ORI Case Study: My Lab Boss Puts His Name on My Papers and Proposals

While none of the case studies listed in the ORI scholarly integrity website used my discipline of the wood products industry as part of its example, several of the case studies still had important themes that apply to my discipline. I chose to review the Case One: My Lab Boss Puts His Name on My Papers and Proposals. This case study focuses on a PhD student named Anna who “has some difficulty writing scientific papers in appropriate and nuanced English” and so “typically asks colleagues to review and help edit her writing.” Anna conducts research where there is a “strong publish or perish culture” and where people are given greater respect if they publish often. The problem is that after Anna receives back edits on her research, those who helped edit her work have included their names in the list of authors. In addition, her lab boss has put his name on her work as well as on a proposal she has prepared for funding without even discussing this with her.

 Standards of authorship criteria, intellectual property, and professional courtesy are all involved in this situation. Anna’s peers may be motivated to attach their names to the list of authors because of the referenced “publish or perish culture”. Her fellow post doctorates may feel that attaching their names to more papers will allow them to build their resume and increase their chance of getting a faculty position. Her lab boss may similarly feel that increasing the number of papers published with his name will increase his chance to get tenure or will increase his standing at his institution and in the larger academic community. The power differential is worse between Anna and her lab boss, because it is more difficult to confront one’s supervisor, especially when as a post doctorate fellow Anna has less employment protection and security than her boss.

 To correct this, there are some things that Anna could do individually as well as some things that her institution could to do to respect intellectual property. Anna’s institution could help prevent the stealing of authorship by drafting and publishing an institutional policy on “authorship criteria” and intellectual property that lists what contributions do and do not merit someone being listed as an author in a research paper. This policy could similarly list what would instead merit someone being listed in an acknowledgements section. Most authorship criteria state that someone should make a “substantial contribution” to the original research to be listed as an author. It does not appear that Anna’s boss would pass this test. Anna’s institution could also set consequences for punishing those that have violated intellectual property policy.

 Anna could also take some steps to address this problem. Before giving her research paper to another to edit, she should make it clear that in return she is willing to thank that person within the paper’s acknowledgment’s section but will not allow that person to be listed as an author. If the person still returns her draft with their name as an author, Anna can then fairly strike the name and include it only within the acknowledgements section. With her lab boss the situation is more difficult. Anna should be direct with her boss and say that she will not allow for her boss’s name to be included as an author unless he makes large contributions to the research itself. She should also say that it violates her rights to add his name to her proposals for funding and then send them without her knowledge or consent. She can rightly threaten to report him to campus officials if this occurs again, and then do so if this problem does repeat.

 I have thankfully not yet had as a similar situation happen to me. However, because I am a non-native English speaker I also seek and appreciate the help of peers in editing my research papers. This allowed me to relate to the case study and see how it could easily apply within my discipline of the forest products industry. After reading this case study, I am now better prepared to confront this type of problem if I am ever faced with it.




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