A member of an author group listed on a paper denies authorship

Case number:
08-08

Case text (Anonymised)

We publish “mini-reviews” of published articles. Our faculty of eminent researchers and clinicians write these evaluations. One of the conditions we insist on from our faculty is that they may not evaluate work on which they are an author. We received a review of a paper, the authorship of which was listed as:

Name A, Name B, Name C; study group X

As the reviewer was a member of “study group X”, we rejected the submission. The reviewer wrote back claiming that:

“I am not an author on the “Name A” paper. The latter is a substudy, which uses the “study group X” database. While we entered some patients into the main trial, in no way do I fulfil authorship criteria given that I never even saw a draft of the paper nor knew it was being submitted.”

We published the review with the declaration above listed as a “competing interest”. We then informed the journal in question.

Did we act correctly?

Advice: 

The Forum thought that this was a grey area. Even though the reviewer is not directly involved in the study, is he sufficiently removed? The case also highlights the fact that the definition of an author can be vague and different journals have different criteria. Some suggested that the journal should consider disqualifying a reviewer with any involvement in a study from publishing reviews concerning that study. This would give the reader more confidence in the system. All agreed that the best course of action is to have a policy on this issue for future such incidences.

Follow up: 

The advised policies which members of the Forum suggested have not yet been implemented due to a massive ongoing redesign project for our website which has put many things on hold. It is unlikely this will be resolved until the new year; however, we have taken the Forum’s comments on board and intend, when the time comes, to implement the suggestions in the most thorough and transparent way possible.

Year: