Publication conflict

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Publication conflict

Postby Theo R. » Wed May 24, 2017 9:09 am

Hi everyone,

I recently finished a post doc and run into a feud with my mentor over publishing the paper stemming from my 5-year research. The heart of the disagreement between my mentor and I was that he manipulated my results to fit a big grant he is writing and in effect plans to present false results. I obviously did not agree to this unethical conductance and the publication got stuck. My project was almost done but my mentor halted it and only now that I left the lab for a new postdoc, the closure of the project was handed to an undergrad that just arrived who didn’t take part in the project and will probably just do what as my mentor instruct. The plan as I heard is that this student will be granted first authorship on my paper. I do not want to see all my hard work going to the trash or to lose credit on it and considered my options.

Since I am 100% sure that the university will stand to the side of my mentor who brings a lot money in (now it’s clear how). Since I am not dependent on my mentor’s recommendation and I am no longer in the same scientific field and the people he is associated with will probably never cross my path, the idea of publishing without the true results without my mentor consent or without my mentor at all crossed my mind.

I know that many faced similar problems and that it is considered not recommended to act against your all mighty boss, but does anyone know what could be the consequence? Can my mentor retract the paper if it was without consent? Can he retract a paper where is not listed as an author? Are the true results that he is hiding are still considered his in terms of intellectual property and where does the intellectual property ends? If I repeat the exact same work in another lab or if I conduct experiments based on knowledge acquired in my previous lab, do I break the laws of intellectual property?

I would appreciate any thoughts or insights from previous experiences


Theo R.
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Re: Publication conflict

Postby PG » Wed May 24, 2017 10:54 am

If the work was performed in his lab with his funding I dont see how you can publish without him.

If he publishes you can either have your name on the paper or not (if he publishes data that you believe to be false removing your name would probably be a good idea). Obviously a better scenario is to talk with him and ensure that the data published is correct.

Being moved to second author when leaving a lab is unfortunatly not entirely uncommon. I dont have a good way of avoiding this without potentially creating more and bigger problems for yourself. If someone has good advice I am sure that several readers would be interested.

Intellectual property is a complex area that depends on the country you are in, the state and the University. If I assume that you did the work at a US University the basic rule is that the University owns all intellectual property ie not you but also not your PI. Several uniersities has exceptions to this in that they share IP ownership with at least PIs and sometimes also with other people performing the work.

In for example Sweden the situation is opposite and the base rule is that any IP is fully owned by the people that have contributed to the work (ie usually the same people who would be on the publication).

Norway has a compromise in which the researchers owns the IP but they have to offer the University to become partial owners in Exchange for supporting commercialization.

Typically IP includes the actual knowledge generated so repeating the work in another lab wouldnt really make much of a difference. If your previous PI publishes something that isnt true he will have a difficult case arguing that your publication that shows something else is based on information from his lab. On the other hand I am not convinced that it woudl be worth the effort and it would probabely get you deeper into a conflict that will not lead anywhere good.
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Re: Publication conflict

Postby PACN » Thu May 25, 2017 10:54 am

With regards to the consequences: yes, he could probably get a paper retracted if he is listed as an author and never consented to its submission. Most if not all journals require that the person submitting the manuscript state that all the authors have seen and agreed to the content. Most of them also now notify all of the authors that a paper with their name on it has been submitted. You'd have to lie and then falsify his email address for this to go through, which is clearly grounds for retraction.

If he is not an author, he couldn't singlehandedly retract a paper, but he can complain. A complaint like this would probably end up back at the institutional office of research integrity. He might want to avoid that if he knows you have evidence that he committed misconduct himself, but if he doesn't agree with your interpretation of those events, he might not be worried about an investigation. Depending on the exact circumstances, ORI could theoretically find that you used his ideas without giving him credit. A finding against you could lead to retraction of the paper, and it could get even worse-- if the study was federally funded, any findings are reported to the federal government and they can also have consequences, such as being barred from receiving federal funds. I don't know that it would or could go that far, but that is probably the absolute worst case scenario. It seems the best case scenario is that he doesn't do anything and you have one more paper in a field you aren't even in anymore. I can't see how that is worth the risk.
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Re: Publication conflict

Postby Ana » Sat May 27, 2017 10:17 am

Theo, faking the authorship list to exclude your former PI (the work was funded by his grants,he was part of it) can taint your future career and make you lose your current job. Don't do that.

You are not the first or last student that gets moved or removed from a paper after leaving a lab. As PG said it happens a lot. But the data is property of the university and the granting agency both of which are under the name of your PI. He can leave you out of the paper, you cannot leave him out of the paper.

You are not saying if he wants to keep you out or move you to second author. You could speak to the department chair and your thesis committee if he wants to leave you out so that they put some pressure on him, but if he is going to give you authorship (not first author) there is nothing you can do.
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Re: Publication conflict

Postby Theo R. » Sun May 28, 2017 9:14 pm

Thank you all for the detailed and educated response.

It is both disappointing and realistic to hear that essentially there is no real restrain over a PIs power over his students even in face of an ethical misconduct. It appears that it is a general flaw in the academia's organizational structure that probably hampers scientific progress due to misleading results being published without control. I wonder if there are any legal consequences to falsifying data or instructing a student to do so. Maybe those are matters of law that should be addressed outside the walls of the academy.

Thanks again,

Theo R.
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Re: Publication conflict

Postby PG » Mon May 29, 2017 1:09 pm

Falsifying results or telling someone else to do so is illegal in many countries (probably even most countries) but proving it is difficult. Most investigations about scientific misconduct that I have read about seem to end up with that raw data is missing which is a problem in itself but can potentially be explained by the PI being unorganized rather than actually making up false results. Also a lot of universities today have organizations that deals with this type of questions and if/when a question reaches that Group it will have a negative impact on the career of the person that is accused of cheating. Unfortunately it often also has a negative impact on people around that person such as current and previous PhD students, postdocs etc regardless if they have actually been involved or not since all work generated in that group suddenly has a question mark attached to it.
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