When is enough, enough?

I’ve been irritable about that manuscript that got submitted without me having had a chance to even look at it prior to submission. When I did read it, I realized that a significant number of the figures and the corresponding figure legends were missing. So, turns out I didn’t even have much of the data. I had some correspondence with the person who did the submitting … to ask why the paper was submitted without giving the opportunity to all the co-authors to review the manuscript…. and I was basically told that 1. Others had already reviewed the manuscript, 2. All my proposed changes were probably minor and the manuscript was well written. I know nothing, I’ll go away and just be grateful.

Wait–… no. So I said to the operative person… maybe this was an honest mistake- just so you know it’s not OK to do such a thing REGARDLESS of who read/edited the manuscript previously… – which is fine and it isn’t a problem if you didn’t know, and would you send me the rest of the data?

And I was met with… Yes, I knew I was supposed to show this to all the co-authors… but I didn’t because: 1. The content of the manuscript wasn’t very complex, 2. The journal didn’t request a signed permission form, 3. Co-authors take forever to give back comments.

????!! Ok. First off, now I’m just plain MAD. I don’t care if God was a co-author and reviewed that manuscript and found it to be perfect. If my name is on it, I want to see it prior to submission. Full Stop. Second- I gave you a nice out to plead ignorance on this one (and you are in a plausible position to be ignorant about such things), but your response is that you did this on purpose- with full knowledge that what you did was wrong, and furthermore I should get out of your face about it. I feel disrespected, I feel shoved off to the side, I feel that my contribution isn’t valued other than to be expert labor for a particular procedure. I feel used. (I’ll get over it, as I had visions of a pattern…).

What struck me most about this particular incident though- was the response to my frustration from colleagues of different genders. The trend among the XY (not all of them but many, and I’m HEAVILY paraphrasing) was- there’s nothing you can do, let it go, saying something would just rock the boat for no reason. Strangely, the response of the XY mirrored my own inherent… don’t rock the boat unless absolutely necessary tendency. However, the trend among the XX was – you are not being respected, you can not let this person talk to you like this and should talk to this person’s supervisor, you are a junior person- this is the field you are going to be in for your whole career- you should not let this go as is.

Increase the N of my sample size, tell me what you would do. Tell me if standing up for yourself at the risk of making someone mad (or maybe multiple people mad), is worth the taking even if it won’t change the outcome of the situation. Or not.

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25 thoughts on “When is enough, enough?

  1. I totally agree that you have every right to be pissed off about this situation. As a coauthor, you are supposedly responsible for both the contents and scientific integrity of the manuscript and for it to be submitted without your approval is unprofessional. I don’t care how many coauthors there are, the author responsible for writing/submitting should allow time for all coauthors to at least read the manuscript. Giving a concrete deadline for responses isn’t a difficult thing to do … e.g. “I plan to submit this at the end of the week so please inform me of your comments/criticisms/changes/suggestions no later than Friday morning”.

    I’ve recently been having the same arguments with people about meeting abstracts and posters … not only have I not seen any drafts, but my name and institution/affiliations have been incorrectly listed on a number of occasions … simple errors that could have been avoided if I had seen the abstract and/or poster prior to submission or printing … who knows what the data actually look like or if the conclusions are justified.

  2. So, I’ve typed and deleted my response four or five times. This is because I USED TO BE the type of person who would not have let this go. However, I have paid dearly for being this way, so as a result, I am starting to be the type of person who lets things go. (Not all things, but things that aren’t going to change anyway) I guess now I try to pick my battles. How lame is that?

  3. I’m guilty of not always showing coauthors what I present before a meeting, usually because I”m finishing it with no time to spare (we don’t have actual papers that get reviewed at our meetings, just the talk or poster). I’m trying to get better about that. But I would NEVER submit a paper for journal publication without all the authors approving it. Since you said that this person might not have known your approval was necessary, perhaps they are in a position to learn something from you — that this is bad form, at the very least. My opinion, from the XX group, is to let your displeasure be known without throwing a tantrum.

