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One of my advisors suddenly passed away while I was in graduate school. We had some discussions and ideas about future publications, but he passed away before any of the work was completed. When the work was finally completed and published, I and my co-authors were therefore presented with an ethical dilemma about how best to acknowledge his contributions to the ideas behind the paper. Should we list him as a co-author? Put him in the acknowledgements? Listing him as an author would give credit for the original idea, however, we would have no way of knowing if he actually approved of—and would want his name attached to—our methods and writing.

In the end my co-authors and I decided to list him as a co-author with a footnote stating that he passed away before publication.

I’m interested to hear from others who have been in similar situations and/or suggestions on what constitutes “co-authorship” when one of one’s collaborators passes away before the publication or work is complete.

1 Answer 1

aeismail's answer is definitely good advice, but I'll add two more bits:

  • Check the journal policy and author guidelines. There may be something in there that can guide your choice, like the Journal of the American Chemical Society has:

    Deceased persons who meet the criteria for inclusion as coauthors should be so included, with an Author Information note indicating the date of death.

  • Check with the editor, if in doubt. He has the final say in the matter, and these things are probably best run by him if no official policy is established.

In terms of papers with deceased authors, I think the record holder is probably this one:

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Can you spot it? One author died in 1919, and one had her PhD in 1911: while no date of death is provided for her, I don't think she's still around. (Also, it was probably quite an achievement for a woman to get a PhD at the time.)

As we say: old chemist don't die, they just reach equilibrium!