We received a letter from a third party, accusing author A of putting his/her name against an article, published in our journal, when the research itself belongs to author A's student.
Our journal is a fully English language publication and the accusing third party and author A are from a non-English speaking country, as is the student (assumedly). The accusing third party forwarded the student's research paper to the editor which is entirely written in another language but contained an English abstract.
The Editor contacted author A and the response received included an attached confirmation letter supposedly from his/her student stating that they had no involvement in the published work by author A and that their research is completely separate to the published paper by author A.
We have several concerns:
1. It is difficult for the editor to examine the abstract the third party sent to us against the published article by author A.
2. We do not know if the response letter emailed from author A, confirming no involvement in author A's paper, is genuinely from the student.
3. The accuser's identity or relation to the matter is unknown to us. Ideally the editor needs to contact the student directly but we need bona fide contact details of the student and we are not sure we would get it from the accuser or the accused author A. Google is also of little help as there are so many people with the name.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• How should we go about contacting the student?
• What should be our next steps?
COPE’s advice in these types of cases would be to contact the student directly. Contacting the institution in confidence through the Office of Graduate Studies would be the most normal route but some universities in some countries might not respect the confidentiality of the student. The Forum acknowledged how frustrating it must be for the journal, and that there is probably little else that can be done.
The journal could ask the third party for the contact details of the student. The only other suggestion was to see if there is a licensing board in the country that could be contacted. Any licensed professional is usually governed by a licensing board.
The editor contacted the accuser asking for the student’s details but no response has yet been received.
Follow-up (January 2017):
The journal considers the case closed.