Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Is this ethical?

Ok, this is the post where I hope all lurkers will come out and give their opinion.

Someone I worked with in the past has asked me to help write a couple of scientific papers, and has offered to pay me for it. This person is not a very good writer and apparently thinks I am (I'll take that compliment anytime). The individual in question would send me the results of the research (draft figures and tables), and I would do the writing (i.e. literature review, results, discussion, and conclusion). It is a field that I worked in for a number of years, so I'm fairly familiar with the background.

I cannot accept pay for two reasons:
1. I cannot legally work in any other capacity than as a graduate student.
2. This individual is a good friend, who has helped me out tremendously in the past, and it just wouldn't be right to accept money.

A colleague has suggested that in lieu of pay, I ask to be a co-author on the papers. To the best of my knowledge, it is not normally done to include people as authors, unless they have actually done some of the experiments (the main exception to this often being the principal investigator, who presumably is the main brain behind it all).

What do you think I should do? Should I ask to be a co-author, or just do this (it is a lot of work!) out of the goodness of my heart? Or should I not get involved at all. Comment away. Let it be known that my husband thinks the last option is the best. In his opinion I'm way too busy working on my own degree, and trying to take care of my family to be spending time writing someone else's papers.


EcoGeoFemme said...

Hmm, I think I agree with your husband. However, do you think you will contribute intellectually over the course of writing this paper? If so, there should not be a problem for you to be an author. In that case, maybe it's a relatively easy way to increase your pub list. It seems like you have too much on your plate already to simply be a ghost writer. One possible compromise is to offer to extensively critique a complete draft written by the individual in question.

People always say women snow themselves under because they can't say no to unreasonable requests. Another thing to consider is how much time it would actually take and if you can really afford it.

makita said...

Ecogeofemme, thanks for your input.

I suppose I could argue that I would intellectually contribute to the paper. I'd be writing the literature review and introduction, I'd be analyzing the data and drawing conclusions based on that data.

However, time is indeed at a premium right now, but there may be something to be said on the long term for having my name on two additional papers. I'm still torn.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I was thinking about your post and noticed something interesting. Although you never use any gender specific pronouns, I assumed the person was a man. Kinda funny, huh?

makita said...

Hi Ecogeofemme,
I kinda went out of my way not to give too much away about the identity of the individual I was talking about. But it is indeed interesting that you would draw conclusions about the gender anyway. Does that say something about me, my post, or about you?

EcoGeoFemme said...

I think it probably says something about me. Perhaps I have some kind of bias against men being good writers? This is not an overt opinion. I suppose the alternative is that you used some words that have subtle gender connotation, but reviewing your post I don't even see that. It's got to be me. Perhaps I should take some time out for self reflection... I'm sure I'm not a man-hater... :)

Physicalist said...

I just found my way over here from science-woman's blog. I'm a philosopher, not a scientist, so take this with an extra grain of salt; but here's my 2 cents:

If you're inclined to do this, I'd check with your director (or some professor you trust) first -- it's best to find out about unwritten professional taboos earlier rather than later.

I'd also say that getting your degree should be your top priority; it's generally a mistake to allow yourself to take on too many other projects. I'd guess that writing up results might be worthy of being a co-author, but again, I'd suggest checking with your director to see whether it's OK and wise (e.g., how useful would such a publication line would be).

You could also, as a friend, just offer some writing suggestions and also offer to read over a draft of the paper and make suggestions. Presumably your friend is going to have to learn to write at some point.

Good luck!

makita said...

Hi physicalist and thanks for stopping by. Ahh. My professor. That'll settle it for sure! I can just hear him:

"You want to do what? take time away from research and qualifying exams to write someone else's paper? Why don't you get your priorities straight and graduate first? After that you can do whatever you want."

I suppose the discussion is over at this point. I would hate to disappoint my adviser who is the best I could imagine.