The Perils of Publishing -Do You Trust Your Co-author(s)?

There is a broad diversity of what constitutes authorship across disciplines. You have responsibilities when you accept to have your name as an author on a publication.

In collaborative research, one cannot be responsible for all aspects of data collection, conduct of research, analysis, or writing. Nonetheless, authors cannot absolve themselves completely of subsequent problems and controversies associated with a publication. As sometimes occurs in single-authored publications, issues that arise in multi-authored publications may include someone faking data, plagiarism of sections, erroneous statistical analysis, deliberate or unintentional misleading statements and conclusions, etc. 

Should you find yourself in the truly unfortunate situation that a co-author has failed in their obligations to comply with ethical standards of research, you may find yourself in a position of being found guilty of the same misconduct even though you had no knowledge of the misconduct, and did not condone same, simply by virtue of your position as co-author. Although this standard seems technically impossible to verify and comply with in many disciplines, it has become the expectation of this University. The risk of being disciplined, potentially up to and including dismissal for research misconduct that you did not actively commit, know about, or condone has, unfortunately, become a real risk of collaborative scholarly work when listed as an author. 

Some journals and societies have guidelines detailing who is responsible for what, and detailing author order and specification of author contribution. If they do not, or your discipline does not specify guidelines, it becomes your responsibility to practice due diligence; it is important to have a clear verifiable account of your contributions and to be able to justify the author order and responsibilities, especially on manuscripts you may have had only a minor or distant role. Sometimes it is better to be listed in the acknowledgements. We urge members to be cautious when increasing their “number of publications” with minor roles on papers. A proper accounting of your contributions at the time of publication can save you many sleepless nights and months of stress preparing documents for investigations when there is a problem– and there regularly are. 

Faculty would be well advised to remind themselves of the principles and rules regarding the responsible conduct of research.  This policy has undergone recent revisions and is now again under review.  Ethical obligations on those who conduct research are becoming much more stringent.  

Link to university policy