  4. This Bozo was unprofessional and unethical. But for you to let it just go is also unprofessional. The trick is to state the facts without making it a Big Deal. Say outright that this was unethical behavior, which apparently Bozo already knows, and include the PI, who is, at the end of the day, responsible for Bozo’s behavior. Then, having done that, you can drop it and play nice nice with everyone.

    By the way, I just submitted a paper on which you are an author, I assume its ok that i didn’t think your edits would be valuable. After all, i am godlike…

  5. I don’t think there is much to do to remedy this particular situation, except what you have already done. However, following any future agreement to collaborate (with anyone), send an email saying that you look forward to collaborating, and stating explicitly that you expect to see any manuscript with your name on it 1 week prior to submission. Sometimes when someone has seen expectations in writing, they are a little more hesitant to completely ignore your wishes or common practice.

  6. The only scenario in which I might be inclined to say something would be if this manuscript came from a group that you will be collaborating with on a frequent basis. I would send a quick email to the PI, saying that in the future, you’d like to be consulted before submission. But only if this PI is someone who wouldn’t get all worked up about it.

    In the future, when collaborating, if you know someone is about to write up their work into a manuscript, or if you know someone finished collecting their data on your equipment… I think that’s the best time to mention that you look forward to reading the manuscript before it goes out. Mentioning it at the beginning of the whole collaboration is too early, as it may seem largely irrelevant at the time, and students may very well forget.

  7. [XY, if it matters!]

    I would already have made a big deal of this, albeit quietly: given the apparent problems with the ms, I would have asked the submitter (copying their PI) to retract the submission until the flaws were fixed and your input added. If that didn’t work, I would have noted that I considered this to be serious and it was not an optional request :). Next step would be a personal meeting with the PI. I don’t think that it would get past this stage, but the next step after that would be to contact the journal, I guess; slightly less incendiary than the dept. chair, but maybe not.

    In any case: it’s a big deal. I have been a minor author on papers where I was only really asked for my input on my section of the work, but in all cases I certainly *saw* the whole thing before it went in and could have edited if need be…

  8. XX, BTW. I think you should let this one go, because practically when faced with opposition you aren’t going to change anything, now that you’ve made your position clear.

    But, I think that journals should require at the very least a check off box that has the corresponding author guaranteeing that all the authors have signed off on the submission. I also think in this electronic age, it should be an automatic part of the submissions process for the entire author list to be cc’d on the submission. I think you should mention this to the journal editor as a general policy (not necessarily about this specific concern). I’m pretty sure that journals disapprove of folks submitting to their journal without getting the agreement of the authors, and they get into trouble when people skim the rules. I would do this independently, though, not as a part of this submission, and I would mention it to any journal you regularly deal with that seems to have inadequate policies.

    (Though, really, it’s OK to let it go this once. We don’t have to fight all the battles even when we think we are right.)

  9. So, I’ve got 2 XXs and 2XYs for act now…, 3 XXs for don’t act… and one maybe. More or less.

    Let’s hypothesize that the major PI is a very powerful XY, and has direct influence on tenure decisions etc…and your tenure decision most especially…

    Does that change how you would handle such a situation?

  10. XX

    I was going to vote for going to the PI, but your last comment might change that (difficult to know without knowing the people involved and how you get along with them).

  11. VWXYNot?

    Actual circumstances are almost always more complicated than they appears on a blog- as you rightly point out. I was wanting to show you all that your answer might change depending on how complex the circumstances and how much power the individuals in charge might have over the aggrieved party.

    And- Another micro XX… Ha Ha… I trust you to submit papers for me without my approval because I know you are godlike!! 🙂

  12. Hey I wish someone would submit papers for me without my knowledge :-). I’ve sweatted blood (different amounts) for every single paper I’ve published but one.

  13. If you have a friend who is on an editorial board for some journal, try the following:
    1. Give your editor friend a heads up that you’ll be sending him/her a fake submission (and get him/her to go along with it before proceeding)
    2. Put together the worst pile of crud that you can possibly format as a manuscript.
    3. “submit” it to the above person with your offender’s name on it as second author.
    4. cc the offender on the “submission”.
    5. wait for the screams.

