Two manuscripts were received by Journal X, from author A. Both were accepted and sent to the publisher. On receipt of the galley proofs, the corresponding author removed the name of the last author from both manuscripts. Shortly before the page proofs arrived, the journal editors received a request that author A be allowed to remove author B from the authors’ list and instead make a suitable acknowledgement. The editors asked if author A had sought agreement from author B concerning this change, and added that it was not journal policy to make these changes. The reply from author A included a long and detailed account of what was clearly a personal dispute that had developed between these two authors subsequent to submission of the manuscripts. The editors, however, decided to reinstate author B according to the original author listing, and notified the publisher. Some weeks later the publisher received a communication from author B indicating the possibility that his name may have been removed from three manuscripts that he was previously involved in preparing and submitting. It seemed that author B was in fact the senior author, while author A was a researcher in his laboratory. The publisher could only account for the first two and therefore contacted the editors for clarification. On further investigation, it was discovered that the third manuscript had been rejected by the editors of Journal X, but was later tracked to Journal Y (who also used the same publisher). It was also noted that author B had already been removed. The publisher alerted the editors of Journal Y to the problem and the manuscript was rejected. The editors considered contacting the host institution, but discovered that the institute itself was racked with scandal and staff disputes. The editors finally decided to reject all future submissions from both authors A and B.
_ The authors had behaved improperly, but a decision had been reached by the editor without appropriate evidence. _ The funders of the research should be contacted. _ Further investigation was required, and even though the institutions had their own troubles, they should be informed, with a copy sent to a higher authority, such as the equivalent of the GMC.
As a result of the COPE discussions the editors reversed their decision. Manuscripts will be accepted for evaluation from either author. The journal is also re-evaluating its policy guidelines. The editors decided that in this particular instance it would be inappropriate to contact the host institution.