My PhD supervisor and I are co-authoring a paper. We have an excellent relation, and he is both a well-regarded scientist in its field and a deeply religious person. In our co-authored paper, he wants to include, for the first time in his career, a perfunctory thanks to God in the acknowledgements. Nevertheless, our field has an ongoing and widely publicized scuffle with intelligent design and I am afraid that such statement might hinder the paper’s credibility or insult some readers.

Although not religious, I am a strong defendant of people’s (and my supervisor’s) freedom of belief as long as their doctrines are non violent or discriminatory, which his aren’t. It is, for me, a matter of tolerance. He also is very respectful of my position and has made clear that he didn’t wanted to sneak the sentence without my consent. Furthermore, he is not trying to push any religious agenda, it is simply something that has to do with his personal beliefs.

The paper is sound from a scientific stance, no single word in its body hints anyhow to God to fill gaps in the argument and he isn’t planning to include a grandiloquent dedication, but I am still afraid that squeamish readers would take matters personally and discard the paper without a second reading, affect my career in the long the long term or, even worse, we might hit the news (“see these people, they are thanking god in their paper”).

Am I risking something big if I say “yes”, go ahead? Should I refuse to let him put the word God in the paper? Is there any precedent of a paper in which God was thanked by the authors?

EDIT: This questions has been flagged as duplicate. I would like to clarify why it’s different:

  1. The authorship of a thesis, including its acknowledgements, belongs to the student and is not shared with the supervisor. It is (explicitly or implicitly) understood that everything that goes into a thesis was written by the student and approved by the supervisor, but, in regards with the acknowledgements, it’s the students choice who to thank and the supervisor has no voice or vote on that matter. Have you ever seen thesis acknowledgements written jointly by supervisor and student? Can a supervisor ask a student to thank his wife (or his God)? Probably not. On the contrary, authorship and responsibility is fully shared in papers.
  2. Theses are more of a formality and can be stored for decades without much attention. Papers, on the other side, are meant to reach the large amounts of readers and it is very likely that someone, sooner or later, will spot the dedication.
  3. I wasn’t clear enough about a key point in my question and will expand here. I wouldn’t mind saying “yes” to my supervisor or following @Ritz recommendation if this was a paper in, lets say, accounting, business administration or even engineering, but my field is in full confrontation with intelligent design and some people might read the acknowledgements as a nod to the movement. (I see my supervisor as a good example of NOMA. Some people can do excellent science and be religious. So far, in the scientific realm, we are doing pretty well, but the reader is not going to care about that.)

Leave a reply

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>