I need a break from writing about encounters with annoying/disturbing people, so today I will write about a routine academic issue.
On quite a few occasions, submission of a manuscript on which I am first author has been delayed – in some cases considerably – by a coauthor who is unable or unwilling to provide final comments and/or edits on the manuscript within a reasonable time scale. Each of these cases has been special in its own way, owing to variation in coauthor personality, urgency of the submission, and other factors.
What do you do, however, if you have to submit a manuscript by a particular time, but one or more coauthors haven’t signed off on it? In some cases, delaying submission of a manuscript will harm others involved in the project (e.g., students, postdocs) or have negative consequences for other research or for other papers or grants. It is unethical to submit a manuscript without approval from all coauthors, but it is also unethical to drop a coauthor who has significantly contributed to the manuscript. Is the best option to delay submitting a manuscript, even if other people’s careers depend on it?
I once gave a non-communicative coauthor a deadline, after which I was dropping him from the paper. I think it was a very reasonable deadline (2 months, after already waiting 6 months). He had contributed very little to the paper (no writing, no data, no ideas, just some logistical help at the early stages of the project), so I felt this was reasonable to do; in other cases, however, this would not be an option. He did not respond, I dropped him as a coauthor, and added him to the acknowledgments. The paper was accepted, and he was extremely angry.
This is a problem that has afflicted me for my entire research career, starting with a thesis committee member who wasn’t able to find the time to read my thesis. At present, I am rather desperate to submit a particular manuscript but am waiting (and waiting) for a coauthor to send comments or approval for submission. I am not going to drop this coauthor, or even threaten to do so, as he has been important to the project, but I am wondering how long to wait.
5 weeks ago