A week after receiving a paper on a study for consideration for publication, the Editor received an email from person X claiming to have been the principal investigator of the study for the previous five years, up until he recently parted company in acrimonious circumstances from the hospital Trust in receipt of the NHS R&D funding for the study. Person X sent supporting evidence of his involvement as principal investigator, yet the submitted study made no mention of his involvement or his name. In addition, person X alleges that he contacted the funders before he left the Trust and they agreed that he should remain the principal investigator. To complicate matters a little, the Editor had been asked to serve on the steering committee for the study3-4 years previously, and did attend one meeting of the committee in the summer of 2003, since when he had heard no more about the study. The Editor could send the paper out for review, and leave it for person X to resolve the dispute with his co-authors; however, having been made aware of person X’s significant role in the study, and the Editor’s previous (albeit minor) involvement in the study’s steering committee, the Editor feels this may not be the most suitable action to take.
What action should the Editor take regarding the processing of this article?
The editor had subsequently written to the corresponding author of the submitted article, drawing attention to the fact that he had been contacted by someone claiming to be the study’s principal investigator. It was therefore suggested that the author’s response should be awaited before taking any further action. However, the principal investigator for the study should be listed in the protocol and, as this was an NHS funded study, this information may be available in the public domain. It was felt that it would be quite acceptable for the editor to request a copy of the protocol from the authors of the paper, to confirm the name of the PI. If the editor is worried by his (minor) involvement with the study, he should let his deputy editor deal with the case.