An original work was published in our journal in September 2010. The article had five authors. Now, in February 2013, the third author is requesting an alteration in his/her name. The original name published was SFHS. The request is to change the name to SFH, both on the journal's website and Medline.
No valid reason could be provided by the author for this change in name. The last name is the cast and now he/she wants to write in future without the cast being evident.
Would this deletion be ethical?
Can there be any legal implications?
NOTE (December 2020): This case and Forum advice was published in 2013. Recently, the publishing and academic communities have been working to develop new guidance to ensure that authors who are transgender, non-binary, and/or gender diverse can easily update their articles. COPE will be issuing guidance in due course, but in the meantime, this case should not be used to deny the rights of these authors to request that their names be changed on their publications.
The COPE Forum was divided on whether or not the editor should allow the author to change their name. One view was that there are many reasons why an author might want to change their name (marriage, divorce, for example) so the editor should publish a corrigendum, provided the editor receives proof of the identity of the author. An author should be allowed to have charge of their name, and if they wish to change it, then the editor should accommodate this request by publishing a simple erratum or corrigendum. This would be linked electronically to the publication and would be picked up by Medline automatically. The online version of the paper could also be changed, depending on the policy of the journal. It is not unethical to request a change in your name but the editor must be certain that the author requesting the change is in fact the author of the paper, and the editor should insist on proof of identification.
However, another view was that the name was correct in 2010 when the paper was published, so is an erratum really appropriate? The spelling of the name, for example, is correct. If the author’s request is a vanity issue, then the majority of the Forum suggested not changing the name. Hence it is then up to the journal and publisher whether they feel they want to spend the time and effort correcting the name. Unless the author has very valid reasons (which he has not provided to date), then the majority view was that the editor should do nothing.
The Forum noted that this case highlights the importance of schemes like ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID, https://orcid.org/), which provides a code to uniquely identify academic authors and which authors can sign up to. Then an author’s history and online activity can be traced, regardless of what name they use, as all publications are traced back to this unique identifier.
On a show of hands, the majority (15) of the Forum said they would not change the name and 10 said they would.
As no valid or convincing reason could be provided by the author for a change in name, we wrote back stating that the case had been discussed at the COPE Forum and the majority of the Forum were of the opinion that, due to lack of a convincing reason, the name should not be changed. The case is now considered closed.