Forum:Authorship issues- how to resolve?
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5.9 years ago
Mamta ▴ 460

 

hi all,

I had done some coverage graphs for a collaborator using circos showing different aspects for the successful sequencing.

The persons used the figure in the paper with absolutely no credit. I did write to the authors but haven't heard back from them yet.

Just wanted to know what is the most appropriate way to handle this. Please help.

Thanks,

Mamta

 

authorship Forum • 3.0k views
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Since everyone here was so helpful, I would like to share the latest update on my situation.

So the PI got back to me saying they have contacted the journal for adding my work in the acknowledgement.

Thank you again everyone!!! This was a good discussion and I learned a lot.

Mamta

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Thanks for following up with information on the resolution. 

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That's great to hear!  Thanks for updating!

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From past experience,  having clear expectations from both parties before starting the work is vital as this situation is not uncommon.  I know this does not help in this case but  it does illustrate the need for clear and transparent communication.

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This topic should be interesting and useful. I'd love to see what people like Devon, Istvan and Pierre think of it.

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Authorship issues are easily the thorniest issues in academia. The proper way to go about handling this will depend on the exact relationship between you and the people who published this. If you can provide some details about this (e.g., are you a student in the group that published this, or an external collaborator, or ...), then that'd be helpful.

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Hi Devon,

iam a research assistant in the directors lab whereas the first author was a research associate in the same center and rest of them are external collaborators.

i have email threads where she asked me to do this with the corresponding author cc'd and most of the communication were through email including sending her the final figure which is in the paper.

thanks for helping everyone here!

mamta

 

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If you feel wronged and the authors do not reply, you can always contact the editor of the paper and even demand retraction. A sure way to burn bridges..

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Given the circumstances, that'd also be fruitless. So burning bridges with no gain.

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5.9 years ago

I usually ask people to be the 1st author of their paper whenever I help someone :-)  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ao3agJPZpcFHM--aN_ukl5VgjSvKLd58zFlNuw-DG1M/pub

 

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I've been meaning to adopt use of this internally :)

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5.9 years ago

Dear Mamta, 

    Authorship is one of the most difficult issues in research and there is no clear way to resolve the issue you raise. 

    A couple of comments to bear in mind:

  1. How long did you spend making the figure? If minutes, let it go but learn from the experience. If hours, know that you can generate high quality figures but still learn from the experience. If days/weeks, then it might be worth making a deal of this. 
  2. How important is the publication and how important to your career would being a middle author on it be? If you're talking about a 'relatively low impact' paper then again, let it go and learn from the experience. If it's a, say "Science" paper then again perhaps it's worth making a deal of it. 
  3. What was the agreement when you made the figure? Perhaps you gave it to them with no restrictions. 
  4. What do you want from making a deal of it and what's reasonable? Do you want authorship? Do you want acknowledgement? Do you want the authors to buy you a beer? 

So the key is: what do you have to gain by making a big deal of this? 

If you can afford to the best thing is to learn from this experience. The lesson is: before you start the analysis ask about authorship. Particularly if you are going to put in lots of effort. Authorship rarely comes easy (days of effort) but more often reflects years of work or at least months. Still you may have made a key contribution. 

There are ways to protect your authorship:

  1. Only supply low quality figures (PDFs) so that if a manuscript gets published then then need to come back to you for higher quality.
  2. Watermark the figures - as draft
  3. Do some version control on the figures and in the files names so that it's obvious that this is your work. 
  4. Keep the equivalent of a 'lab book' so that your boss or someone else knows that you've done this. 
  5. Log your time on the project and tell your collaborators so that they appreciate your effort. 

Perhaps others have suggestions about this too. 

Best wishes, 

Paul

http://rforbiochemists.blogspot.co.uk/

 

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I do agree with this sentiment of evaluating what you gain (beyond a personal feeling of being righted) - and the way I heard summarized: "getting credit is overrated". This may sound overly harsh but it is true especially when it comes to partial credit in a larger work. In hindsight there is not that much to gain from fighting this battle regardless of who is right.

As for the ethics of it, I have another one liner: "never attribute to malice what could be caused by stupidity". Would you feel wronged the same way if it turns out that they were simply unaware or ignorant versus deliberately taking over your work. Most scientist are good intentioned.

As many have pointed out it is essential to lay out the rules early on - though I have to say often the scope of work creeps up unexpectedly, it starts like a simple routine 5 minute work where discussing authorship feels like an overkill, then a little more and more over the weeks/months until the work is a lot more substantial but the other party does not understand the process and the amount of effort that went into it.

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Thanks for the explanation. I did learn a lot from this.

It's not about a paper I want authorship in. It's also about work ethics. How can someone not give credit to someone's else work. It took me a really long time to generate that. Iam sure no one on the author list can do this.

U can't have any deal in writing and I do have a written record that I sent it to her.

I someone don't feel it's right to let it go.. I maybe wrong but hence the post.

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"How can someone not give credit to someone's else work." 

