The publishers received an email from author B about a recently published paper, which passed peer review and had been available online for about a month. In this email, author B claimed that he and another colleague C had determined the peptide sequence in question and had not published it yet, nor given permission for it to be published. He claimed that author A had access to his unpublished results as a subcontractor on one of his grants. Furthermore, author B demanded the article be retracted. Author A alerted author B to their intention to publish in 2009, to which no response was received. Author A says that the data were obtained in his laboratory in joint work with authors B and C. Author C says that the data were obtained by him and author B, and only disclosed to author A afterwards in some collaborative work.
A further complication is that both authors B and C (and notably not author A) have a patent pending on the peptide sequence in question. However, author A could not have known about this. There is clearly some communication breakdown between authors A and B, but does author B have the right to demand that author A’s paper be retracted?
The Forum agreed that this was a case of disputed authorship and it cannot be resolved by the editor. It is one person’s word against another. The advice from the Forum was to contact the authors’ institutions, and in a formal letter ask them to investigate the case. The editor should let the authors know that he is contacting their institutions and that he will abide by the decision of the institution. The editor should then publish a correction or retract the article, depending on the outcome of the institution’s investigation.