A falling out
A research letter was submitted from a team of investigators,A, B, C, and D. In their covering letter they reported that: A was involved in planning the study, collecting patient samples, and in writing the manuscript; B measured IL-10 polymorphisms and analysed the results; C was involved in supervising the measurement of polymorphisms and in writing the manuscript; D was involved in planning the study and writing the manuscript. The letter was peer reviewed and published. The corresponding author was D. Ten days later a letter was received from B and C who work at a different institution from D, inviting us to publish an erratum. Their substantive corrections were noted, together with the comment that “in addition, we wish to point out that B and C contributed equally to the content of this report”. C also enclosed a copy of a letter to D stating that he was very unhappy about the fact that the others had never seen the proofs so that the mistakes,as shown enclosed, could have been corrected. C considered it unethical not to show coauthors the proofs. Further strong comments about the breakdown of the research collaboration followed. D replied “surprised and saddened.”He argued that in the collaboration “the idea for this research was therefore entirely generated by us”. Furthermore, he said, B and C “saw and agreed to all the changes in the short manuscript and the final version that was submitted to the journal with all our signatures.” He went on: “I had to review the proofs within 24 hours and fax them back. There was no time to send this to the other authors for their approval (and we do not do this routinely in our department as it is usually the responsibility of the corresponding author). I am very concerned that you have sent off a letter to the journal without the courtesy of letting us see it beforehand. This is most unusual behaviour and can only have a damaging effect. The erratum is curious as these changes should have been made in the original manuscript.” What do we do about the alleged and apparently disputed erratum? Should journals have a clear policy about authors (all, some, the senior, or only the corresponding) seeing galley proofs? If so,what should the policy be?
There is responsibility to ascertain if there really is an error. The editor thinks that if there is, then it is an interpretive rather than a substantive error. The authors did not see the edited manuscript. It was agreed that it is the corresponding author’s job to clear changes with other authors. D removed B and C from the collaboration. This whole situation is not the fault of the journal, but the authors themselves. The editor should: either: invite B and C to write a letter to the editor and show it to A and D for comment. This way, the editor can ventilate this problem as a duty to readers; or: go back to the authors’ institution and have them resolve the dispute.
The dispute continues.