Archive for the 'publishing' category

Author Credit Check

Sep 12 2011 Published by under advising, graduate school, publishing, students

A graduate student wrote and asked for advice; the e-mail is excerpted here:

I was hoping for some advice on dealing with another student in my research group, particularly in regard to author credit on a paper we submitted (where I was first author). We typically put the names from members of our group on our papers, because every member of the group helps out in some way.. This PhD student (who is senior to me) was supposed to help me with the paper, but came to meetings and did little else, avoiding meeting with me separately. Towards the deadline, this student sent out emails saying he was going to work on particular sections, and do an entire review of the paper, but he never completed either and silently let the deadline pass without any contact (without even an apology).

How would you deal with such a situation?  In particular, this bothers me because I helped this student with his [recent] submission .. by contributing ideas, writing and editing, and he did not reciprocate. I'm a new graduate student, and this is my first paper where I'm first author. I'm not really even sure of my role here. Who really has control over author lists on papers? Should I bring it up with our supervisor, and in what way? Does it really matter if he's credited as 5th (or so) author if he didn't contribute anything? I don't want to rat out a fellow student (who may be having problems), but I also don't like the idea of this student capitalizing on the rest of the group's work without contributing to it.
I don't know the dynamics of this research group, but it would be good if there were a way to have a general discussion about this topic with the advisor. Maybe, without ratting out the delinquent student, there is a way to ask questions about how authorship is decided.
If everyone-is-included-no-matter-what is just the way it is, it's not in this student's interests to single out a fellow student as a malingerer. If the slacker student has a systematic problem, the advisor likely knows and will have to deal with it in other contexts.
But other readers may disagree, perhaps reasoning that authorship is not an automatic right but one that should be earned in some way. I agree with this, but I am thinking about what is reasonable for a new graduate student to do in this situation.
The question of who gets to decide authorship order is an interesting one. Of course, different fields have different norms for authorship order, but in cases (such as the one in question here) in which inclusion and ordering relate to contribution (first = primary), some decisions have to be made.
In theory, the primary author should decide, and should be fair about this decision. Also in theory, the resulting decision shouldn't matter if the primary author is a student or a much-published professor, although in the case of a student who doesn't know the "authorship culture" of their fields -- e.g., who is a co-author, who gets a nice acknowledgment, and who is not included -- it's good to have a discussion about this with more senior people, perhaps getting more than one opinion. In some cases, authorship decisions about inclusion/exclusion and order may not be straightforward.
Different research groups, however, may have different philosophies about this, including possibly the one in question, in which all publications are group publications. In that case, it seems prudent to explore how hard-and-fast the everyone-as-coauthor custom is. Are there ever exceptions?
Does anyone have additional/different advice for this student?

26 responses so far

Cite Me

Jun 14 2011 Published by under publishing, reviews and reviewing

A reader wonders:

When reviewing a manuscript submitted to a journal, is there any good way to recommend to an author that they add a citation of your own work?

This issue is wrapped up with that of reviewer anonymity, so there are a couple of sub-questions here:

- If you are concerned about anonymity but you really really think your paper(s) should be cited, can you disguise your suggestion (to the author, but not the editor) as being from a disinterested and totally objective observer?

- Even if you don't care about being anonymous, how do you suggest that your paper be cited and not come off as a self-promoting citation-monger (assuming you even care what people think)?

To get the discussion rolling, I have encountered the following cite-me situations just in the past couple of months:

1. I was reviewing a paper that used what I thought was an unnecessarily convoluted approach to a particular topic. What they did was OK.. but if they had used my elegant method (the topic of a paper published in the last few years), the paper would be better.

In this case, I decided not to suggest that they use (and cite!) my work. What they did was not a major flaw of the paper, and I considered the issue in question to be more one of style and clarity. Of course, style and particularly clarity are important for papers, but the problem was not so grave in this case that I felt compelled to suggest that they cite my paper. I mentioned only that Method A was unnecessarily complex (with some brief elaboration of why), but left it to the authors (and editor) to agree or disagree with that, and find a different method if they chose (mine or someone else's).

