Accusation of non-attribution of authorship
In 2008, our journal published a specific series, and an author offered to write short introductions to a series of summaries of the management of various medical problems. One of the articles used a summary written by the complainant, who was fully acknowledged in the table accompanying the article written by his colleagues, but not included as an author. Two years after publication, he complained that he had not been acknowledged as a full author and so could not use the publication in his CV. In response, the first author of the introductory article wrote an explanatory and apologetic email explaining how she had gone about writing these articles:
"This process involved amending the article to make it suitable for national publication and writing a brief overview to accompany the article. Modifications to the article to nationalise it were made by me but fully approved by the original author and submission was not done unless the author agreed. This process involved approaching the author for permission, an email exchange to confirm changes and a final sign off by the original author to indicate their satisfaction with the changes. No submissions were done without the approval of the author of the article and the author of the overview article. Various people agreed to write the accompanying overviews."
In April 2010, following the complaint, the editor wrote to apologise if there had been a misunderstanding, but also pointed out that the journal had acted in good faith, given the explanation above.
We heard nothing further until 2 years later when the complainant made contact again saying that he still wanted to be an author so that he could use the reference in his CV. The editor responded sympathetically but concluded that "we published it in good faith on the reasonable assumption that the authorship was agreed. It really isn't appropriate to ask us to re-attribute authorship in this way".
We told him that we had now decided to refer the case to COPE.
The Forum agreed that the author does not meet the criteria for authorship under the guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICJME). Also, there are no original data involved so this kind of publication would not normally be recognised for academic appointments. The editor should stand by his decision.
The editor corresponded with the contributor following presentation of the case at the COPE Forum. He was unhappy with the verdict. The editor considers the case now closed.