A paper was reviewed by two referees. The associate editor dealing with it recommended rejection as both reviews were critical of the methods, results, and reproducibility of the experiment. After the authors were informed, the editor-in-chief received an email from someone in the same laboratory, expressing relief that the manuscript had been rejected. The writer went on to say that s/he had misgivings because the effect of the biological mechanism described in the paper was less than 1%, and s/he was therefore strongly opposed to the submission of the manuscript. The lead author had responded to these misgivings by removing the writer’s name from the author list. The writer explained that s/he feared the study might damage the journal’s reputation if accepted, but at the same time felt that s/he could not confess his/her concerns. - Should the editor-in-chief take further action? - Is publication the filter to prevent fraudulent science from being published or from being committed?
- The COPE guidelines specify a clear duty for an editor to actively pursue misconduct even if the article in question is not published. - This adds to the already heavy workload of journal editors but they are in a privileged position as whistleblowers. - The letter does not make clear whether the writer is alleging an academic dispute over interpretation of the data or if the interpretation had been dishonest. - If the matter was a genuine scientific disagreement about interpretation then the author is entitled to submit the manuscript for publication. - A person who has been involved in the work should also be involved in the writing process, both to ensure correct attribution and to determine accountability should a subsequent problem with the data arise. - The journal should seek clarification from the letter writer as to the nature of the disagreement and then, if felt necessary, pursue the matter further with the author of the paper.