This is clearly a really good question but not as easy to answer as it seems. There are lots of examples of people not giving credit to others. The most famous one is the discover of DNA by Crick and Watson based on someone else's data. 

Sadly, the academic route, in general, rewards those willing to take credit rather than those willing to give it. 

When you emailed the final version to the author, you missed the opportunity to protect your position. Before you sent that you should have discussed the matter with the author and the corresponding author. Many ambitious scientists would have requested authorship or at least some acknowledgement at that point. If they refuse, you can refuse to send in the figure. That clearly tests the system when you have real power. 

Best wishes,

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5.9 years ago

Since you're employed by one of the groups that produced this paper, all you can really do is complain to your PI. The graphs and things like this that you produce as part of your employment aren't your intellectual property, so your PI gets to do whatever he/she wants with them. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be a coauthor in cases like this, but they don't have to make you one. As Alastair Kerr said, setting clear expectations well ahead of time is the only real way to protect yourself against this sort of thing (at least when you're employed in one of the author's groups).

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I agree (with Devon Ryan answer), but I understand he is not even cited in the acknowledgements, which for me is borderline between rude and unethical. Besides, if the journal has a policy on listing "author contributions", I also feel his contribution should be disclosed somehow, even if not with authorship.

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I'm personally an advocate of adding everyone who made any meaningful contribution (e.g., technicians) to papers, but that's just my personal preference on things (well, and how I write the authors lines when I draft papers). Having said that, what I personally find to be the most ethical path and what's legally required are very very different things. If someone wanted to argue that we should be holding ourselves to ethical, rather than legal, standards I would be in complete agreement...but lawyer wouldn't need to care about such things.
 

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The issue is she left the center a year back. So she is no more an employee of the institute.

Is there no way you get credit for your work after the paper is published? Isn't this too unfair?

 

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I assume the "she" here is the director, who I assume was the senior/corresponding author on the paper. The short answer to all of this is that you probably don't have any real recourse other than asking the corresponding author to have your name added in a correction. The only real legal strategy I can think of would be to check and see exactly how you were being funded when you made the figure(s). It's possible that the funding agency has a clause about authorship, I really can't say I've ever looked. If you were paid directly by the university/institute then there's little you can do unless it happens to have some regulation on authorship.

Situations like this really stink, because there's typically no good way for you to fight for yourself without also damaging your (at least short-term) career. I just want to caution you to keep this in mind as you go forward.

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No, she was a research associate. The director is not involved( he is one of the nicest human being though!)

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A friend of mine has his name added as an author when he protested to the journal but it wasn't easy!

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5.9 years ago

I think the case is much clearer than it might seem from the other answers. You should clearly be a co-author on that paper and rating down your contribution based on your level of employment is unfair. Arguments?

  • You spent a substantial amount of time on this contribution
  • The figure is an important visualization of the data (i assume) including bioinformatics data analysis steps
  • None of the other authors had the skills to do this.
  • The figure is used in the manuscript and therefore a contribution to the manuscript as is writing parts of it
  • Making a good visualization is a creative core task of any paper writing process

Next time, simply state "I can make that viasualization for you, but it will take a substantial amount of time, so I want to be a co-author".

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5.9 years ago
pld 4.9k

Ask the authors if they could put an acknowledgement in the paper or ask for a letter of acknowledgement (something many cores do, even if you're not officially a core) so later on in your career you can show someone or put it on your CV. Be polite, I can tell you right now they're not going to come back if the dialogue gets sour and you'll probably piss off your boss if you start a fight over this. Don't forget that a free figure today could be the start of a few authorships tomorrow. As others have said, don't burn a bridge over a toothpick.

Be polite and don't be aggressive, they don't have to put you on the paper, end of discussion. This is a tough lesson, doing work for something that gets published isn't always a ticket to getting authorship, and it isn't supposed to.

Here's what the NIH has to say:

"For each individual the privilege of authorship should be based on a significant contribution to the conceptualization, design, execution, and/or interpretation of the research study, as well as a willingness to take responsibility for the defense of the study should the need arise. In contrast, other individuals who participate in part of a study may more appropriately be acknowledged as having contributed certain advice, reagents, analyses, patient material, support, etc., but not be listed as authors. It is expected that such distinctions will be increasingly important in the future and should be explicitly considered more frequently now."

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK236202/

This brings up a few things that people tend to forget. Authorship isn't a list of all of the people involved in the work and most certainly isn't intended for everyone who carried out any technical work. The ideas that an author is responsible for the work and will take up its defense is often forgotten. I don't think that this is perfect, but I tend to agree with most of it.

However, I do think technical staff should get authorships when they generated the bulk of the data or simply did an exhausting amount of work. I also think that the person should have the intent and ability to "give a shit". Plenty of people do science as a job (nothing wrong with that) and don't really have an interest in the low-yield life of academic science. Also, if the person has the best intentions but will likely be unable to be present during review/defense/etc because of their primary obligations and responsibilities, then they can't be on the paper.

