A manuscript was submitted to our journal. After review we asked for revision. At this time we sent a formatting checklist which includes criteria for authorship. Two authors were removed in the resubmission. Eventually the manuscript was published.
At this time one of the formerly included authors contacted us, asking why they were no longer cited. We asked the submitting author, who explained that the complainant should never have been listed as an author by our definition (which matches the ICMJE criteria), but should have been acknowledged. We are currently in communication with the complainant over the exact nature of their involvement with the manuscript.
During discussion of this situation, the submitting author revealed what may be institutionalised authorship problems at their university.
“According to the rules of the university, PhD students have one supervisor and several advisors. They have to publish at least one article with each advisor (whether the advisors help the students or not). Students do not choose their advisors and the university managers directly propose them to the students, so some of the advisors could not or do not want to help the students.
At that time, I submitted several papers concurrently and I had to include the advisors’ names in all of the submitted articles to get at least one acceptance in an international journal. Before my paper was accepted in your journal, another article with all of my advisors as authors was accepted in another journal. So my supervisor recommended that I remove the advisors’ names, because they did not help me in preparing this paper”.
We contacted the supervisor (senior author on the manuscript) and received confirmation that they had made this recommendation. Neither the submitting author nor the supervisor have indicated that they are aware that gift authorship is generally considered wrong.
Would COPE read this situation as a university in need of education, in addition to individuals in need of education? Would COPE recommend contacting the editor of the journal publishing the author's previous article and explaining this situation?
When the paper was re-submitted excluding the names of two authors, the journal should have sought agreement from these two before publication. Although not done in this case, the editor said that he would seek written consent from excluded authors in the future. Also, the excluded authors should have been acknowledged on the paper. The discussion that followed centred on the issue of gift authorship. The university is in need of education, and the editor should write not only to the authors’ departments but also to the faculty heads explaining the details of this case and emphasising the fact that gift authorship is an unacceptable practice.
We have written to the institution involved but have heard nothing back. We will try some other names at the institution. We have since revised our internal guidelines to require confirmation from all authors every time an author is added or removed from a paper. Trail has now gone cold now (1 December 2006).