On submission of a manuscript to a journal, one of the authors was indicated as the corresponding author. During the submission, review, and revision process, and also through copyediting and proofreading, the corresponding author responded to all emails, signed the publishing agreements, and was generally available. At this time, the authors of the manuscript did not mention a possible change of the corresponding author. The manuscript was published online (as an "article in press/online first" without a volume or issue number but with a DOI). However, 5 months after the paper was published online, the authors of the manuscript asked the journal to change the corresponding author, but provided no clear explanation.
Questions for the Forum
- How should the journal act—should the journal change the name of the corresponding author after this length of time?
- Would such a change be considered an erratum or corrigendum?
The Forum advised that the editor cannot resolve authorship issues. It is difficult to determine if this is a case of authorship malpractice or if there are legitimate reasons for wanting to change the corresponding author. Could the corresponding author be a postgraduate student who has moved away and is thus not available anymore? Could there be other legitimate reasons? On the other hand, could the authors be trying to manipulate the publication process because in some countries the corresponding author position is seen as prestigious. So the journal needs to establish why the request is being made. The authors need to provide a satisfactory explanation before the journal can consider the request further.
The Forum suggested that the journal should follow the advice in the COPE flowchart “Changes in authorship: Removal of author – after publication” by contacting all of the authors and asking them for an explanation. The COPE discussion document on “Authorship” also provides some guidance on this issue and states that “Although the editorial office typically communicates with the corresponding author, for purposes of transparency, it is good practice to copy in all co-authors on correspondence related to authorship disputes …..” and “Editors are not in a position to fairly adjudicate disputes, nor should they capitulate to threats and bullying by the authors involved in those disputes”.
If the journal decides that the corresponding author can be changed, a correction should be published. The correction should be linked to the original paper, stating the reason for the change.
The journal should ensure that their policy on the role of the corresponding author and what is expected of them is clearly stated on their website.
The journal sent an email to all of the authors and asked why the corresponding author needs to be changed. Only one of the authors responded (the same author who asked to change the corresponding author). In their response, the author said that during the submission process they had indicated that the corresponding author should be another person from the list of co-authors. However, from the journal submission system, the editor could not verify this. Also, the author stated that during the proofreading process they did not notice that the corresponding author was incorrect and that is why they contacted the editor. The author then stated that changing the corresponding author was not very important and that the request could be ignored. As this request seemed to be confused and unclear, the editorial board of the journal decided not to change the corresponding author.