Paper submitted by a PR company without the knowledge of the authors

Case number: 

Case text (Anonymised)

A paper was submitted for which there were seven contributors, but no corresponding author. The only identification of who had sent the paper was an accompanying e-mail from a public relations company. When contacted by the editorial office, the PR company confirmed that the paper was to be considered for possible publication. The named contributors were then contacted and asked whether they had given permission for their name to be attached to the paper, asked who was the corresponding author, and also if they wished to declare any conflict of interest. This produced a very interesting flurry. One author said the paper had been produced as a result of a seminar to which he and the other contributing authors had been invited. He himself believed that he was simply giving advice to the drug company concerned, for which he had received a fee. He believed that a misunderstanding had led to the PR company to send the paper for review, but that he had no knowledge that they had done so, and suggested that the paper be shredded. Another author telephoned to say he could remember very little about it and certainly hadn’t seen the final document. A third author telephoned in some distress, anxious that he might be accused of some form of misconduct and had never thought that his involvement would lead to a paper being submitted to a journal. The most interesting letter of all was from the first named author who had subsequently written an editorial for the journal that was fairly critical of the drug concerned. The PR company who was acting for the drug company, she said, had submitted the paper on her behalf without her knowledge. Guidelines about the drug had also been published, with which she was not happy, but she had eventually signed an agreement to let her name be used in connection with these. The company told her that she was the only person among all those attending the seminar who had refused to do so, and as such, was creating unnecessary difficulties. The same company had previously published another article to which they had put her name, but which she had not written. This author feels very abused, particularly as she wrote to the PR company requesting that they did not use her name again. The intriguing finale to the story is that a Royal College had been negotiating with the PR company to represent it. On hearing of this incident, the College decided to make other arrangements.


A case for the record, and one that could be used when reviewing the COPE guidelines.