I don't want to be rude here, but I doubt the coverage plot was required for, or was in its self, an advancement in science. I'd bet a dollar it was probably something they asked you to cook up to address the whining of a reviewer. It sounds like you are finding out that they used the figure after the article was published, which means they asked for it during review. (Please correct me if I'm wrong)

 

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There are instances where the primary author might decide to not circulate the manuscript with co-authors before submission so there's really no way for someone to know if they were included in the authors list or not.

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Yes, I agree totally.

I was more interested in knowing if OP had tried to contact their collaborator about authorship or at least the status of the manuscript during. Hopefully OP did not simply mail off a figure and expect to show up as an author.

Either way, this suggests that the people who ended up being authors were capable of defending the figure in question.

I'm still interested to know what OP's supervisor/PI had to say or knew about the publication.

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5.9 years ago
J06262016 ▴ 50

I'd like to give a different perspective. After working in biotech doing R&D for many years and doing a lot of work that generated publications (yet I didn't personally get credit/published most of the time because I was an employee) and returning to get my M.S. degree, I was amazed at how easy it is for people to get onto a scientific paper. Collecting samples for one day warrants getting onto a paper? Spending 6 hours on a figure gets people onto a paper? Doing a one day in vivo study gets someone onto a paper?  Wow, it's impressive how little people have to do to get onto a paper!  

I understand that your figure might have been an excellent contribution to the paper, but in the end it is such a minor amount of work compared to how much work the 1st author an PI/last author put into the project.  I realize the written rules regarding authorship are probably leaning in your favor (i.e. you should probably have been given the publication), but I wish we'd change these rules a bit and make it more difficult to get onto papers. 

On the other hand, when someone comes up with the idea or basis for the project, they do need to be given authorship.  

So in my opinion, I'd let it go.  I've had it happen too.  We'll be fine =)  

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Iam really surprised that most think it's easy to let it to. And Jennifer , probably you are speaking from your experience and I understand when one person does years of work to publish while someone just does one experiment and gets in the paper. i think it all all comes down to just being on the paper for some.. But that is absolutely not my goal here. That figure is a part of MY work , even if it was not significant it's still is. How much does one lose in writing a single line of acknowledgement ?? 

And regarding the issue you brought up about people getting on the paper- well I would say it's not the 'amount' of time you contribute but it's the significance of the contribution..  A group of molecular biologists might spend months in getting a code work whereas a computer engineer can write it in a day- so is there a difference in their contribution? There is a reason science is collaborative and why the first author is the first author .

When you use anyone's time and effort YOU acknowledge them and NOT say it was an insignificant contribution because then no one would do anything for anyone otherwise 

But guess some people do lack ethics and hence the PhD programs should include a ethics class mandatory ... I don't know how much that will help but still 

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It is not about it being "easy to let go" - it is about the making sure it is worth the trouble. 

I have been in a similar situation, in hindsight I regret the time I spent feeling slighted and trying to figure out how to rectify the situation. Today I know that I would have been better off had I spent that time creating something new, pursuing another accomplishment.  There are so many opportunities in the world, keep on moving ahead. 

 

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Mamta,

I don't think we are suggesting that it's "easy to let go". In fact if it was easy to let go there wouldn't be a lesson and your experiences would not generate this much discussion.

It's worth remembering that lots of people and organisations give some of their time and effort for free. This includes much of the advice and help given here at Biostars and other forums. 

In labs and in bioinformatic environments we offer lots of help in the form of training for little obvious return other than a general feeling of wellbeing. Often this is acknowledged but not always and particularly not always by line managers. This is a big challenge facing experienced post-grad and post-doctoral fellows. 

It's seems from the tone of your emails that this is really bugging you so it's possible that getting some resolution is important to you. You have had a nice variety of comments that reflect the diversity of opinion on these kind of matters. Perhaps it's worth chatting with an advisor/mentor locally or your line manager to get more context or at least to help give you some 'closure'. Good luck. 

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Mamta, You say it's the significance of the contribution, but honestly what is significant and what is not is completely relative. They probably didn't realize how you felt about it.

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No, the significance of contribution is not relative what so ever. There are grey areas and so on, but in general it is very clear because what tasks each person performed is clear. If I run a single gel that landed as a supplemental figure, I might believe with all my heart that I deserve first author, but I will not and should not get it.

Effort on the other hand, is more relative. An undergraduate who has no prior experience doing the same work as a post-doc will have likely had to of done more work to get the same results. This is when I think there can be some wiggle room on placement of authorship.

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5.9 years ago
Vivek ★ 2.5k

This is rather unfortunate but it happens in academia and having been on the wrong end of this before, I can understand your frustration and how it can bother your conscience for a good while. If you really want to pursue this further, most big institutions have an office for academic research and ethics who you can approach but the least you should do is make your PI aware that this happened if he/she wasn't already included in your communication.

Otherwise the best way to not burn bridges and tackle reputations is to just let it go and move on. You'll have plenty of opportunities to work and publish with scientists who practice better ethics.

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