    -LL (and XY)

  14. drdrA,
    (XY here, BTW)
    I would write to all the co-authors and let them know where I stand. Doesn’t have to be confrontational/ don’t have to piss people off—just state plainly and nicely what the problem is and why you feel the way you feel. It may be well received if you explicitly show an appreciation for daily stresses and time pressures (and how such a situation could arise) while appealing to the nobler instinct as far as the integrity of the process is concerned. This may result in a better approach in the future.
    As far as the importance of the major PI goes—sure it makes a difference, for practical reasons, in how far you may pursue this. But it also means that you compromise your principles—and the integrity of the process— if you let that affect your actions. Integrity demands that you don’t care about the who–just about the what and whether it is correct or wrong. You yourself said it—“I don’t care if god was a co-author etc etc”
    If you write to them nicely and still get blown off and/or if you still have problems with the paper— and if that torments your mind, you could also respectfully decline authorship. That is almost surely gonna piss someone off though.

  15. So, I’m reporting for two people: myself (XX) and General Disarray (XY). General Disarray said he would either a) threaten to take his name off the paper or b) contact the journal directly about the unethical behavior. I don’t think he would do b), he was just really mad about the email from your “collaborator”. He has done a) and it catches people’s attention pretty fast, especially when the paper has been submitted. Emailing the journal about changing the authorline is unpleasant and most journals are understandably flinchy about “errors” in the authorline after submission. General Disarray tends to get attitude adjustments very quickly with jackass co-authors.

    As for me, I would probably send an email to the offending lead author making it clear that this was unacceptable, would damage my enthusiasm for future collaborations with them, and if done to the wrong person could result in them being brought up on ethics charges. If I was really crankly, I might cc their supervisor on the email.

    I like BugDoc’s suggestion and may start employing it myself!

  16. There is always the possibility that big cheese PI/XY doesn’t actually KNOW that the underling didn’t pass out the manuscript to the co-authors prior to submission.

  17. Microbiologist XX

    Yes and No.

    While many people (including me many times) see issues like these as black and white- there are people who do not see them in this simple way- but instead see them as dependent on the circumstances.

    I mean imagine that you are a senior author on a paper, and you really want to send it out quickly- but can’t get a hold of (for whatever reason) your undergraduate who was involved in the work. I know PIs that would just send that thing out and think about the ethics of this later. If you think strictly black and white on this- you would never think that doing this is acceptable.

  18. I think the worst thing you could do is just let it go without doing anything, especially now that you have been told in writing that the person knows they did the wrong thing. Don’t let them get away with it!

    A polite email pointing out that they have acted disrespectfully and unethically, that you understand the time pressures but that using a short-deadline turn around with coauthors is a useful way to cover your back and not have to wait [look, helpful advice for less experienced person!]. Maybe suggest that the best way to fix THIS submission would be if you and all the other co-authors to be sent the full manuscript now, so that your comments can be incorporated at the R&R stage – or if necessary the proof stage, assuming the problems get past the referees – again, being as positive and helpful as possible whilst making it absolutely clear that This Is Not Good Enough.

    Copy this to everyone involved – including Dr Important. Important should mean ethical, surely? Also, using rank to decide your actions isn’t comfortable for you, and sets a poor precedent for future situations. Drop a reminder a few weeks later if the ms hasn;t turned up. Keep the ‘your opinions aren’t relevant’ email in as many places as possible… just in case. Dr Important may think you’re being a bit overly-fussy but, really, isn;t that sort of attention to detail a good thing in a scientist? Be nice, be helpful, and be absolutely clear about what you need to happen. Good luck!

    JaneB XX

  19. I’m really late to this discussion, but I’d vote for a private in-person conversation with major PI. How much displeasure I’d show would depend on how good a relationship I have with major PI, but I would at least state that I found the behavior inappropriate and unappreciated. I get that major PI has a lot of power over your career, but can you really spend the next X years biting your tongue each time something like this happens?

    I definitely would not call the journal to report it, and I probably wouldn’t threaten to decline authorship either. The first is sure to burn bridges, and if it causes the manuscript to be rejected, it will hurt the other authors who may not have been at fault here. The second is useless unless you’d really be willing to go through with it if they called you on it.

    Oh, and I’m XX.

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