2. In my role as editor of another journal, I was handling a manuscript on a topic on which there are very few published articles, but one of those few published articles happens to be from my research group. The manuscript under review did not cite our paper, and in fact didn't even cite any of the other recent papers on this topic, but instead cited only some 20+ year old, tangentially-related studies. Hooray for not forgetting about old papers, but why ignore highly relevant work published in the last 5 years?

Even trickier than making a cite-me comment in a review is making this comment as an editor. Reviewers suggest; editors decide, so we have to be very careful. I think if the author had cited some of the other recent studies but just not our paper, I would have let it go and merely been a bit puzzled as to why an obvious and relevant paper was not cited. As it was, I thought the lack of any citations of the most relevant literature severely undermined the paper, particularly in the introduction and discussion. Without being too heavy-handed (I think/hope), I suggested that the author consider the literature on Topic X a bit more broadly, and gave a few more specific suggestions of topics (but not particular papers) to consider. Even a brief search on a few keywords will lead to my paper and a few others.

3. Also in my role as editor, I handled two recent manuscripts in which two different reviewers took two different approaches to stating that it would be appropriate for an author to cite their papers. Both reviewers were not shy about making their identities known -- in fact, they each considered it central to having their review comments taken seriously by the authors.

One reviewer was very emphatic that the manuscript under review was fatally flawed without citation of his published work. I agreed that it was surprising that his work was not cited, and that the paper would be better for the citations (and the accompanying contextual discussion), but I think "fatal flaw" was an exaggeration. Unfortunately, "fatal flaw" did apply to the data/methods, a situation perhaps indirectly related to the incompleteness of the citations.

The other reviewer very politely and tentatively and circuitously said that although he hated to suggest that his own work be cited, the authors might want to take a look at his 2006 paper and an earlier paper, and they would then see that their statement that no one had ever before proposed Idea Z or used Method Y to do X was in fact not correct. Again, I agreed with the reviewer that a more correct and complete citation of the literature, including these specific papers by the reviewer, was appropriate.

In fact, in most cases that I have seen as editor, I have agreed with the cite-me comments of reviewers. From what I have seen, it is rare for a cite-me review comment to be frivolous and obviously craven. I am sure it happens, but I think it may be more common for there to be other citation lapses, such as:

- authors who cite their own work heavily and perhaps not very relevantly;

- mis-citation of papers (example);

- non-citation of relevant papers (another example).

So now we are back to the original question. If I think that citation of a not-yet-cited paper of mine is useful to the paper under review, I won't stress out (too much) about appearing like a jerk and will politely mention the paper(s) that seem relevant and explain my reasoning. If I care about staying anonymous in the review, I may not bother to mention the missing citation, or -- if I feel strongly about it -- I could mention it only to the editor.

Of course the whole reason why we are discussing what might seem like a trivial issue is the increasing reliance on citation numbers as a measure of scholarly "quality". Numbers like the h-index now regularly appear in tenure and promotion files and letters of recommendation. If a paper that could/should be cited (but is not) in a paper under review is one with citation numbers just below the cut-off for your h-index, it can set off an internal struggle of the sort mentioned in the original question.

If you have asked yourself this same question whilst reviewing a manuscript, what did you do?

18 responses so far

To Author or Not To Author?

Apr 12 2011 Published by under publishing

When a paper is published with a particular list of co-authors, the assumption is that all co-authors participated in the work represented by the paper, that all have read and approved the submitted version of the paper, and therefore that all agree with the content of the paper. That last assumption, however, may have a substantial gray zone in which various authors have different opinions about how the work is presented.

A mild version of this would be if a co-author would have written the paper in a different way. This may well be the case for most papers, as we all have different styles of writing and preferences about how to construct an argument.

A more complicated version of co-authorial disagreement occurs when co-authors disagree about major aspects of the substance of the research that will be presented in a paper. For example:

Let's say that you provided some important data for a colleague's research project, and the colleague is now writing a paper using these results. The plan all along has been that you will be a co-author on the paper, but you find that you disagree with the colleague's interpretation of the data. It is not possible for you to reach an agreement on the interpretation, but it's also not possible for the colleague to use the data without somehow mentioning you or your lab. The colleague needs to finish and submit a manuscript using these data. Do you:

1. Let the colleague include your name as a co-author anyway but perhaps include some sort of indication that not all authors agree with all aspects of the paper.

