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Need advice: name omitted from paper

  1. Feb 4, 2010 #1
    When I did my undergraduate thesis, my project was a small part of a larger project being done by an MSc. student at the time. We obviously both had the same supervisor. This student completed his MSc. degree a few months ago, and I have since learned from him that he and his supervisor have submitted an article for publication. While the article has been accepted it hasn't actually been published yet.

    I was a little disappointed that I wasn't informed of it until now, and I'm also dismayed that my name wasn't included on the paper. While my contribution wasn't massive, I nevertheless contributed to the project.

    I mentioned this to my colleague and he said he wouldn't have an issue if my name was added. I'm not sure if I should bother bringing it up with my former supervisor. I don't know how the submission process works, and I also don't know if he will be surprised or offended in some way by this late request.

    I don't want to tarnish my professional relationship with this person and I just wanted some opinions as to whether or not I should request my name be added or simply not bother.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2010 #2


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    I think you should go for it. If you contributed to the project, your name should be added. I don't think your supervisor would be offended, since this is natural.
  4. Feb 4, 2010 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    Without knowing any specifics, it's hard to say. Certainly, you should at least be in the 'acknowledgments' section. However, unless you materially contributed to the scientific content (as opposed to simple data gathering/processing), you should not be a co-author.

    Journals are getting more strict about this, but you could definitely talk to your (previous?) supervisor for clarification.
  5. Feb 4, 2010 #4
    It's hard to answer without knowing the details. If you truly did make significant enough contribution to be an author, then the other authors (all of them) are bordering on an ethics violation. On the other hand, if your work was not worthy of more than an acknowlegement, then you will look foolish if you demand to be included. You clearly feel wronged, so you should say something. But, I would approach your advisor in a questioning tone at first. Just ask him why your work contribution was not significant to the project. A true teacher should be willing to answer all questions, and it is important for a student to understand an issue like this and to feel comfortable. You can't work with someone unless there is a good bond of trust.

    Personally, I do not like to be included as an author unless my contributions are very substantial to a project. However, I'm very willing to include others that have made even marginal contributions. I was once included on a paper when I didn't feel it was necessary. I went to the other two authors and said that an acknowledgement was sufficient, but they insisted on including me. There can be quite a bit of grey area in some cases.
  6. Feb 4, 2010 #5


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    Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the concept, design, execution or interpretation of the research study. All those who have made significant contributions should be offered the opportunity to be listed as authors. Other individuals who have contributed to the study should be acknowledged, but not identified as authors. The sources of financial support for the project should be disclosed.

    Authorship should be limited to those who have contributed substantially to the work. The corresponding author must have obtained permission from all authors for the submission of each version of the paper and for any change in authorship.

    All collaborators share some degree of responsibility for any paper they coauthor. Some coauthors have responsibility for the entire paper as an accurate, verifiable report of the research. These include coauthors who are accountable for the integrity of the data reported in the paper, carry out the analysis, write the manuscript, present major findings at conferences, or provide scientific leadership to junior colleagues. Coauthors who make specific, limited contributions to a paper are responsible for their contributions but may have only limited responsibility for other results. While not all coauthors may be familiar with all aspects of the research presented in their paper, all collaborators should have in place an appropriate process for reviewing the accuracy of the reported results.

    Authors must indicate their specific contributions to the published work. This information will be published as a footnote to the paper. Examples of designations include:

    * Designed research
    * Performed research
    * Contributed new reagents or analytic tools
    * Analyzed data
    * Wrote the paper

    An author may list more than one contribution, and more than one author may have contributed to the same aspect of the work.
  7. Feb 5, 2010 #6
    I guess the question is whether or not I made a "significant contribution" to the project. The paper is available online; it's listed as "In press, Corrected Proof", whatever that means.

    I dug up my undergraduate thesis and compared it to the paper. There is at least one equation in it that I helped derive, and the results in the first half are results that my colleague and I obtained. In fact, they're identical to the ones I put in my thesis 2 years ago.

    I'm upset but I'm afraid that if I bring it up it will be construed as some type of accusation of unethical behavior. I don't even know that my name could even be added now that it's already online.
  8. Feb 5, 2010 #7
    Could you provide a link?
  9. Feb 5, 2010 #8
    I would prefer not to disclose the names/institution of the people involved...
  10. Feb 5, 2010 #9
    Oh, sorry :S
  11. Feb 5, 2010 #10


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    Since your colleague has no objection, it's worth discussing it calmly with your supervisor. I wouldn't force the issue, but at least you'll have insight into his reasoning, whether you agree with it or not. If he agrees, it should be possible to add your name, although that may be administratively cumbersome. Read the instructions to the authors for that journal before initiating the discussion.
  12. Feb 5, 2010 #11
    This is a key point !!! Did they reference your thesis? At the very least your work should be referenced as the source of those equations. People use other people's work all the time, but they give credit by referring to a published paper. Is your undergraduate thesis published in your library the way an MS thesis or PhD dissertation is? Is it copyrighted? If so, it is a proper reference. If not, then you still need to be acknowledged in some way.

