Most scientific papers have a brief acknowledgements section where people who helped in some small way with the study are mentioned. It used to be the place where the technicians, often female, who might have done all the work were credited. Now these people get authorship.
Perhaps the most usual kind of assistance is reading the paper after it is complete and making comments that improve the paper. A key suggestion or help with a technique might also get someone a mention in the acknowledgements section.
The acknowledgements section is also a place to credit funding sources.
Some journals require that everyone mentioned in the acknowledgements section authorize the mention. Even without that requirement, most authors check with the people they are going to mention.
So imagine my surprise when a friend told me I was acknowledged in a recent paper in Nature by Jonathan Pruitt and Charles Goodnight. I said no, it could not be. I had not even read that paper yet and certainly had not seen it before it was published. Moreover, I had seen both authors recently and neither one mentioned it.
But of course my friend was right. This is what the paper says: “J. E. Strassmann and W. P. Carson were invaluable in aiding in the submission of this paper.” What does that even mean? It kind of sounds like I have the secret password to Nature, or that I greased the wheels somehow. I didn’t. Am I being acknowledged for some random conversation about publishing, or for something in this blog? Is putting my name in the acknowledgements some indication that I had an opinion on the paper? I might, but not before I read it, or even know of its existence. I have no idea how W. P. Carson contributed either.
No unauthorized acknowledgements!
I don’t understand why anyone would do this, but it is a really bad idea. Check with the people you acknowledge and be sure they are all right with it. Only acknowledge people who actually have helped with the work.