2. Ask that your name be removed from the author list, and have your contribution indicated only in the acknowledgments section of the paper.

3. Refuse to let your colleague use the data.

4. Let your colleague use the data however s/he wants, but write your own paper with an alternative interpretation.

5. Other.

In many cases, I don't think options #3-4 are feasible, and these can be particularly problematic if students and/or postdocs are involved.

I think I would go for option #2, perhaps also asking that the authors include a statement that the interpretations are theirs alone. I have seen examples of this in the literature, and it can be done in a non-weird, professional way.

A long time ago, I was a co-author on a modified version of option #1 and it worked pretty well. In that situation, option #1 was acceptable to me because other authors agreed with me about our preferred interpretation, and the group as a whole worked together to find a way to represent all of our different points of view. In that paper, we presented the data "objectively" and then included two possible interpretations in the discussion. I don't think I would have gone for a version of #1 that was too far away from my preferred interpretation; in that case, option #2 would have been more reasonable.

Have any of you been in a situation in which you were an important-but not-primary-participant in a paper, and you disagreed with the interpretations of the lead authors? What did you do?

28 responses so far

Last Ditch Effort

Nov 30 2010 Published by under publishing, tenure

This week, I present a question that some colleagues and I were discussing recently, based on a semi-hypothetical situation involving tenure-track faculty.

Imagine that you are in or near the final year of your probationary period; i.e., you are very close to being evaluated for tenure (or promotion in general, I suppose). You have reason to believe that you may not have enough publications, but you do have some unpublished results that you could write into a manuscript or refereed submission to a conference (depending on what is valued in your field).

[Or, if you are a senior faculty member advising a colleague who is in the situation described above, consider what you would recommend.]

Is it better to:

(a) submit to a non-selective publication venue or venues, gambling that the very existence of an additional publication or two is what matters most, no matter where they are published; or

(b) submit to a highly selective publication venue, gambling that the publication(s) will be accepted and that it's the prestige of the journal/conference that matters, not the number of publications; or

(c) do nothing, hoping that your colleagues, promotion & tenure committees, Deans etc. will be impressed with the quality of the existing work, even if the quantity is below the norms of your field.

Probably the best strategy would be a two-pronged attack of (a) + (b), as long as you aren't shingling and submitting the same paper to more than one place but really do have sufficient results/ideas to put into separate submissions of various types. The manuscripts do need to be (theoretically) publishable, substantive, and well-written (if possible) -- not just something tossed into the publishing maw in the hopes that someone will let it through and give you a least-publishable unit in time for your tenure review, so this discussion is based on the assumption that there is publishable material that can reasonable be put in the form of a manuscript or conference paper.

For either (a) or (b), you also have to give yourself enough time for the manuscripts to work their way through the review process: no one is going to be impressed with a manuscript listed as "in preparation" or "to be submitted to Journal on DATE" (my department/university ignores these completely), so you really do have to submit the thing(s). And even if you do submit before your tenure file is reviewed, that's of course not as good as having something accepted, or at least returned for revision (at the very least). Listing a manuscript as "Submitted to Nature, YESTERDAY'S DATE" might not impress others as much as you hope it will.

If your last-ditch strategy involves getting one or more peer-reviewed manuscripts through the review process on time and posted online so that it/they can officially be considered as "published", be sure to check on what the likely time-to-publication is. A colleague and I recently examined time-from-submission to time-to-publication (online) for various journals in our field, and the results varied a lot. I know that in some fields this is not so much of an issue, but in some corners of the physical sciences, the time-to-publication from first submission can vary from weeks to many (many) months.

I don't mean to completely ignore option (c). Perhaps your record really is good enough and you don't need to agonize between (a) and (b). In some cases, a few very high-quality papers are better than a pile of good but perhaps not-as-substantive papers. This is where a good mentor can provide guidance that is relevant to your institution and field.

And this might also be where commenters can provide some advice, especially if the academic field is mentioned in the comment.

21 responses so far