    Based on your description, I believe you are ethically compelled to discuss this with your advisor. It is quite possible he is not aware (forgotten) the details about this. It's your choice how you discuss it, but a discussion in some form is a must. We've been discussing this from your point of view so far, but think about your professor. You need to prevent him from making a (most likely honest) mistake.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2010
  13. Feb 5, 2010 #12
    I went through my undergraduate thesis and the article, making note of all the similarities.

    There are 3 equations in the article that are also in my thesis. I worked with my colleague to derive these equations.

    There are 3 tables of data that are also in my thesis. My colleague and I both performed these measurements together.

    The article references one particular task that was performed to support a hypothesis; I alone am the one who performed this task.

    I'm definitely going to talk to my former supervisor, though I'm nervous and not looking forward to it.
  14. Feb 6, 2010 #13
    Why not have your colleague innocently mention this to your supervisor? (if he's willing to do it). Like,
    "oh btw, I just remembered, tramar also worked on some of this, in fact he even derived some of the stuff, and wrote his thesis on this. Do you think we should acknowledge this in any way, put him as coauthor, or cite him bla bla "
    Since they two are submitting together it would be much less awkward for everyone. Then you'll be able to tell at least from his reaction how to best approach the issue.
  15. Apr 28, 2010 #14
    Well I spoke to my previous adviser some time ago. The paper lists my former colleague as first author, my adviser as the 2nd, and another collaborator as 3rd. My adviser states that he agrees I made a contribution, but is unsure as to whether it warrants co-authorship or simply an acknowledgment. He also said that it is ultimately up to my former colleague because he is first author. Finally, he also placed the blame on my colleague, saying that he asked who else should be involved and my colleague didn't include me. I don't know how he can do this - he was my thesis adviser for 8 months and clearly knows what kind of contribution I made. He is a co-author and therefore shares some responsibility for this omission.

    As for my colleague, I spoke to him. We discussed what my contribution warranted, and we agreed that I should be credited as a 4th co-author. He emailed the journal editor, asking if it was OK to add another name. Since then, the article has gone from "In press, corrected proof" to being fully published, and my name is nowhere to be found. My colleague said that he didn't hear back from the journal and "I guess it's just too late to add anything."

    I'm extremely frustrated at this point. My authorship should have been included. My colleague, who is the first author agrees with this but the attitude so far has been very nonchalant and apathetic from both him and my former adviser.

    I don't know what to do at this point. Under normal circumstances I would just forget it and have nothing to do with either of them in the future, but I applied for PhD programs and having a publication would be very helpful right now. I've debated contacting the journal, or perhaps going to the Dean or the Research Ethics Board at my institution. After all, I have a copy of my thesis as proof of everything that made it to the article. However, my former colleague no longer attends this school, so I don't know what good that will do. I feel like I have to start a war to get what is rightfully mine.

    Any thoughts on this? Should I press on or just forget about it?
  16. Apr 28, 2010 #15

    Vanadium 50

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    I think you have to decide what you want out of this. The journal to issue a recall of all the copies of the article?

    You can start a war - but suppose the ethics board asks your professor. The professor says "my student came to me after the paper was submitted, we agreed that he could be an author, we sent it into the journal, but it was too late". At this point, what exactly do you want the ethics committee to do?
  17. Apr 28, 2010 #16
    I've thought of similar scenarios. I don't want the journal to recall all copies of the article; that's ridiculous. But a correction can be submitted and associated with the article, just like an errata would be. But my professor doesn't seem to care and I'm not sure if there's anything I can do about that.
  18. Apr 28, 2010 #17


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    The paper contains an error (an omitted author) that most journals consider serious enough to issue a corrigendum, which is a published report of an error in the submitted manuscript. (Corrigenda are published all the time, occasionally recognizing an omitted author.) Other than a diploma, authorship is your only currency in academia, and you are right to want to be recognized for your work. If the first author isn't willing to submit this corrigendum, go to the professor. If the professor isn't willing to pursue it, go to your ombudsperson or department head. It isn't a "war," it's a significant error that (1) will affect your career, (2) you can document, and (3) your colleagues seem to acknowledge. Just stay calm and try to get it fixed.
  19. May 25, 2010 #18
    Just an update:

    I contacted my colleague and he agreed to try and send in an erratum to the journal. The journal responded by saying that the publisher would only publish an erratum if it was the publisher's fault. In this case, it was the corresponding that were in error, so they won't publish.

    This doesn't make much sense to me. If there's an error in the article, you would think the publisher would be willing to correct it, regardless of who's error it was.
  20. May 25, 2010 #19
    Involving outside parties in any kind of dispute only makes things worse. It is always best to try and sort things out yourself first.
  21. May 25, 2010 #20


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    I'm sorry to hear that, tramar. It's a poor journal that won't allow authors to inform the readership about mistakes.
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