A paper was published in January 1998,and seven authors were credited. B was thanked for his contribution in the acknowledgements section. One year later B wrote to the editor, outlining two alleged incidents related to this paper. First, the cohort reported in the January 1998 paper was one that B had been working on since the early 1990s. In 1992–3 he sought collaboration with another research group. A grant was applied for and granted. At that time B, who was a co-signatory on the grant application, moved abroad but the grant specifically included money for him to travel back to his home country to continue the collaboration. Moreover, all the collaborators agreed that he would be a co-author of all subsequent papers. As the collaboration proceeded, B felt he was being edged out of the group. A senior colleague in his home country felt the same way and eventually resigned from the collaboration. B was unaware that a paper was being prepared for publication from this study. The first time that he saw the paper was after publication. He only contacted the editor after several colleagues urged him to bring the matter out into the open. Not only was he not included as a full author on the paper, but his permission had not been sought for acknowledgement, in direct contravention of the Vancouver Group guidelines. The second allegation concerning this paper is that the hypothesis subtly shifted between the grant application and the published paper. The hypothesis as stated in the grant application is different in an important way from that stated in the introduction to the paper. The results of the research support the hypothesis as cited in the paper,but directly contradict the hypothesis as cited in the grant application. B alleges that the research group concerned has indulged in post hoc hypothesis generation so that the results reflect their beliefs about the meaning of the data rather than their pre-specifed hypothesis. Another paper from this research group,in which B is cited as an author, again without his permission, is currently being held by the editor of a specialist journal pending the outcome of this particular case. All of the co-signatories and collaborators on the original grant application have been asked (with B’s permission) for their view on the allegations. A further complication is that although the grant awarding body has a procedure for dealing with allegations of misconduct, one of the authors of the paper is one of their unit directors.
The editor was advised to inform the grant awarding body of this case and tell them that he had referred the matter to COPE. The editor should also urge the grant awarding body to act with some urgency and, that given the circumstances, the initial investigation cannot be referred to the unit director. The editor should await responses from all collaborators and authors and then show them to B. It was agreed that editors should not get involved when authors fall out but the fact that the paper is published has involved the editor.
The editor heard from all of the authors that the individual making the allegation knew about the work all along and they refute his allegations. Their response to the editor’s challenge about the hypothesis change was that that was the nature of scienti?c progress. However, from the responses,it is clear that there has been a major falling out between the two sides of the collaboration. However,this team did not agree with the allegations either. The senior author now feels that the editor is “destroying”the collaboration and that all parties should get together and discuss. In addition the editor has now been contacted by an editor of another journal who has received a paper from the same stable which has problems around authorship.
COPE advises that the editor should now: Go back to the person who made the original allegations and get his response to the above. Discuss this with the grant awarding body. Involve the journal ombudsman. Invite a representative of the grant awarding body to attend a COPE meeting so that the case can be considered in its entirety. Inform authors and heads of institutions and research council that COPE are considering this case. This gives a line of accountability. The journal ombudsman felt that there was nothing further the journal could do. Two representatives of the grant awarding body attended a COPE meeting. They agreed to instigate an investigation and to raise additional questions about the change in hypothesis with the authors. The grant awarding body has clear procedures and guidelines for research misconduct and they will be revising these to clarify the issues of authorship.