Dr X submitted a paper to a journal that was assigned by a rather hung-over editorial assistant to an associate editor who was a co-author on the paper. Realising the mistake, she emailed the associate editor to reassign the paper. He expressed surprise as he did not know Dr X, had not seen the paper before submission, and knew of no reason why he should be a co-author.
Dr X was asked to explain and account for all the co-authors’ accreditations. From his reply it was clear that he did not understand the requirements for authorship as the associate editor was listed as having been the inspiration for several of his papers.
A decision was taken to contact the head of department who also appeared on the paper as the final co-author, asking him to clarify the accreditations given by Dr X. The head of department replied:
“I share your concern regarding the proper use of the authorship credit. As the Chair of the Department, it is my responsibility to provide academic and professional guidance within the department for all of our students, including our post doctoral associates. This includes developing and disseminating an accurate understanding of what “authorship” means academically.
Upon reading your email I was at first quite surprised to see my name listed as a co-author. My second thought was that the questions that you raised with respect to co-authorship are related to the relative naivety of Dr X. He has only been in this country and at this university for the past three months.
Earlier today I met with both Professor Y, who is Dr X’s faculty sponsor, and Dr X. We discussed your concerns and questions in detail, as well as the greater implications of the ethical principals of authorship. During that meeting it became clear to both Dr X and myself that the inappropriate crediting of authorship was not intentional and instead represents a cultural misunderstanding. Dr X used the author title as an honorific with some of the persons he identified. It was his belief that such a practice was expected and condoned in this country.
Professor Y did not catch this error since Dr X submitted the manuscript to your journal without his review and input. Your email and the resulting meeting allowed me to fully explain this misunderstanding to Dr X in hopes that he does not make similar mistakes in the future. It also provided a mechanism by which Professor Y and I could explain the responsibilities of an author in properly submitting a manuscript for review and publication.”
The head of department asked Dr X to:
- Withdraw the manuscript from consideration for publication while all the issues related to authorship are resolved.
- Make clear that the work described was conducted in his country of origin and not at this university, should he resubmit.
- Work with Professor Y to ensure that any future articles for publication meet the highest ethical and professional standards.
Is this case resolved?
- This issue is worth writing about, but by someone who is not already involved in the case.
- There could perhaps be three related articles: one investigative journalism piece; one on the science; and another on the data analysis.