student does data collection, but the lead author does not feel he or she contributed significantly to the work and so leaves the student's name off of the author list.

    Not knowing exactly what work was done in the case, it's difficult to comment. It's apparent that Cyrus does not feel he or she contributed to the work and does not want to receive undue credit - fair enough.

    The underlying issue though, is does the professor have the legal right to use Cyrus's name. I'm no lawyer, but, it's important to note that there seems to have been either an employer/employee relationship or at least teacher/student relationship. When you agree to work for an employer, both you and the employer are entitled to certain rights and have certain obligations. The employer may in fact have the right to publish the names of his employees in relation to work performed. This is something that only a lawyer can answer (or someone willing to read through the state-specific law books).

    I would agree that the best solution here seems to be a letter to the journal indicating that Cyrus does not wish to be included as an author. These kinds of fixes are simple enough as long as the work has not yet gone to print.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook